Advice to Bell: Keep speeches simple Advice to candidate Bell: Keep the speeches simple Some advice to candidate Bell: Keep it simple

This Just In...

May 28, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

THOUGH the morning was splendid and sunny, Lawrence Bell went indoors to make his announcement. Smart move. Speaking from the base of City Hall's beautiful 119-foot rotunda, Bell's voice boomed and echoed off the marble and seemed to ascend to a height his words could not match.

Making the big, inspiring speech is not among Bell's strengths. Which doesn't disqualify him for mayor. William Donald Schaefer was mayor for 15 years, and listening to him give a speech was like watching a blindfolded kid play connect-the-dots. But for such an important announcement, Bell should have hired someone with a gift for prose, someone who would not write a speech that, like yesterday's, became confusing, even contradictory, early on.

"We have to draw upon our strengths," Bell said.

So far, so good.

"We have to maximize our assets."

Economist-speak, but I get it.

"We have to believe in ourselves."

Me for that.

"We have to have the kind of faith that we look beyond the negativity, we look beyond the crime, we look beyond the problems in schools, we look beyond all the negative things ... "

What? Stop. Push the rewind button. Let's hear that again.

" ... We look beyond the negativity, we look beyond the crime, we look beyond the problems in schools, we look beyond all the negative things ... "

Ahoy, mates! We've run aground.

Bell has many times professed commitment to a safer Baltimore and better schools; he actually did it, briefly, somewhere in yesterday's speech. But then, as his rhetoric built and his voice echoed in the rotunda and TV cameras recorded his every word, he went into this "beyond" rap.

And in so doing Bell suggested that Baltimore's problem is negative thinking -- not mediocre schools, not the high concentration of people in poverty, not the declining tax base, not the rate of drug addiction and related crime that devastated neighborhoods. Here he was, offering some strange sound bite about looking "beyond" those nagging problems when what Baltimore needs for a change is a mayor who looks directly at those problems, grabs them and beats them.

If Bell has a vision of "Baltimore City being the best city in America," he needs help getting what's in his heart to his tongue.

And there's a lot in his heart. "He cares about people," says his father, Lawrence Bell Jr. "He really does. He could have chosen some other field, probably made a lot more money, but he chose this, public service. He really believes in it.

"He always talks about making government inclusive, too, about reaching out and bringing someone in ... and about reaching down and bringing someone up. Because of his background, when he talks about `one Baltimore,' he means it. You're going to see it."

His father means that a Bell administration, like the mayoral campaign that started yesterday, will be based on the biracial politics for which there had been so much promise early in the Schmoke years. That's something we'd be happy to see.

"And he's a compassionate person," says Lawrence Bell Jr. of his 37-year-old son. "I've seen it."

He mentions a funeral -- the one for a cousin named Teddy Shaw, who was killed last spring. Shaw was shot several times in the head after two men emerged from an alley along Woodland Avenue in Pimlico and accosted him. Two teen-agers were wounded in the spray of bullets. Police at the time said they did not know of a motive. Shaw was 32 years old.

At the funeral, Lawrence Bell III wept, his father says.

"A lot of families have been through something like that," he adds, acknowledging in a few words one of the large, awful truths about life in Baltimore over the last two decades. "At the funeral, Lawrence was very emotional. First time I saw him break down. ... [Shaw] was my first cousin, Lawrence's second cousin and he was very close to him in age. So when he talks about safety in the city, he's very passionate about that. I know he'll be a good mayor. He feels people's pain."

Best part of Bell's speech yesterday -- the announcement of his campaign theme: "Back to basics, block by block." That's good, clear, simple. Advice to the candidate: Let the person who came up with that write your speeches. If you're the one who came up with that, congratulations, and get someone else to write your speeches. ... Noticed: Tammy Hawley, who served for 12 years as a chief aide to coulda-been-mayor and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, is Bell's campaign manager. She was hired in October to handle campaign finances. She used to be Mfume's congressional staff director, then joined him at the NAACP as chief financial officer. ...Parting shot: Am I the only Baltimorean who had a hard time imagining Kweisi Mfume lying awake at night worrying about whether my garbage had been picked up?

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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