Hall of Fame - Page 32 - Kurt L. Schmoke

Hall of Fame
- Page 32
Kurt L. Schmoke
City’s first elected African American mayor provided steady, thoughtful leadership


Age: 69

Born: Baltimore

Education: City College High School, Yale University, Harvard Law School, Oxford University

Career: Baltimore City state’s attorney, 1982-1987; Baltimore mayor, 1987-1999; partner in the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, 1999-2003; Howard University School of Law dean, general counsel and interim provost, 2003-2014; University of Baltimore president, 2014-present

Civic/charitable engagement: Baltimore City Community College board of trustees, chair; Hippodrome Foundation board of directors; Howard Hughes Medical Institute board of trustees, chair; Legg Mason board of directors; S&P Global board of directors

Family: Married to Patricia L. Schmoke; two children, Gregory and Katherine

For many who live in Baltimore, Kurt L. Schmoke may be the closest thing to a genuine hometown hero they have ever elected to public office. A star football player for City College who went on to Yale University, became a Rhodes scholar and earned his law degree from Harvard, the West Baltimore native credits his family, his church and his high school for never allowing him to embrace lowexpectations. But if he has one regret fromhis stellar career in public service, from lawyer in private practice to Baltimore City state’s attorney to first elected African American mayor to dean of Howard University LawSchool and today as president of the University of Baltimore, it’s that he did not make more progress in raising the quality of city schools.

“I had more ‘will’ than ‘wallet,’ ” says Mr.

Schmoke, who served as mayor for three terms, the last person to do so. “I would have tried to devise amore effective plan for improving public education—public-private partnerships, teacher training, expandedpre-K, but it justwasn’t tobe.”

Instead, what Mr. Schmoke will be remembered for is steady, thoughtful leadership and a willingness to think outside the box. He successfully brought down Baltimore’s crimeplagued public housing high-rises and replaced them with more human-scale apartments. He looked at the underused properties along the water east of downtown and got the ball rolling on Inner Harbor East. One of his chief goals was to raise literacy. “The City That Reads” was the slogan he embraced. His cerebral, focused and steady approach to managing the city would surely be appreciated today.

“Around the city, he was often referred to as ‘my’ mayor as opposed to ‘our’ mayor,” says Angela Gibson, a former aide who has worked for five city mayors but still regards him as Baltimore’s finest. “Mothers and grandmothers looked at him like hewas their son. Theywanted their childrento bemore like Kurt.”

Mr. Schmoke’s election as Baltimore’s mayor in 1987 now seems like destiny. As an 8-year-old, he remembers walking down Light Street with his mother and seeing none other than Mayor TheodoreMcKeldin. He went up to him and asked, “Are you Mayor McKeldin?” The two-term mayor said yes, and shook his hand. Afterward, the youngster turned to his mother and offered a prediction: “I want to be mayor when I grow up.” Thirty years later, he was.

Of course, before that he was the starting quarterback for the City Knights through two undefeated seasons as well as president of City College’s student government his senior year. At Yale, he was a leader of the Black Student Alliance. After graduating from Harvard Law in 1976, he joined Piper and Marbury. Within a year,hetookan advisory post withthe Carter administration before joining the U.S. attorney’s office. After that came elected office, first as state’s attorney and then mayor.

“He could have been the first African American chairman of Piper Marbury or Venable,” recalls Daniel P. Henson III, a longtime friend who once tried to talk Mr. Schmoke out of running for state’s attorney but eventually served as his housing commissioner. “Kurt is the son that everymotherwants.Wecouldn’t lethimfail, and he didn’t.”

Mayor Schmoke might be best remembered for suggesting that drugs should be treated as a public health challenge rather than as a crime problem. Decriminalizing drugs was not a popular opinion at the time, but he appears absolutely prescient today.

Four years after returning to private practice in1999, hewas appointed dean of the HowardUniversity School of Law and quickly fell in love with the job and the chance to nurture a whole new generation of leaders. And so it continued with his appointment as president of the University of Baltimore five years ago.

Howard University President Wayne Frederick thinks his leadership skills, his temperament and his ability to relate to all kinds of people and find ways to disagree without being disagreeablemakehiman ideal fit for academia.“Kurt Schmoke left an indelible mark on our lawschool,” he says, “and he has a genuine joy for that job at UB. And that speaks to his altruistic spirit and his belief in young people and the need to invest in themheavily.”