Swisher runs for mayor on anti-crime platform

July 25, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Flanked by a man who faces charges for shooting the person who tried to mug him, mayoral candidate William A. Swisher yesterday returned to the anti-crime theme that first propelled him to political prominence in 1974.

"I wanted citizens to know that citizens still have a right to protect themselves," said Mr. Swisher, a lawyer, who has promised to defend John C. Ward against charges of carrying a handgun without a permit.

Mr. Ward, a retired sailor who lives in West Baltimore, was charged with a handgun violation July 10 when he shot a man who accosted him in an alley, shoved him against a wall and began rummaging through his pockets.

"I don't advocate carrying guns, but in this case you have a 65-year-old man who weighs 120 pounds defending himself against a 32-year-old man," Mr. Swisher said. "I don't know if the other man was even charged."

The alleged assailant, James Lester Crawford, 32, of 1800 block of West Pratt Street, was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a bullet wound in the left chest after the incident. He was charged three days later with attempted robbery and assault, said police spokeswoman Arlene K. Jenkins, who added that bail for Mr. Crawford was set at $10,000.

Mr. Swisher, Baltimore's state's attorney from 1974 to 1982, said that fear of crime has been the dominant concern voiced by city residents he has met during the summer's primary campaign.

"Crime is completely outrageous," Mr. Swisher told a candidates' forum in Locust Point recently. "People are leaving the city."

The anti-crime theme was one Mr. Swisher used with success in 1974 when, then an obscure lawyer, he successfully challenged the incumbent state's attorney, Milton B. Allen on the strength of campaign ads asserting that rising crime had transformed the city into a "jungle."

Mr. Swisher, who since then has been dogged by accusations that the campaign was designed to play on racial fears -- Mr. Allen is black -- said he had toned down his anti-crime message early in his campaign this time to avoid being branded as alarmist and racially divisive.

But yesterday, he said he will step up his anti-crime message because crime is the single greatest concern expressed by people -- including both blacks and whites -- he meets during his campaign travels.

With 160 homicides on record in Baltimore so far this year, Mr. Swisher is not the only candidate to embrace crime as an issue.

In June, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke acknowledged concerns over rising crime by approving funds for hiring 50 additional foot patrolmen. Another candidate, former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, immediately accused the mayor of having stolen one of his ideas.

"I said in March that we need more foot patrols in this city, and somebody must have heard me because two months later they announced the city was getting 50 more foot patrols," Mr. Burns said.

"We are going into a new type of world . . . and we're forgetting some of the old things that actually worked, like police walking the street."

Republican candidates like Joseph A. Scalia and Samuel A. Culotta have also hit the theme hard, with Mr. Culotta asking the governor to declare a state of emergency in Baltimore so that what he called "the state militia" could be sent in to supplement the Baltimore police.

For Mr. Swisher, the case of Mr. Ward reminded him of his days as state's attorney. Mr. Swisher recalled that 10 years ago, he refused to prosecute a cab driver who had shot two holdup men who were trying to rob him.

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