Mayor hopeful Bell touring big cities to gather ideas

He's studying solutions for urban problems

April 20, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

It's not the Rolling Stones tour, but Baltimore City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III has begun visiting a half dozen other U.S. cities to explore ways to attack mutual urban problems such as violent crime, drug addiction and unemployment.

Last month, Bell visited Atlanta to see how city managers operate and to inspect a successful program through which a private company was hired to handle city water and wastewater services.

Bell, who has said he wants to be mayor, plans to visit six cities -- Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New York and Washington. He is using campaign funds to pay for the visits.

Last week, Bell said he intends to remain a candidate to succeed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke as Baltimore's 47th mayor.

Schmoke will step down in December, ending his 12-year tenure, to take a job with a Washington law firm.

Many thought Bell would never enter the race because of the growing movement to draft NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Bell's second cousin, as a mayoral candidate.

Bell's priorities on the tour include exploring cities increasingly using technology and strong mayor governments that hire city managers to conduct day-to-day operations.

Bell said he was impressed with Atlanta's handing the city's water and wastewater services to a private company because the transfer avoided layoffs and cut city property taxes significantly.

"We want to see how cities are bouncing back," Bell said.

One of the cities Bell has delayed touring is New York. The 12-year council veteran had hoped to spend time with Republican New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Several visits have been canceled because of the furor over claims of police brutality against the New York Police Department.

Jury selection is under way in the trial of four New York officers accused of torturing a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, in a Brooklyn police station in 1997. On Thursday, thousands of protesters rallied over the killing of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo by officers. The unarmed Diallo was killed 10 weeks ago when four white New York police officers sprayed 41 bullets at him as he stood in the vestibule of his apartment building in the Bronx.

Bell has been an avid supporter of New York's "zero-tolerance" crime strategy, which involves targeting smaller crimes and repeat offenders to prevent violent crime. The tactic has been scrutinized by critics because of the New York tragedies.

Bell supports the strategy, despite the bad publicity.

"I never defined `zero tolerance' as including excessive force," he said. "There is more positives to the program that have been tainted by [the New York events.]"

Schmoke helped Bell plan his visits to other U.S. cities.

"I contacted a few mayors and urged them to meet with him so he could get an idea of how a number of different cities are managed," Schmoke said.

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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