Ex-police commissioner considers mayor's race

Officials in Annapolis push Robinson to run

June 09, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Bishop L. Robinson said yesterday that he will likely become a candidate for mayor if he can muster the necessary political support.

After retiring as state public safety director two years ago, Robinson, 72, serves as a business development consultant for New Jersey-based Lockheed MartinIMS. Robinson, city police commissioner from 1984 to 1987, is being recruited to run by state politicians who say they are dissatisfied with the city's forming mayoral field.

Robinson said he will take about a week to determine whether the campaign support necessary for a mayoral run exists.

"I really need to bring together a solid group of individuals to support my candidacy," he said. "I'm not one who jumps out into the water without having adequate resources to carry on a campaign."

Robinson's entry into the city's first mayoral race without an incumbent in 28 years could set up a showdown over city control between Baltimore candidates and state officials in Annapolis who have become increasingly unhappy with crime, joblessness, the failure of the schools and high property taxes in Baltimore.

In turn, City Council members have accused state legislators of increasingly meddling in city affairs over the past year. In the recent legislative session, politicians pushed for numerous rule changes in the city. The state contributes 25 percent of the city's $1.8 billion budget.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III appeared unconcerned yesterday by a possible Robinson candidacy, saying that he hopes it will solidify support from residents opposing any Annapolis influence.

"Lawrence is the man to beat," said Marshall Bell, the council president's brother and campaign manager. "Now is the time for the city to unify and come together under one candidate."

Word of Robinson's likely candidacy came on a day the election's first voter poll was released by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications Inc., a firm formed by Patrick E. Gonzales and Carol A. Arscott, formerly of Mason Dixon Campaign Polling & Strategy Inc.

The survey shows that with one month left before the July 6 filing deadline, the city race is very much up for grabs. The company conducted the survey as a promotion, without backing from others.

The telephone survey of 411 likely city voters -- 62 percent African-American and 55 percent women -- was conducted last week and showed that among declared candidates, Bell appears to be the man to beat. The 12-year West Baltimore councilman received broad biracial support and has a 6-to-1 favorable-to-unfavorable ratio.

Bell also scored high in name recognition and support from a bloc of voters whom political analysts consider crucial to the city race: African-American women.

Yet the poll, with a margin of error of 5 percent, also showed that many of the voters -- almost 50 percent -- have neutral feelings on the two most-recognized candidates: Bell and former city councilman and school board member Carl Stokes.

"It is commentary on the field that no one has captured the imagination as Kweisi [Mfume] did," said Arscott, former chairman of the Howard County Republican Party. Mfume, president of the NAACP, was floated as a possible candidate for mayor for months, but he declined to run last month.

Despite the poll results, Stokes remained positive yesterday about his chances.

"The high level of undecided -- even with nine or 10 people on the test ballot -- makes it clear that I am a leading candidate and well-positioned to win," Stokes said.

The poll also showed that state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former governor and mayor, scored the highest marks when added to the crowded 10-member field of declared and likely candidates.

Respondents gave Schaefer 32 percent to Bell's 23 percent if the race were held today. But 62 percent of the survey respondents said the city needs new leadership, not a Schaefer return.

"I think it shows strong residual fondness for the former mayor and governor," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor. "What this shows is that a majority of the voters haven't made up their mind and seem quite far from doing so."

Other declared Democratic candidates for the Sept. 14 primary include Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and community activists William E. Roberts Sr., Phillip A. Brown Jr. and A. Robert Kaufman, founder of the City Wide Coalition, a citizens group pushing for city insurance reform.

Among those who have expressed interest in running are state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

None of the candidates had more than 10 percent of poll support if the race were held today. Robinson received 7 percent, with 39 percent of the respondents neutral and one out of four unfamiliar with his name. Mayoral candidates estimate that winning the race will take $1 million in campaign support to get their name and message to city voters.

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