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Blurred visions

WITH LESS than four weeks remaining before the primary election of candidates for City Council president, a huge question about the race looms: Is this all there is?

None of the candidates has yet presented a compelling, comprehensive blueprint for Baltimore's future -- or clearly described how he or she would lead the City Council, which is about to undergo its most radical reorganization in eight decades.

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The voters deserve better than this. The electorate must be given a better idea of the choices available Sept. 9.

A revealing moment came during Monday's debate at Morgan State University when Sheila Dixon, the incumbent, was asked about her stewardship during the past four years.

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"I wouldn't really do anything differently from what I have done," she declared.

Hardly compelling rhetoric, but this self-satisfied answer was in keeping with Ms. Dixon's strategy. She runs on her record of supporting Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has endorsed her and whose latest poll gives her a commanding lead over her closest challengers, including former Councilman Carl Stokes and Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh.

In trying to keep her base solid -- and hoping to steer away from unnecessary controversy -- Ms. Dixon is avoiding some truly important questions.

For example, how would she adjust her approach to ensure that the refashioned City Council works more effectively? And what would her priorities be, if she were to succeed Mayor O'Malley? Her Web site, www.sheiladixon.com, offers no guidance.

Mr. Stokes has some policy papers left over from his unsuccessful bid for mayor. He criticizes the O'Malley administration, particularly in the areas of policing and education (www.carlstokes.com). He wants to end the council's role as a rubber stamp for the mayor, but offers no details.

Ms. Pugh also favors a more independent role for the council and advocates more citizen involvement. But in public appearances and on www.CatherinePugh.com she remains tentative about her thrust.

The candidates' vagueness and blurry positions deny voters the chance to make an informed choice. And the absence of well- defined positions from the contenders makes the City Council president's race ho-hum when it should be the most compelling in the primary election. The possibility that the council president could become the next mayor is by itself reason to demand that the candidates reveal their most substantive ideas and qualifications. As the chair of the Board of Estimates, which must approve all important fiscal decisions, the City Council president has access to real power as Baltimore's No. 2 elected official.

Anyone hoping to win the nomination to that post ought to demonstrate a clarity and purpose of mind.


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