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C. Fraser Smith: Time to see who runs Baltimore

It’s time for more doing and less suing.

It’s also time for seeing who runs Baltimore.

In a forceful essay in The Baltimore Sun this week, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake boldly asserts herself.

Her general target? A tendency to sue when you don’t get your way.

Her flesh and blood target? Baltimore Orioles principal owner Peter Angelos, whose penchant for litigation leaves him at odds with the mayor — and more generally, she suggests, with the city of Baltimore. Angelos has at least two major redevelopment enterprises mired in the courts.

The mayor’s call to arms does not mention Angelos, but he’s clearly on her mind. Lawsuits, she says, threaten job-producing projects at a time when cities like Baltimore thirst for projects that promise new energy and potential.

“All of these job-creating economic development opportunities share one thing in common,” she wrote. “They have been threatened with frivolous lawsuits or challenged by parties acting out of self-interest or without regard to the bigger picture of Baltimore’s future.”

Struggling for air

Pretty tough talk: “Frivolous,” “self-serving and “without regard to the bigger picture of Baltimore’s future.”

She says she’s willing to compromise, to find real problems and move them out of the way.

But “… I will not allow anyone to stand in the way of Baltimore’s greater progress, and I will fight to make these plans a reality. When a city is perceived as being chronically litigious in the area of development, it inevitably stifles job creation. Filing lawsuits cannot be the answer to every concern. Let’s stop suing and start doing,” she said.

A spokesman for the mayor said she’s been considering a general statement on the issue of lawsuits and development for some time. Her essay was an attempt to make her position clear.

There can be no doubt, moreover, that her declaration is a campaign document as well as a statement of governing principle.

It’s a campaign in which she will be called upon to show her leadership skills — her willingness to step forward against those who may be perceived as heavy hitters —– those with financial and political clout who might like to have their way with City Hall. Particularly if City Hall does not assert itself.

The city finds itself struggling for air in a suffocating recession — a downturn that allows precious little risk-taking in places like Baltimore.

“It’s amazing,” a spokesman for the mayor said, “that anyone wants to do any development in this atmosphere. And here we have projects which have made their way through the process only to be blocked by lawsuits. We need to maximize our opportunities.”

Visions of Schaefer

The mayor’s bold statement comes as the city continues to mourn — and celebrate — the life of William Donald Schaefer. Her call for less suing and more doing could not be more evocative of the “do it now!” man’s memory — nor does it hurt that the city has been so fully occupied in honoring his approach. She has said in these last days that she is inspired by Schaefer’s example “every day.”

“Mayor Schaefer understood that Baltimore’s future comes one day at a time, and with each new day comes a new challenge to overcome, a new opportunity to embrace and drive forward, and a new future to shape and make our own,” she wrote.

“And, while nostalgia can be strength, it can also stifle bold ideas, even put artificial and arbitrary limits on new possibilities. The basis for Mayor Schaefer’s greatest accomplishments was to constantly seek ways to reinvent Baltimore for the future …”

Schaefer often thought of lawyers as “deal breakers.” It was not his most useful formulation. He hauled it out in frustration with those who opposed him. But Rawlings-Blake does not seem to associate herself with that particular manifestation of his fabled impatience.

What she has done here is to herald her own seriousness and resolve. The campaign is likely to present other opportunities for illustrating what insiders say is her remarkable “steel” — toughness, something that inspires support.

“Mayor Schaefer did not accomplish anything by himself — the people stood with him. As mayor, I ask for you — the citizens — to join me in moving these important new investments forward. Together, we can do it now.”

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays and other days in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org. His