Field for mayor gets more muddled

Critical choices: Where will Baltimoreans find the leadership they need for the new millennium?

June 19, 1999

WITH LITTLE more than two weeks before the July 6 filing deadline, no candidate for mayor of Baltimore has emerged with a well-crafted platform, a sense of dynamic leadership potential and a broad-based following.

That may be a function of the confusion and weekly announcement of another possible recruit. Hope remains for the emergence of a candidate -- even from the existing field -- who can make a compelling case.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, 37, and former city councilman Carl Stokes, 48, are the leading contenders. Former Police Commissioner Bishop L. Robinson, 72, would be the elder statesmen contender if he runs. State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy may file; state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Councilman Martin O'Malley are considering that possibility.

Already in the contest for the Democratic nomination -- which is tantamount to election in the city -- are Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and neighborhood activists William Roberts, Phillip A. Brown and A. Robert Kaufman.

A recent poll showed ex-Mayor William Donald Schaefer as front-runner, if he enters -- but he has definitively ruled himself out. Mr. Bell becomes the top contender, but that position is based almost entirely on name recognition.

The most recent speculation swirls around Mr. Robinson, but the former police commissioner's candidacy is not a sure thing. He may reconsider, given his lack of prior campaign experience or a political base. An impatient as well as a respected administrator, Mr. Robinson might not have the flexibility a candidate needs.

Any serious contender with nerve and vision will get careful consideration from citizens hungry for leadership. Baltimoreans yearn for a regime in which the little picture -- pothole filling and tree-trimming -- is again given as much attention as big picture projects.

More distractions of the sort visited upon the electorate by the speculation about the possible candidacy of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume -- who encouraged a draft movement, got one, then bailed out -- must be avoided.

A real campaign -- of issues and ideas -- must begin, and soon. Name recognition alone would be a paltry platform. City voters need time to consider the pluses and minuses of those who are able and truly committed to serve Baltimore at this pivotal moment in its history.

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