Add another candidate for mayoral aggravation

June 10, 1999|By Michael Olesker

Because he has the great wisdom of his 72 years, and because he has seen the absolute worst that humanity has to offer in his previous incarnations running the city Police Department and the state public safety department, the question to Bishop Robinson was considered a natural.

"Why," he was asked, "would you want to be mayor of Baltimore? Why do you need the aggravation?"

Standing there in the stifling heat of a suburban parking lot, standing there in complete possession of his sanity, Robinson laughed a full, chesty laugh.

"Aggravation?" he said. "I've always had aggravation. I feel funny without it."

And then he laughed some more laughter from the center of his chest. At that moment, it seemed a kind of laughing past the graveyard, but there it was. Yes, he said, he wants to be mayor of Baltimore. But, no, he said, it is not a done deal that he'll run. He is no innocent imagining a waltz into City Hall. He's a veteran of the in-fighting of bureaucracies, and he's seen political egos at their worst, and he will not enter such a political battle lightly.

"I need an organization," he said. "I have to see what money is like."

And what would he do as mayor?

"Stop the crime," he said. "You do that and everything else follows."

Thus do we flirt with adding another name to the list of mayoral candidates. Carl Stokes and Lawrence Bell, and maybe Bishop Robinson. Mary Conaway and Bob Kaufman, and maybe Pat Jessamy. William E. Roberts and Phillip A. Brown Jr., and maybe Joan Carter Conway.

The list is long but, in the eyes of some, still insufficient. The city seems poised, but -- for what? Another round of failures, of ascending crime and drugs amid descending population? Or, at last, coming out of the grim Schmoke years, a new renaissance fueled by new money and promising new projects and neighborhoods beginning to seem reborn?

The anxiety prompts grasping for someone with exceptional stature. The bid for Kweisi Mfume faded, so Bishop Robinson's name emerges. Robinson says he's interested, but as he attempts to raise money, to put together an organization, there comes another name.

"You know who you ought to call?" says J. Joseph Curran.

"Who?"

"Martin O'Malley," says Curran, who is not only the attorney general of Maryland but the father-in-law of O'Malley, a 3rd District city councilman. "He's gonna run for mayor."

"He is?"

"Yeah," says Curran.

So a phone call is placed yesterday to O'Malley, who is informed of Curran's remark and declares forthrightly and without hesitation: "He said that? He didn't even qualify it?"

"He said you were running."

"Joe," O'Malley now says softly into the phone, almost to himself. "Proud papa."

So we come to one more possibility to add to the list: O'Malley, the Northeast Baltimore city councilman, the historic staunch ally of Lawrence Bell, the early voice expressing misgivings about city police -- and, not to be minimized, a white candidate in a race dominated by serious candidates who are not.

"To be honest," says O'Malley, "there's probably not a day that's gone by when I haven't thought about how much better this city would be if the people who have the power would do something to change it. I'd like to see public safety be the priority instead of stuck on a back burner. I'd like to see a sense of urgency to make the city a safer place."

"So you're running?"

"Well, I'm out there," he said. "I'm looking at citywide options. I've figured in my heart I'd do what's best for me to do, whether it's City Council president or some other citywide job. I'm trying to separate my conviction from my ambition and do the right thing."

Including, perhaps, a run against his old friend and ally, Lawrence Bell?

"Lawrence respects me as I respect him," O'Malley says. "Our friendship and our political alliances have always been based on that respect. I respect him, and Carl, and Bishop, too. And anybody who puts himself through the grinder. I'm not running against anybody. I'm just running to help the city, instead of chasing residents like refugees to the suburbs."

And the race issue? Would O'Malley be accused of using the racial odds -- one major white candidate against several African-American candidates who would divide the black vote?

"Sure, that's an issue," he says. "But I would hope my record would belie that. I was on the police discrimination issue when it wasn't popular. I've won in a district that's 60 percent black because I've been sensitive to racial issues."

Which gets us back to the original question, posed to Bishop Robinson, and to O'Malley, and to all others wishing to be mayor of this difficult, contentious city: Who needs the aggravation?

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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