Lawrence Bell's missed moment Politics: Wyndham Hotel vote maneuvers show City Council president's vulnerability.

December 21, 1997

MIDWAY THROUGH his first term as the city's No. 2 elected official, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III is engaged in a delicate juggling act. Narrowly elected in a four-way race in 1995, he seeks to broaden his base and make himself relevant on a council where most members are in the camp of his antagonist, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

So far, Mr. Bell is not succeeding.

The recent votes on the controversial Inner Harbor East Wyndham hotel were a prime example. This was a perfect opportunity for Mr. Bell to stand up for the principle of legislative oversight of taxpayer-funded development projects and to cast himself as a viable alternative to Mr. Schmoke, a strong supporter of the hotel. Instead, Mr. Bell sided with the mayor.

Moreover, he forced the council vote in an undemocratic manner that is likely to cost him political support in the East and South Baltimore strongholds of his erstwhile ally, former City Council president and failed mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke.

It was a memorable City Council moment. The outcome was not in doubt. Nevertheless, Mr. Bell rammed through voice votes with lightning speed, depriving opponents an opportunity to speak. There were gasps in the audience, followed by catcalls and protests of "Farce!" and "Crooks!"

Mr. Bell's behavior is puzzling. If he wanted to carry water for bakery mogul John Paterakis and other Wyndham investors who gave freely at his $100-a-person Dec. 2 fund-raiser, we have news for Mr. Bell: Money from Mr. Paterakis does not mean an endorsement.

The bakery tycoon is a wily political rainmaker, who gives to all contenders to make sure he has friends in high places. Even as he was raising money for Mr. Bell, Mr. Paterakis was soliciting $500-a-person tickets to a Dec. 15 fund-raiser for the mayor that cleared some $250,000.

Mr. Bell says he wants to delay consideration of the Wyndham's financing package until a second hotel is authorized on a site closer to the recently expanded Convention Center. That may be his goal, but he does not have enough clout or votes on the council -- or political skills -- to make it happen. Mr. Bell's moment to gain leverage would have been last Monday night. He failed to seize it.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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