In a surprise move, state Sen. George W. Della Jr. entered the race for Baltimore City Council president yesterday, saying he didn't want incumbent Mary Pat Clarke to retain her seat without a fight.
"If you don't offer the public a choice, then they are stuck with what they have," said Mr. Della, a former councilman from South Baltimore who represents Baltimore's 47th Legislative District in Annapolis. "I think there's a real void in leadership that I can fill."
At last night's filing deadline of 9 p.m., 89 candidates had filed for those municipal offices up for grabs -- mayor, comptroller, council president or for one of the three seats in each of Baltimore's six councilmanic districts -- in either the Democratic or the Republican primary Sept. 12.
If Mr. Della remains in the race for council president beyond the July 15 withdrawal deadline, the Democratic primaries for all three citywide offices -- mayor, council president and comptroller -- should shape up as significant contests.
In the mayor's race, Kurt L. Schmoke faces eight challengers, including a former mayor, Clarence H. "Du" Burns, and a former state's attorney, William A. Swisher.
In the race for comptroller, three candidates are vying to succeed Hyman A. Pressman, who is retiring after seven consecutive terms. They are the City Council's vice president, Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd, Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd, and Mary Conaway, the city's register of wills.
In her well-financed campaign, Mrs. McLean is highlighting her experience in building one of the region's most successful travel agencies, while Mr. Landers emphasizes his work in building strong community groups in Northeast Baltimore. Mrs. Conaway, who lost a bid for the comptroller's office four years ago, is serving her third term as register of wills and has run well in Northwest and West Baltimore.
A hotly contested battle to succeed Mr. Pressman had been expected; the major surprise was Mr. Della's challenge to Mrs. Clarke, who was elected to her first term in 1987. Mrs. Clarke became a highly visible force in city politics last spring when she pushed through a controversial redistricting plan that created five majority-black districts.
"I think in the white communities [Mr. Della] will be a serious threat, because they are extremely upset with Mary Pat on several issues -- particularly redistricting," Mrs. McLean said. "As I canvas neighborhoods, people express that to me."
Mr. Della said he made the decision to run for council president two days ago. He said he entered the race because of Mrs. Clarke's support of the redistricting plan, which moved much of South Baltimore from the 6th District to the 1st District, dominated by East Baltimore.
And, he recalled an emotional meeting in which Mrs. Clarke demanded that the council return her power to appoint committee chairs -- a power that was stripped by a majority of the council on the night she was sworn into office four years ago. "This job is not about power, it's about serving the people," he said.
Mrs. Clarke said she welcomes Mr. Della to the race. While many were surprised by his filing yesterday, she said she was not.
"I've never run once for citywide office without Stonewall challenging me," she said, referring to the old-line South Baltimore political club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, of which Mr. Della is a member.
"I'm the eternal outsider. I've never represented politicians, I represent people," Mrs. Clark said. "And I'd rather be that than an 'insider.' "
A Clarke supporter, Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, said that four years ago "political dinosaurs" had stripped Mrs. Clarke of her power to appoint council committee chairmen. "And now they turn around and say she's power hungry," Mr. Bell said. "That's ridiculous."
In the council races, the most lively contests are expected in the 6th, 3rd and 1st districts -- all of which were significantly changed by redistricting.
Redistricting increased black voting strength in the 6th District, and three black candidates -- Melvin Stukes, Rodney Orange and Arlene Fisher -- have entered the race and are considering running as a unified ticket. They will face the three white incumbents -- Joseph J. DiBlasi, Edward L. Reisinger III and Timothy D. Murphy. Only Mr. DiBlasi and Mr. Reisinger have so far agreed to run together.
There are hopes in the 3rd District for election of a black representative on the council to replace Mr. Landers. Incumbents Martin E. "Mike" Curran and Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham will face strong challenges from such candidates as Maegertha Whitaker, a union leader and supervisor at Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. who was elected to the Democratic State Central Committee last year, and Nina Harper, an American Telephone & Telegraph Co. account executive who ran a strong but unsuccessful campaign for delegate in the 45th Legislative District.