Kurt Schmoke

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Kurt Schmoke
47th Mayor of Baltimore
In office
December 7, 1987 – December 7, 1999
Preceded byClarence Burns
Succeeded byMartin O'Malley
State's Attorney for Baltimore City
In office
Preceded byWilliam A. Swisher
Succeeded byStuart O. Simms
Personal details
Kurt Lidell Schmoke

(1949-12-01) December 1, 1949 (age 72)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpousePatricia Locks
Katherine[citation needed]
EducationYale University Oxford University, Harvard University
ProfessionUniversity president

Kurt Lidell Schmoke (born December 1, 1949) is an American politician and lawyer who was the 47th mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, from 1987 to 1999, the first African American to be elected to the post.[1] He is the current[when?] president of the University of Baltimore and former dean of the Howard University School of Law.

Early years[edit]

Schmoke was born and raised in Baltimore to Murray Schmoke, a civilian chemist for the US Army, and Irene B. Reid, a social worker.[2] He attended the public schools of Baltimore.[2]

High school[edit]

Schmoke attended the Baltimore City College, the third oldest high school in the United States, and graduated in 1967.[3] Schmoke excelled in both football and lacrosse and he was a star quarterback.[2][4] As the varsity quarterback, he led the City Knights to two undefeated seasons and successive Maryland Scholastic Association A-conference championships in 1965 and 1966.[5]

As a student, Schmoke was a member of the Baltimore City College "A-course", a college preparatory curriculum that required him to take Latin and other advanced studies not offered to the average Baltimore high school student. Schmoke was elected president of the school's student government in his senior year but also worked in the Baltimore community with disadvantaged youth. Compulsory community service had not yet been mandated for Baltimore high school students, yet he tutored and mentored young men from the inner city as a member of the Lancers Boys Club.[6]

College and graduate school[edit]

Schmoke entered Yale College in the fall of 1967.[7] He played quarterback on the freshman team that year. Schmoke played in one of college football's most famous games in 1968. Harvard and Yale battled to a 29-29 tie in a battle of unbeaten teams. While at Yale, Schmoke and his classmates started a day care center on campus for the children of the university's janitors and cafeteria workers who lived in New Haven. The center was named after Calvin Hill, a former Yale football star who became a star running back for the Dallas Cowboys, and it still stands today.[8]

Schmoke has been acknowledged as the undergraduate student leader who helped quell the possibility of riot on the Yale campus in the wake of the New Haven Black Panther trials in the spring of 1970. As New Haven filled with radical protesters, Yale students demanded the suspension of classes. A bitterly divided faculty met to discuss strategy, and invited a student leader to address the gathering. Schmoke, who was Secretary of the Class of 1971 and a leader of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, was selected to represent the students.[6] He spoke only a few sentences: "The students on this campus are confused, they're frightened. They don't know what to think. You are older than we are, and are more experienced. We want guidance from you, moral leadership. On behalf of my fellow students, I beg you to give it to us."[9] This moment is credited with helping to dispel the growing tensions: the university voted to bend its rules, making classes "voluntarily optional" to the end of the term, and despite small outbreaks of violence, no campus-wide unrest resulted.

After graduating from Yale with a degree in history in 1971,[10] Schmoke studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University,[2][7] and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1976.[11][12][13]

Schmoke was selected with five other distinguished former collegiate student-athletes for a Silver Anniversary Award by the NCAA in 1996.

Early career[edit]

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Schmoke joined the Baltimore law firm of Piper and Marbury.[12] In 1977, he was selected to be part of the White House Domestic Policy Staff during the Carter Administration to work in the Department of Transportation.[12][13] After one year working in President Carter's administration, Schmoke returned to Baltimore as the Assistant United States Attorney, a position he held from 1978 to 1981.[13][14]

Elected office[edit]

Schmoke and Curt Anderson in 1982 as they both launch their political careers

In 1982, Schmoke ran for his first elected office. He challenged incumbent Baltimore City State's Attorney William A. Swisher in a citywide contest.[15] Schmoke ran an energetic, grassroots and race-neutral campaign and upset Swisher in a landslide.[16]

