Council deadlocks on new comptroller

July 16, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Eric Siegel | JoAnna Daemmrich and Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

In a surprising political stalemate, a sharply divided Baltimore City Council failed yesterday to select a successor to indicted former Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.

Three times, the council attempted to agree on a candidate to finish the term of Mrs. McLean, who retired earlier this week.

And three times, the all-Democratic 19-member group could not come up with the necessary majority of 10 votes -- despite pleas for the two council members vying for the job.

The impasse leaves the city's third-most-powerful office in the hands of Deputy Comptroller Shirley Williams since there are no plans to hold another meeting. She took over in December, when Mrs. McLean went on leave amid allegations of corruption in office and will remain as acting comptroller for the final 18 months of the four-year term.

Some called the council's failure to choose a new comptroller an affront to voters. Others saw the standoff as a rebuff to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who lobbied both publicly and behind the scenes for veteran 5th District Democrat Iris G. Reeves over outspoken 4th District Democrat Lawrence A. Bell III.

ZTC "It's certainly a defeat for [the mayor]," said state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat who plans to run for comptroller in 1995.

"I think the entire matter has been handled in such an unseemly fashion," he said. "It's not the best person for the job. It's who has the most political muscle."

Mr. Schmoke said he considered the stalemate a victory because he wanted a caretaker until next year's election. "I'm just pleased I got the results that I wanted."

The hourlong special council meeting adjourned in a hopeless deadlock after a tense contest between Mrs. Reeves, whose candidacy was also pushed by most members of the council's African American Coalition, and Mr. Bell, who had the support of labor unions, environmentalists and Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Mrs. Clarke's plan to challenge the mayor's bid for a third term next year infused the meeting with broader political significance.

On the first vote, nine council members lined up with Mrs. Reeves and eight with Mr. Bell. First District Democrat Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., saying he did not like either candidate, nominated Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi. But Mr. DiBlasi, a 6th District Democrat, voted for Mrs. Reeves and only got one other vote himself.

After a short recess, punctuated by last-minute maneuvering in the lobby, Mr. DiBlasi withdrew his name from consideration. Sixth District Democrat Timothy D. Murphy then switched his vote to Mr. Bell, but Mr. D'Adamo abstained.

Just before the third vote was taken, Peter Marudas, the mayor's legislative liaison, leaned over Mr. D'Adamo's desk and whispered urgently in his ear. Mr. Bell and his supporters also attempted to sway his vote. But a flushed Mr. D'Adamo abstained again.

"It was a tough call. I think the two candidates before us today were not the candidates we needed," i Mr. D'Adamo said at the end of the strained session.

While television crews surrounded the two candidates, Mr. Marudas ushered Mr. D'Adamo downstairs to meet with Mayor Schmoke.

"The mayor wanted me to explain the vote -- why I passed," a visibly flustered Mr. D'Adamo said later.

Yesterday's events capped a frenzied week of lobbying by administration officials, special interest groups and council members. At midweek, the mayor called both Mr. D'Adamo and Mr. Murphy.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge said he was "shocked" the mayor could not corral the votes for Mrs. Reeves. But he called the stalemate a pragmatic victory for the administration because it kept Mr. Bell out of office.

Mayor Schmoke had said he wanted to prevent a short-term incumbent from getting an edge in the city election. The mayor backed Mrs. Reeves, an administration loyalist who said she would not seek the office in 1995.

Mr. Bell, on the other hand, has criticized Mr. Schmoke and intends to run for comptroller.

A number of Baltimore politicians, including Mr. Ambridge, were dismayed that the council adjourned without selecting a new comptroller.

"Today was not a glorious day for the council or the citizens of Baltimore," said Mr. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat.

Former Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a relative of Mr. Bell, were among an unexpectedly large crowd of onlookers. Mr. Landers left saying, "I ask myself whose interest was served here today? Certainly not the citizens."

Council President Clarke also was critical of her colleagues for adjourning without a consensus. "I think we could have tried a lot harder," she said.

Mayor Schmoke said he was advised by the city solicitor that Ms. Williams could continue as acting comptroller. She did not want to become comptroller in part because her salary as a civil service employee is $72,700 a year, compared with the elected position's pay of $53,000.

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