3 vying for Clarke's job are also late with reports

April 08, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Michael James | JoAnna Daemmrich and Michael James,Sun Staff Writers

Three of four members of the Baltimore City Council vying in a tough citywide race to become the next council president have failed for nine weeks to file updated campaign finance reports, state records show.

Vera P. Hall, Lawrence A. Bell III and Joseph J. DiBlasi, who are running for the city's second-highest office, have yet to meet the Jan. 31 deadline.

Carl Stokes is the only one of the four announced candidates to have filed his report on time.

Mr. Bell frequently has been late throughout his two terms on the council in turning in his finance statements -- and they contain discrepancies ranging from incorrect entries to an unexplained deficit.

The three council president candidates have plenty of company in their tardiness.

Of the 18 council members, only eight were on time in filing the most recent campaign report, designed to cover donations and expenditures in the final months of 1994.

Also late were: Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. of the 1st District; Martin O'Malley of the 3rd; and Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Iris G. Reeves of the 5th, who are part of a "slate" committee with Mrs. Hall. Two new council members and Paula Johnson Branch of the 2nd District do not have active committees raising or spending money on their behalf.

State election officials have asked all candidates in Maryland to update their last campaign reports to cover a three-month gap in reporting in late 1994. While no law requires the supplement, election officials say they intend to seek legislation for it.

Mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke was the first to come under criticism for missing this year's deadline. Mrs. Clarke's financial disclosure reports throughout her eight-year tenure as City Council president contain numerous discrepancies and mistakes, including unsigned statements, missing checks and unacknowledged deficits.

Errors in her campaign reports are more extensive than those in almost all of the finance statements of her colleagues on the council, according to a review yesterday of election records in Annapolis.

Mr. Bell is the only other council member to have an unexplained deficit, although several had been cited for incorrect campaign entries.

Mrs. Clarke's campaign manager, Cheryl Benton, said yesterday that the campaign treasurer is working to correct what she describes as minor bookkeeping mistakes.

Ms. Benton also pointed out that concerns have been raised by the media and by Larry S. Gibson, the campaign chairman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, and not by state elections officials.

"I'm not trying to belittle having to do things right," she said. "I just figured there are bigger issues in this campaign, and we want to get beyond something we're working with the state elections board to correct. We ought to start talking about what is on the hearts and minds of the citizens of Baltimore."

The Schmoke campaign seized on news of discrepancies in Mrs. Clarke's reports to call into question her ability to handle the finances of a city with a $2.2 billion yearly budget.

Some members of the all-Democratic council said yesterday that proper bookkeeping and punctuality are important because elected officials must be held to a higher standard.

They also noted that the council president chairs the city's Board of Estimates, a five-member panel that reviews most financial transactions.

"This is a reflection of you as an elected official," said 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon. "We have to be on top of this as well as everything else we're involved in because of the public trust issue and the commitment you make."

But many of those who failed to meet the deadline blamed the state for not informing them of the new requirement, and some said the reports were not very significant.

An indignant Mr. DiBlasi, who represents southern Baltimore's 6th District, said he was "totally unaware" of the new form and faulted the state for failing to notify him.

"I've never missed filing a report of any kind, never been late for filing anything in my entire career," he said.

"If anybody made a mistake here, they [the state] did. I don't need to be hit by the pitch at this point in my campaign."

Mr. Bell, of West Baltimore's 4th District, reacted with surprise yesterday when told about problems with his reports.

He said he would have to review his most recent filing, dated Nov. 29, before commenting on the $803 deficit between the $4,830 he raised and the $5,633 he spent.

His Oct. 28 report also showed a deficit -- $867 -- even though an outstanding debt he lists remained unchanged at $6,515.

Reports filed by Mr. Bell's campaign earlier in 1994 showed a cash balance of $430, and the same campaign loans from his parents from the fall of 1991, when he ran for a second term. His campaign also has paid $680 in late fees for four separate missed filings.

"If errors have been committed, we intend to straighten them out and correct them promptly," Mr. Bell said, adding that he would review the matter with his treasurer.

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