DiBlasi, Bell take early lead in Council president race 4-way contest remains too close to call last night CITY PRIMARY ELECTION 1995 COUNCIL PRESIDENT

September 13, 1995|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

The contest for the Democratic nomination for City Council president -- a dead heat since the campaigning began months ago -- remained a close call hours after the polls closed last night.

There was no clear front runner with 50 percent of the 372 precincts reporting. But Joseph J. DiBlasi and Lawrence A. Bell III, both serving on the City Council, were leading the race. High voter turnout at the end of the day resulted in some polls remaining open longer and thus delaying the tallying of votes.

The winner will face Anthony D. Cobb, who was unopposed in the Republican primary for City Council president, in the Nov. 7 general election.

The four Democrats running for City Council president all ran polite campaigns, and no single issue dominated the race.

At candidates forums and debates, the candidates could be seen chatting quietly, laughing and even hugging one another.

Rarely did the campaigns become negative.

While on the trail, the four worked to shore up base support by focusing on their pet issues. Mr. Bell focused on crime, Mr. DiBlasi on business, Mrs. Hall on coalition building and housing, and Mr. Stokes on education issues.

Though the candidates -- all seasoned council members for at least the past eight years -- were operating heavy door-to-door campaigns since July, their messages did not seem to resonate with voters. And that lack of interest showed in the campaign coffers of all except Mrs. Hall, who raised more than $200,000.

Even into last week, many voters said they were not sure about the council president candidates' issues. The candidates complained that the hotly contested mayoral race had eclipsed their race and took away voter attention from the beginning.

Those factors may have been the reason that none of the candidates pulled ahead of the pack. Polls showed that they were in a virtual tie for three months.

In the final days before the election, each of the four launched media campaigns to convince the huge block of undecided voters to go their way.

Last week, Mr. Bell, who has city-wide name recognition but raised very little money for the campaign, promoted endorsements from popular Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume and former Democratic Rep. Parren Mitchell.

Mr. DiBlasi, who has been a councilman since 1983, used $50,000 of his own money to place two campaign commercials on television for four days.

Mrs. Hall, a close ally of the Schmoke administration, touted that connection in a heavy rotation of radio ads. And Mr. Stokes, whose campaign started off strongly but wound down in the last weeks, ran a television campaign commercial the day before the primary.

One of the only controversial issues surrounding this campaign involved calls of racial politics. Mr. DiBlasi, the lone white candidate, said early in the race that he would target white voters and leave the black voters to the other three. Shortly after that announcement, amid criticism and praise, he said that he would target all voters.

Also, community leaders and ministers urged that either Mr. Bell, Mrs. Hall or Mr. Stokes drop from the race to avoid splitting the black vote. The leaders warned that in a majority black city that just four years ago had drastically redrawn councilmanic districts to give blacks more political punch, the three could end up losers.

Mr. Bell, Mrs. Hall and Mr. Stokes all said that their individual messages would cross racial boundaries.

But in three polls commissioned in part by The Sun, it seemed that only Mr. Stokes had wide appeal to both blacks and whites.

White voters were overwhelmingly supporting Mr. DiBlasi, and Mr. Bell and Mrs. Hall were battling it out for black voters.

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