Kurt Schmoke

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Kurt Schmoke
Kurt L. Schmoke
46th Mayor of Baltimore
In office
December 1987 – December 1999
Preceded by Clarence "Du" Burns
Succeeded by Martin O'Malley
State's Attorney for Baltimore City
In office
Preceded by William A. Swisher
Succeeded by Stuart O. Simms
Personal details
Born Kurt Lidell Schmoke
(1949-12-01) December 1, 1949 (age 73)
Baltimore, Maryland
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Dr. Patricia Schmoke (Locks)
Children Greg and Katherine[citation needed]
Profession Law School Dean
Religion Christian

Kurt Lidell Schmoke (born December 1, 1949) is best known as the first elected African-American mayor of Baltimore, Maryland. He is the current President of the University of Baltimore (UB), and former Dean of the Howard University School of Law.

Early years

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

High school

Schmoke attended the Baltimore City College, the third oldest high school in the United States and the largest high school in Maryland at the time of his graduation in 1967. Schmoke excelled in both football and lacrosse. His speed afoot and his passing accuracy won him the starting job as the varsity and junior varsity quarterback. 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.

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.[1]

College and graduate school

Schmoke entered Yale University in the fall of 1967. He played quarterback on the freshman team that year. 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, and still stands today.[2]

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.[3] 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."[4] 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 (1971),[5] Schmoke studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1976.

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

Early career

He then joined the Baltimore law firm of Piper and Marbury and was part of the White House Domestic Policy Staff during the Carter Administration, before returning to Baltimore as Assistant United States Attorney in 1978.

Elective office

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 city-wide contest. Swisher had won the job away from Milton B. Allen, Baltimore's first African American State's Attorney. Schmoke ran an energetic, grass roots and race neutral campaign and upset Swisher in a landslide.[6]

On November 3, 1987, he was elected mayor. As mayor, he became known for his opposition to the "War on Drugs" and his stance in favor of drug decriminalization (which he discussed in Heroin and the War on Drugs). 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.[7]

In 1997, Schmoke served as a committee member for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.[8]

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.[citation needed] After serving three terms, Schmoke opted not to run for reelection in 1999.[9]

Advocacy for school choice and school vouchers

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[10] 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 came out in support of school choice in a speech at Johns Hopkins University in March 1996.[10]

Life after politics

After leaving office in December 1999, Schmoke practiced law at the firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Baltimore.[11]
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.[12][13][14][15] He acts as an advisor to the fictional mayor after a rogue police major has legalized drugs in a portion of the city.[16] This is a reference to his own feelings on the drug war.

In July 2008 Kurt Schmoke became the acting Senior Vice President of Academic Matters at Howard University, a position that was previously held by Richard English, PhD, making him provost for the university. Schmoke will continue as Dean of the Howard University School of Law. It had been rumored that he was going to be named the new president, but he had denied the claim on several occasions.[17] Schmoke also teaches 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.[18] 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.[19] On May 14, 2014, the University of Baltimore announced that Schmoke would become its new president.[20]


  1. YAM November 2000 – Powerful Persuader
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  3. Powerful Persuader, in the Yale Alumni Magazine, November 2000
  4. Mayday at Yale: A Case Study in Student Radicalism, John Taft, Westview Press, 1976
  5. Biographies
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External links

Preceded by Mayor of Baltimore
Succeeded by
Martin J. O'Malley
Preceded by
William A. Swisher
State's Attorney Baltimore City
Succeeded by
Stuart O. Simms
Preceded by
Lesley Bush
Larry Echohawk
Kwaku Ohene-Frempong
Bob Lanier
Mike Phipps
Mike Reid
Silver Anniversary Awards (NCAA)
Class of 1996
Marty Liquori
Thomas Lewis Lyons
Cliff Meely
Kurt Schmoke
Joe Theismann
Jack Youngblood
Succeeded by
Tommy Casanova
Jack Ford
David Joyner
Edward B. Rust Jr.
James Tedisco
Herb Washington