Three-way comptroller race offers Landers an advantage

Frank A. DeFilippo

August 01, 1991|By Frank A. DeFilippo

THERE'S A high-paying job available in Baltimore and it's one of those rare occasions these days when it's an advantage to be a 40-year-old white male even though the boss is an equal opportunity employer.

The job is comptroller of the city and the pay is $53,000 a year, including an attractive package of go-withs. The contest to succeed the durable Hyman A. Pressman as comptroller is one that political rubberneckers are watching closely.

It's a tight little competition among three elected officials who are trying to move up a notch from their current jobs. The candidates include two black females and one white male -- important gender Frank A.DeFilippoand racial distinctions that could determine the outcome of the match-up.

First, there's Jacqueline McLean, who is giving up her 2nd District seat on the City Council to run for comptroller. McLean's the penultimate buppie -- black urban professional -- who along with her husband runs a highly successful travel agency that isn't even in the district she represents.

If she has no other qualifications for the office, McLean has tons of money and has proven that she knows how to spend it on winning elections. On her first trip around the electoral circuit, McLean turned the 2nd District on its head by introducing the unconventional and unexpected into a lowly City Council race. She spent thousands of dollars saturating television with campaign ads while the other candidates were passing out palm cards, a stratagem that many believe she'll repeat in the comptroller's race in a bravura display of overkill.

Comes next Mary Conaway, a seasoned campaigner from the 4th District who's run citywide several times before. Conaway's an experienced administrator who's currently serving as register wills.

She is popular in the black community and runs a good chance of winning the all-important benediction of the black ministers, to be announced at a news conference tomorrow. Conaway herself is an ordained minister with a master's degree in divinity, and has gathered several other key endorsements, including that of the AFL-CIO.

Finally, Jody Landers, male, white, with a business degree from Morgan State University, reaching the endangered species age of 40, who's giving up his 3rd District seat to try for the third-ranking citywide office. Landers has been characterized as male Mary Pat Clarke, an energetic busybody with a strong community base of support.

Landers is kind of a protege of young Tommy D'Alesandro's days at City Hall. D'Alesandro singled out Landers as one of a handful of young leaders who one day would help to rebuild Baltimore.

What's more, Landers has the endorsement of the vacating comptroller, Pressman himself, who's giving up the job after 28 years because of poor health. In 1963, Pressman became the first person ever to win elective office in Maryland on a fusion ticket -- a Democrat who lost in his own party's primary election but who ran in the general election as a Democrat on Republican Theodore R. McKeldin's winning ticket. The law was changed the next year to prevent the recurrance of future political shotgun marriages.

The post of comptroller itself is a mish-mash of odd jobs. For openers, the comptroller sits on the Board of Estimates, nominally one of two members who is not under the thumb of the mayor. The comptroller also presides over the city auditors as well as its real estate division and sits on several important boards where critical financial and investment decisions are made.

To be sure, Landers and McLean both carry the smudges of having served eight years on the council while Conaway spent her years out of public view in the obscurity of the register of wills' office where nobody gets bruised by budget decisions, tax increases or painful votes.

But aside from experience, issues, job descriptions and political ambition, what really matters in the election for comptroller is Landers' gender and color.

Landers' strategy is simplicity itself -- divide and conquer. Landers' home territory is the northeast corner of town where Crayola coalition politics is arriving slowly. Patch that turf together with East and South Baltimore and warrens in the northwest and the combination creates a formidable jumble of votes for Landers while McLean and Conaway are struggling for the very same bloc of votes within the black community. The wonder is that they both stayed in the race.

In a contest where two black women are competing for the black vote, being a white male isn't the drawback that it is in the usual workplace. In this murky triangle of electoral politics, the action might be affirmative in favor of Landers.

There's only one kink, though. It's that name Jody. Some people might think there are three women running for comptroller.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics for this page every other week.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.