Who will step up in mayor's race?

Mfume out: Candidates must concentrate on defining themselves clearly so voters can make choices.

May 26, 1999

THE VACUUM left by Kweisi Mfume's decision not to run for mayor of Baltimore underscores how badly hopefuls for that office have failed in defining themselves. They must do better.

Despite years in the public arena, front-runners Lawrence A. Bell III and Carl Stokes lack clear images. They have generated little enthusiasm because they don't have compelling political identities and have yet to articulate clear visions.

Too many voters have little idea who Mr. Stokes and Mr. Bell are or what they stand for. Are they surprised that people pay scant attention to their views?

By contrast, Mr. Mfume's image -- as the NAACP's chief executive and former Baltimore congressman, City Council member and velvet-voiced radio disc jockey -- was so strong that supporters were not concerned with his views. A broad coalition of backers was willing to take him at face value, despite maddening months of ambiguity about his true intentions.

Now that Mr. Mfume has removed himself from consideration, the field of mayoral contenders may grow.

A surprise candidate of stature could still emerge. But time is running out for those without name recognition, money and organization. The July 6 filing deadline is 41 days away.

That makes it incumbent upon Mr. Bell, the City Council president, and Mr. Stokes, the former councilman and school board member, to elevate their campaigns in those six weeks, to demonstrate that a leadership vacuum does not exist.

It is also incumbent upon the city's Republican Party to beat the bushes during that time for a viable GOP alternative in case Democrats field a weak nominee.

It is worth remembering that few memorable Baltimore mayors were destined for obvious success. They acquired greatness through hard work, creative ideas and a diligent staff.

Could Mr. Stokes or Mr. Bell be of such stuff? This year's victor could be the candidate who does the best job of proving he or she is up to the task. Voters are looking for someone who grasps the city's core problems, lays out practical solutions and captures the public's imagination and confidence.

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