On November 3, 1987, he was elected mayor of Baltimore.[17] As mayor, he became known for his opposition to the "War on Drugs" and his stance in favor of drug decriminalization. He made his position on drug decriminalization known during a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Schmoke rewrote his speech the night before the conference, adding a harsh criticism of drug criminalization without showing his staff or the organizers of the conference.[18] After newspapers published accounts of the speech, Schmoke faced wide-spread, bi-partisan condemnation. Baltimore’s two congressmen came out against Schmoke's idea of decriminalization, as well as Reagan administration officials.[19] One of his most notable critics was Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, who called Schmoke "the most dangerous man in America."[20]

Schmoke initiated programs in housing, education, public health and economic development. During his three terms in office Schmoke faced very serious challenges, including poor quality schools, drug addiction, and violent crime. Some of his controversial positions included advocating the decriminalization of drug use and employing Nation of Islam security guards in a housing project. His achievements included improving the environment of low-income housing projects, a needle-exchange program for addicts, keeping the tax rate stable, and attracting the Ravens football team to Baltimore.[21]

In 1992, President George H. W. Bush awarded him the national Literacy Award for his efforts to promote adult literacy and, in 1994, President Bill Clinton cited Baltimore's programs to improve public housing and enhance community economic development and named Baltimore one of six cities to receive Empowerment Zone designation.[22] In 1997, Schmoke was a committee member for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.[23] After serving three terms as city mayor, Schmoke opted not to run for reelection in 1999.[24]

Advocacy of school choice and school vouchers[edit]

In 1999, Schmoke delivered some remarks on the subject of school choice and school vouchers at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York. An edited version of a transcript of that speech entitled, "Why School Vouchers Can Help Inner-City Children", is available online and in that brief web page, Schmoke explains why he believes [that] school choice and vouchers will improve the quality of public education for America's youth, particularly inner-city minority children. Schmoke first spoke in support of school choice in a speech at Johns Hopkins University in March 1996.[25]

Life after politics[edit]

After leaving office in December 1999, Schmoke practiced law at the firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Baltimore.[citation needed] In 2003, Schmoke was appointed the dean of the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. In 2004, Schmoke was appointed an honorary fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He is also on the board of Global Rights, and a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In 2008, Schmoke delivered the keynote lecture, "A New Hundred Years War? The Compelling Need to Reform National Drug Control Policy" for the Edward Bouchet Conference on Diversity in Graduate Education at Yale University.

He also appeared in two 2004 episodes of the acclaimed HBO series The Wire. The episodes, entitled "Middle Ground" and "Mission Accomplished", featured Schmoke in a bit part as a health commissioner.[26] He acts as an advisor to the fictional mayor after a rogue police major has legalized drugs in a portion of the city.[27] This is a reference to his own feelings on the drug war.

In July 2008, Schmoke became the acting senior vice president for academic affairs at Howard University. Schmoke continued as dean of the Howard University School of Law.[7] He also taught election law as a seminar class every fall semester to third-year law students.

In January 2009, Schmoke was seen holding an umbrella for Illinois Senate designee Roland Burris during an outdoor press conference concerning Burris' seating controversy.[28] Schmoke was part of the legal team advising Burris during the controversy. Schmoke was appointed vice president and general counsel of Howard University in July 2012.[29] On May 14, 2014, the University of Baltimore announced that Schmoke would become its new president.[3][30] On September 8, 2017, President Schmoke made the decision to have Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as the Fall 2017 commencement speaker.


