2 favored as McLean successor

May 19, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In the back room maneuvering at Baltimore City Hall, one of the youngest council members and a veteran have emerged as the leading contenders to replace indicted Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean if she should be forced to resign.

Political insiders point to the competition between outspoken Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III and longtime incumbent Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves as a potential preview of next year's mayoral fight.

If Mrs. McLean steps down or is convicted of theft and misconduct charges, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke intends to back Mrs. Reeves, a Democrat who has represented the 5th District since 1983, to serve the remainder of the comptroller's term.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who plans to challenge Mr. Schmoke in 1995, is said to be siding quietly with Mr. Bell. At age 32, Mr. Bell is a popular Democrat representing the 4th District and is known for taking controversial positions.

"I just keep emphasizing to folks that we don't know what's going to happen or not," Mr. Schmoke said. "But if there's a need to make an appointment, I would recommend and support Iris Reeves because she's chair of the budget committee and has a great deal of experience in financial matters."

The 19-member council would choose a replacement for Mrs. McLean if she should leave before her term expires in 1995. The mayor and council president are considered the two people with the most power to sway the situation.

Mrs. Clarke's supporters say she's likely to endorse Councilman Bell. The council president would only say that she believes the "watchdog job" should go "to a person with a strong financial background."

The mayor's pledge of support ended months of speculation that he would favor Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, a one-time assistant comptroller for Maryland National Bank and co-chairman of the budget committee with Mrs. Reeves.

He was seen as a possible choice because he has strong support in South Baltimore and is white -- which could help Mayor Schmoke, who typically does poorly among white voters in primaries, if they were to form a ticket in 1995.

Councilwoman Reeves, 54, who succeeded her late husband on the council, says she's not interested in running for comptroller next year. A brief stint as the city's financial guardian would allow her to retire with a higher pension.

Several council members said the mayor would select Councilwoman Reeves as a short-term caretaker and assemble a ticket with Mr. DiBlasi. The third position on the slate, for council presidency, would go to Vera P. Hall, who is the council vice president and head of the state Democratic Party.

Councilman DiBlasi said he's been approached by Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's campaign manager, about forming a ticket. "I think the mayor thinks I've got a strong financial background and I've worked through some difficult budget seasons, and he knows me to be forthright and honest," Mr. DiBlasi said.

Mayor Schmoke confirmed he intends to run with a slate of candidates for the first time in his political career. But he laughed and shrugged his shoulders when asked to name his favorites, saying it's too early.

The mayor's interest in a ticket was described by some as a sign of strength, and by others as a recognition that he needs to shore up his support.

"In this case, Mayor Schmoke seems popular, and he will bring the benefits of the ticket with him," said Patricia Florestano, a professor of government and public administration at the University of Baltimore. "Generally, the benefits are you get to share resources, and if his slate wins, those people are going to be more apt to cooperate with him."

"The mayor's got coattails," said Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, a political confidant of Mr. Schmoke.

But former Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, who lost to Mrs. McLean in the 1991 comptroller's race, called it a sign that the mayor "could be no longer in a position to run on his own. It will be quite a scrappy campaign from all indications."

Mrs. Clarke said she does not intend to run with a ticket. So did Councilman Carl Stokes, a two-term Democrat from the 2nd District, who has also announced for the council presidency.

Councilman Bell said this week that he's not interested in being a caretaker and intends to run in 1995, with or without Mrs. Clarke's support.

He's believed to have at least seven votes to be confirmed as interim comptroller; Mrs. Reeves has about 10.

Mrs. McLean went on a leave of absence in December amid allegations of misconduct in office.

The comptroller has since been charged with stealing more than $25,000 by having a fictitious employee on her payroll and steering a $1 million city lease to the former headquarters of her travel agency. Mrs. McLean, whose trial is scheduled to begin June 8, has spent much of the past four months under psychiatric care for depression at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson.

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