Republican Marshall W. Jones Jr. says he can be elected city comptroller, even if his winning scenario seems a bit ambitious.
Jones says he can win because 51 percent of the Democrats did not vote for Democratic nominee Jacqueline F. McLean in the September primary. He figures he will pick up those votes and get the support of Republicans, independents and members of other political parties.
To buttress his case, Jones simply points to last year's upset of incumbent Democratic Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen by Republican Roger B. Hayden.
"The same thing can happen here," Jones says.
Such optimism is a must for Jones because, like every Republican running in Baltimore's Nov. 5 general election, he is an almost hopeless underdog.
An East Baltimore mortician and financial planner, Jones was the unanimous choice of his party in the September primary. But he received just 3,700 votes.
His opponent, McLean, 47, received more than 46,000 votes in running out front of the Democratic field. Her primary showing was so strong that many people already are discussing her as mayoral timber.
McLean's advantages don't end there.
Among registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1 in Baltimore. McLean has raised more than $60,000 and Jones about $4,000. And, further dimming the picture for Jones, no Republican has been elected to any city post since 1963.
Clearly, Jones has his work cut out for him. But he says he is up to the challenge.
"I'm qualified to be comptroller. That's the No. 1 reason I'm running," says Jones. "No. 2, we need a two-party system in Baltimore City. As it is now, the Democrats hand offices from one club member to another."
Jones, 59, is a lifelong Republican and his political activity dates back to when Republicans actually helped run things in Baltimore.
He served 12 years on the city elections board, on the parks board, the Republican State Central Committee, the city Civil Rights Commission (now called the Community Relations Commission) and the Off-Street Parking Commission. He also ran last year for state comptroller, losing in the Republican primary.
But rather than talking about his experience in politics, Jones is trying to sell voters on the idea that the city needs to elect a Republican to break up the ruling Democratic clique.
McLean, who is completing her second term on the City Council, says Jones' message is flawed.
"He says people need to vote for him because he is a Republican," McLean says. "I have to totally disagree with that. One of the reputations I have is that I'm not a glad-hander. I think his characterization of putting everyone in the same pot -- saying all Democrats are the same -- is in poor taste."
McLean says she is independent and tough-minded and unafraid to challenge the mayor or council president, if the need arises. But at the same time, she doesn't see being comptroller as an adversarial position. Instead, she thinks a comptroller must work closely with the mayor and council to improve the city's precarious fiscal situation.
The comptroller has a relatively limited role in city government -- keeping watch over the city's coffers; heading the audit department and the real estate division, and sitting on the boards of the three municipal pension systems and the Board of Estimates, which approves contracts, all major expenditures and the budget.
This year, the comptroller's job was truly wide open for the first time since 1963, because seven-term incumbent Hyman A. Pressman, a Democrat, is retiring because of declining health.
Despite the opportunity, Jones and McLean have rarely clashed in what to date has been a quiet general election campaign.
"The first time the two of us actually stood together before a group of voters was [last week]," says McLean, who adds that she has received numerous speaking invitations from groups that assume she will be the city's next comptroller.
For all his proud partisan talk, some of Jones' platform is decidedly unlike the rhetoric coming from America's Republican leadership.
For instance, Jones favors a commuter tax that would place a levy on the 200,000 people who work in Baltimore and live elsewhere. The city needs the money, he says. And, he adds, he doesn't believe all the dire warnings about how a commuter tax would hurt business in Baltimore.
"Hurt what business?" he asks. "How are you going to lose what you don't have?"
Jones also says he would like to foster ties with Coppin State College and Morgan State University to increase the number of black auditors who work for the city. He also backs the idea, now being studied, of establishing a non-profit municipal automobile insurance company.
"As it stands now, those least able to pay for auto insurance in the city are paying two, three, four, five times what you pay elsewhere in the state," Jones says.
He admits that McLean holds similar sentiments. "I really have no problem with Jackie as a candidate," Jones says. "I don't think we differ too much on the office. We both want to run it efficiently and want its staff to reflect the city. But the difference between me and her is that she comes from a long line of Democrats. It's time for a change."