Councilman joins eight in mayoral race

O'Malley pledges end to open drug markets

June 23, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Standing under a faded "Drug Free Zone" sign, Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley announced his bid to become Baltimore's next mayor yesterday, pledging to wipe out the open-air drug markets linked to numerous killings and shootings.

The 36-year-old former state prosecutor, who built his council reputation calling for tougher crime-fighting strategies, said making city streets safer will attract jobs, improve schools and halt the exodus of 1,000 city residents a month.

"I believe I can turn this city around by making it a safer place," O'Malley said, surrounded by about three dozen supporters at Harford Road and The Alameda.

O'Malley will first have to beat eight other declared candidates in the primary, including former ally and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, 37, considered the front-runner in the city's first mayoral race without an incumbent in 28 years.

The two gained the nickname "Batman and Robin" in calling for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to adopt the "zero-tolerance" crime-fighting strategy that has helped cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington cut homicide rates.

When asked why he will challenge Bell, O'Malley replied: "I've looked at the problems ahead of us and, with no disrespect to the other candidates, I just honestly feel that I can turn this city around."

Bell held a news conference hours later nearby on Harford Road, saying he was sad and hurt by O'Malley's bid. Last year, the two challenged Police Department claims that city shootings dropped nearly 60 percent over the past four years. They also supported African-American police officers who accused the department of unequal discipline.

"I supported him," Bell said. "I stood by Martin when he was alone against the Police Department. It hurts."

By entering the race, O'Malley instantly becomes the city's chief white mayoral candidate and a top contender. Yesterday, he challenged assertions that winning depends on a split of the city's African-American vote among numerous black contenders.

"I think the working families of this city -- both black and white -- are hungry for change," O'Malley said.

He made his mayoral announcement from what he called the "integrated, hopeful and united 3rd District." As Bell surrounded himself with white supporters during his City Hall announcement last month, a third of O'Malley's supporters were African-American, including state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and council colleague Rita R. Church.

Conway noted her appearance was not an endorsement. O'Malley was Conway's attorney when Baltimore police arrested her in February for allegedly interfering with a child's rescue. The charges were dropped.

Knows city neighborhoods

When asked how he will campaign in black neighborhoods in a city where African-Americans make up 60 percent of the voters, a supporter jumped to his defense. "He's been walking through predominantly black neighborhoods for the last eight years," shouted Robert Nowlin, 60, the African-American chairman of the Pen Lucy Association's crime deterrent committee.

Nowlin was quickly challenged by Preston Tooks, 74, a black resident of O'Malley's district, a blend of spacious homes with lawns and porch-front rowhouses. Tooks criticized O'Malley for failing to eradicate vacant houses and chase hoodlums from the northeast neighborhood during his eight-year council tenure.

"If he wants to be mayor, he has to do something in his district," said Tooks, who supports Bell.

"That's the challenge of the next few months," O'Malley told Tooks. "I know people will judge me on my record."

City firefighter and police unions endorsed Bell in the past week while trying to dissuade O'Malley from running. Discussions included O'Malley joining Bell's Cabinet as solicitor or running with Bell as council president. O'Malley declined, saying yesterday that he could no longer watch the city suffer through another year of more than 300 homicides.

"I really couldn't look myself in the mirror," O'Malley said. "It's up to the people to decide who would be the best mayor at this time, who can close down these open-air drug markets."

Disappointing news to some

News of the face-off disappointed mutual supporters.

"I was hoping that `Batman and Robin' would come back together again," said former Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is serving as a Bell campaign adviser. "I hoped that they would find a way to support Gotham as a partner."

"Martin has been a friend to labor, and he is a credible candidate," said Glenard Middleton, president of the 10,000-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is expected to support Bell. "It's just not his time."

But Marvin Briscoe, 39, former president of the Hillen Road Improvement Association, emphasized his support for O'Malley. The African-American schoolteacher said O'Malley is the forceful leader the city needs.

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