Stokes presses bid for mayor

Unfazed by Mfume, he begins radio ads, series of fund drives

April 13, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Undaunted by the campaign to draft NAACP President Kweisi Mfume into Baltimore's mayoral race, former City Councilman Carl Stokes is kicking off his media blitz and a series of fund-raisers this week in his bid to become the city's chief executive.

Stokes, one of a handful of candidates who have officially joined the mayor's race, criticized state lawmakers yesterday in radio advertisements for changing the City Charter to allow Mfume to join the contest. He also attacked proposals to raise the mayor's salary as a way to entice Mfume to run.

"The politicians are cutting deals and passing laws so they can get who they want to be mayor of Baltimore," Stokes said in one of two radio spots he launched yesterday. "Some are even supporting a 50 percent increase in the mayor's salary, just so their hand-picked candidate will run. It's just politics as usual."

With the mayoral race close to a standstill because of Mfume's possible candidacy, Stokes has become one of the most visible candidates by continuing to campaign hard.

Yesterday's radio ads followed the recent posting of signs and billboards throughout the city, proclaiming "Carl Stokes for Mayor" and regular Tuesday news conferences, which he began last week. Stokes has scheduled a $35-a-ticket fund-raiser he has billed as a "community and neighborhood" event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Cross Street Market.

Stokes expects to have about $250,000 in campaign funding by the end of today's fund-raiser. He has scheduled another event at Westminster Hall at Fayette and Greene streets April 27.

Some other expected candidates have yet to officially join the race, including City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III. Mary Pat Clarke, Bell campaign volunteer and former City Council president, said Bell is focusing on city business.

"The budget is the most important business the council does," Clarke said in a recent interview. "The best way to run a campaign is to do well at the job you already have."

Clarke said Bell would announce his candidacy after the budget is passed, before the council breaks for summer. "The passing of the budget is the end of era. That's when the race really begins."

Bell continues to post "Bell for Baltimore" signs but does not say in his literature that he plans to run for mayor.

Mary W. Conaway, city register of wills, was the first to declare her candidacy for mayor, but she has yet to file the paperwork with the election board, which has a July 6 filing deadline for this year's municipal election.

That has left Stokes, who also is a former city school board director, in a race with three social and community activists -- A. Robert Kaufman, Robert Marsili, and Phillip Brown -- who acknowledge they have little chance of winning but hope to promote robust debate over city issues.

Among the most vocal of those candidates is Kaufman, who believes that Stokes and the other more prominent candidates lack the vision to resolve the city's ills.

Criticizing Stokes' news conference last week, Kaufman said his mayoral competitor voiced outrage, but that his plans for the city are weak.

"Anybody can express outrage," Kaufman said. "There's enough to be outraged about -- the incredible shrinking city, the murder rate. One could very easily pick a different issue every week to be outraged about.

"I haven't heard any serious solutions coming out of any other candidates."

Kaufman wants to revamp the city school board by having Baltimoreans elect its members, and he wants to treat the illegal drug problem as a public health issue as a way to curb crime.

But Stokes maintains that he has a solid plan for the city. He promises to cut the homicide rate by 50 percent in his first term. His three-point plan would begin with an "intolerance" strategy instead of the "zero tolerance" plan practiced by New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Stokes' intolerance policy would target "nuisance crimes" or misdemeanors that trouble neighborhoods.

He said he would reopen closed recreation centers, to provide more before- and after-school care for children and youth.

The third part of his plan would provide drug treatment on demand for the city's addicts.

In addition to his attack on crime, Stokes said he would immediately add $25 million to the school budget to help improve education.

Stokes said he would pay for his plans with the $75 million to $100 million he believes city government wastes on such things as court overtime for police officers. "We will restructure city government," Stokes said.

The mayoral hopeful said he is showing his leadership ability by standing firm in the face of what could be a difficult campaign if Mfume joins the race.

"I'm in it," Stokes said. "We're trying to move this thing by going on the air early. We're up now to stay."

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