Mayoral hopefuls jostle for position Potential contenders await Schmoke decision on 4th term

September 27, 1998|By Gerry Shields

DURING A recent discussion about new Baltimore voting machines, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III might have unwittingly fired the starting pistol for next year's Baltimore mayoral race.

Although incumbent three-term Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will not announce whether he will seek a fourth four-year term until the end of the year, Bell and others have started jostling for position.

"I hope the voting machines are good to me next year," Bell said.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt is also expected to consider a bid to become Baltimore's 47th mayor and first female mayor in history, while city School Board Director Carl Stokes has also been mentioned as a candidate. Other possible contenders include City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

The individual skills of each potential candidate will be crucial to a successful bid for the city's highest elected office. Campaign organization and financial backing will be just as important for credible runs.

Here is a rundown of the possible contenders:

* The Gibson group. Whether Schmoke runs or doesn't, the candidate backed by his political manager, Larry Gibson, will likely be seen as the front-runner. The Baltimore attorney and law professor is undefeated in city races, managing four consecutive victories by Schmoke dating back to his election as Baltimore State's Attorney in 1982.

A recent poll by The Sun shows that Schmoke holds a 57 percent favorable rating in the city. If he chooses not to run, his replacement from the Gibson camp would start with an organizing advantage, particularly in West Baltimore. Having run three consecutive mayoral wins for Schmoke, Gibson knows the formula for attracting voters.

A likely successor to Schmoke from the Gibson camp is Henson. He has served in the city government since 1993 and recently gained accolades for securing funding for the demolition of Baltimore's last high-rise housing project.

Henson, 55, carries the no-nonsense pragmatism and personality necessary for a big-city mayoral candidate, but he remains dogged by questions about his spending of millions of federal dollars by his agency. A Congressional Inspector General is considering the city's housing authority as a target for a probe into spending abuses of federal housing money.

Henson has appeared at two recent housing functions looking mayoral, gaining grand introductions from colleagues. But when asked if he will consider a mayoral run, Henson replied, "Not if I don't have to."

If neither Schmoke nor Henson runs, Gibson could look to West (( Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon. Dixon, 44, has acknowledged her desire to run for mayor but notes that she would probably not compete if Henson enters the race. Another Gibson protege is Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

* The council candidate. Bell, 36, is emerging as the chief candidate from the City Council, which traditionally puts up mayoral contenders.

His candidacy would follow in the footsteps of former Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who lost to Schmoke in 1995. Bell will be considered formidable because of his name recognition and support from his cousin - national NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

A recent survey by Western Maryland College showed Bell scoring high marks for name recognition. Bell has also focused on two issues that could attract voter support: the need to get tougher on city crime, and the call for area banks to provide more business loans to impoverished neighborhoods.

* Henson vs. Henson? The other Henson in the city's political mix is Julius Henson, campaign manager for City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt.

Pratt, elected comptroller in 1995, campaigned for the Democratic nod for state comptroller, losing in the Sept. 15 primary to former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer. But Pratt's candidacy gave her a chance to get her name out early for next year's mayor's race.

Pratt, 46, declined to comment on a mayoral candidacy, but the accountant is also considered a strong contender because of her support from Baltimore's black churches. Julius Henson is emerging as a competitive political foe to Larry Gibson. Henson (no relation to the housing commissioner) recently stated his desire to challenge a Gibson opponent next year.

Henson, 49, suffered a major setback Sept. 16 when he was charged with assaulting a Baltimore polica officer during a dispute over a credit card at a gas station.

* Stoking the fires. If Schmoke decides not to run for re-election, a blitz of candidates from outside of city government are expected to emerge. A prominent name surfacing is that of city School Board Director Carl Stokes.

The former two-term East Baltimore councilman made an unsuccessful bid for the Council president's seat in 1995, but he viewed as a polished politician who could earn the support of blacks and whites.

City business leaders reportedly have asked Stokes to consider a mayoral run.

Stokes, 48, acknowlledged that he has been approached to consider running for mayor next year, but he declined to comment, saying he is focusing on his school board duties.

Schmoke, 48, will vacation during the Christmas holidays and return with a decision on a re-election bid, he said.

Possible Candidates

Larence A. Bell III

Shelia Dixon

Daniel P. Henson III

Joan M. Pratt

Carl Stokes

Gerard Shields covers City Hall for The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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