Bell radio jingle breaks quiet of mayoral contest

Ad appears to take aim at Mfume residency issue

May 11, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's covert mayor's race continued yesterday as City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III aired radio ads with a jingle noting that "he lives in the city."

The ad appears to take a swipe at Bell's cousin, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who is expected to announce next week whether he will seek to become Baltimore's 47th mayor. Bell, a 12-year council veteran who has been president since 1995, has long hoped to step into the office held by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who leaves office in December after 12 years.

Bell has withheld announcing his candidacy for mayor, with some saying he will wait to see what Mfume, a former West Baltimore congressman and councilman, decides.

With $400,000 in campaign funds, Bell has been ambiguous about a mayoral run. Bumper stickers and signs say "Bell For Baltimore," giving him the option to seek re-election as council president.

In the radio ads, a choir of students from Dunbar High School sings Bell's praises in a jingle that lifts the melody from the popular 1964 ditty "Bread and Butter."

"Hey hey / I like Lawrence Bell / hey hey / he's been good to me / he lives in the city, y'all / and that's all right with me."

Last month, Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed a bill reducing the residency requirement for city mayoral candidates from one year to six months. The bill was introduced by House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore to benefit Mfume, whom Rawlings has been encouraging to run. Last month, Mfume purchased an Inner Harbor condominium and moved from Catonsville.

A group of about 250 political, community and business leaders in the Baltimore region have created the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee. Mfume is expected to join the race, and by winning the mayor's job he could position himself for a run at U.S. Senate.

Bell, who is pushing council legislation to reverse the new residency law, said yesterday the ad is not intended as a swipe at Mfume.

"I'm not talking about anybody but me," Bell said. "One of our goals is to reach out to young people, and I'm proud that young people feel a connection to me."

The ads began airing over the weekend on radio stations WOLB-AM, WWIN-AM and WCAO-AM. The spots have added to what has become a mayor's race with candidates running but not declaring their candidacies, said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

"We have all these candidates, and we don't know what they're running for," Crenson said.

Crenson said he was not surprised that Bell took advantage of the flap over Mfume's residency. Last week, Mfume faced criticism after revelations that he voted in city elections while living in the county the past three years.

"It's the only issue out there," Crenson said. "The problem is that until we know who is running for what, it's going to be hard to define what the issues will be."

Bell said the City Council will meet at 10: 30 a.m. May 19 to discuss a bill to block the state residency law change. Bell appears to lack the 10 council votes needed to block the law. As for when he will declare what office he intends to seek, Bell said with a smile yesterday: "Stay tuned."

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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