  1. ^ Clarence H. Burns, his predecessor, had become mayor automatically as City Council President on the resignation of William Donald Schaefer, but was not elected to a full term.
  2. ^ a b c d Hall, Wiley (January 31, 1991). "ROOTING OUT THE MAYOR'S PAST Kurt Schmoke's family always emphasized the education of the children". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Cassie, Ron (May 14, 2014). "Kurt Schmoke to Lead University of Baltimore". Baltimore. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  4. ^ Berke, Richard L. (September 7, 1995). "For Baltimore Mayor, A Shaky Incumbency". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  5. ^ Kane, Gregory (December 12, 2001). "Baltimore says goodbye to City coach and teacher". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
    - Janofsky, Michael (January 18, 1987). "SUPER BOWL XXI: THE GIANTS VS. THE BRONCOS; Young Teaches Winning Course". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
    - Klingaman, Mike (December 9, 2001). "George Young, coach, NFL executive, dies at 71". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
    - Schmerler, George (1966). The 1966 Green Bag. p. 88.
  6. ^ a b Bruce Fellman (November 2000). "Powerful Persuader". Yale Alumni Magazine. Archived from the original on May 17, 2007.
  7. ^ a b c Hepkins, Andre (February 16, 2018). "Kurt Schmoke reflects on tenure fighting crime, promoting literacy". WBAL. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  8. ^ Schmoke, Kurt L. "On the Calvin Hill Day Care Center". Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  9. ^ Mayday at Yale: A Case Study in Student Radicalism, John Taft, Westview Press, 1976
  10. ^ Biographies Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Cassie, Ron (April 20, 2018). "Back to the Future". Baltimore. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c "Kurt L. Schmoke - Baltimore Sun". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c "General election". The Baltimore Sun. November 5, 1995. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  14. ^ "Biographical Sketch of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke". Baltimore City Government. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  15. ^ Valentine, Paul (September 13, 1982). "Prosecutor". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  16. ^ "Weaver's vision starts it all". Baltimore Sun. September 23, 1999. Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  17. ^ Mccauley, Mary (September 11, 2015). "Life goes on for former Baltimore mayors". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 10, 2020.[dead link]
  18. ^ April 2018, Ron Cassie | (April 20, 2018). "Kurt Schmoke Openly Advocated for Decriminalization of Marijuana". Baltimore Magazine. Retrieved June 16, 2022.
  19. ^ Banisky, Sandy; Birch, Doug (April 12, 1988). "Schmoke's Drug Idea Stirs Opposition". The Baltimore Sun. pp. 1–10. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  20. ^ Fellman, Bruce. "Yale Alumni Magazine: Kurt Schmoke (Nov 2000)". archives.yalealumnimagazine.com. Retrieved June 16, 2022.
  21. ^ Alonzo Smith (October 27, 2007). "Kurt L. Schmoke (1949- )". BlackPast. Retrieved January 25, 2009.
  22. ^ "Welcome to Empower Baltimore". Empower Baltimore Management Corporation. Archived from the original on April 14, 2016. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  23. ^ "Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence". Selection Committees. Bruner Foundation. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  24. ^ Janofsky, Michael (February 25, 1999). "Baltimore Leaders Sour on Entire Mayoral Field". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2010.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  25. ^ "Why School Vouchers Can Help Inner-City Children". 1999. Archived from the original on June 27, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2014. I [...] believe that the Democratic Party should reevaluate its position on school choice issues. [...] Some say that school choice is elitist, or even racist. The truth is that black low-income children are among the prime victims of the nation's failing public schools. African-American parents know this all too well. This is why they have been so open to the idea of school choice.
  26. ^ David Simon, George P. Pelecanos (December 12, 2004). "Middle Ground". The Wire. Season 3. Episode 11. HBO.
    - "Episode guide – episode 36 Middle Ground". HBO. 2004. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
    - David Simon, Ed Burns (December 19, 2004). "Mission Accomplished". The Wire. Season 3. Episode 12. HBO.
    - "Episode guide – episode 37 Mission Accomplished". HBO. 2004. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
  27. ^ Margaret Talbot (October 14, 2007). "Stealing Life". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 14, 2007.
  28. ^ "Schmoke Offers Aid To U.S. Senate Nominee Burris". WJZ-TV (Baltimore). January 9, 2009. Retrieved January 19, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "Kurt Schmoke". Forbes. Archived from the original on October 21, 2014. Retrieved April 29, 2015.
  30. ^ "Kurt L. Schmoke Appointed President of University of Baltimore". University of Baltimore. May 14, 2014. Retrieved April 29, 2015.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of Baltimore
Succeeded by
Preceded by
William A. Swisher
State's Attorney for Baltimore City
Succeeded by