Mayoral candidates face off in forum

150 fill church to hear Democrats' promises for top city office

June 30, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

During the first mayoral candidates forum last night, Gene Michaels studied campaign literature like a horse player combing through a racing program.

Like many of the 150 people who crammed First English Lutheran Church at 39th and Charles streets in North Baltimore for the event sponsored by the New Democratic Club, the 63-year-old Canton engineering illustrator and former teacher hasn't decided which of the seven Democrats he'll support.

"It's too early for that," Michaels said.

Appearing on home turf, former 2nd District Councilman Carl Stokes got the biggest reaction from the crowd as he attacked Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, considered the front-runner in the race.

The usually soft-spoken Stokes, 49, stridently noted that he was one of the first candidates to enter the race when he filed his candidacy in December and ridiculed Bell for waiting until his second cousin, Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, rejected a draft movement.

"I'm not going to live like this," the former school board member said, repeating his campaign motto that laments woeful schools and the city's high murder rate. "That's why I stepped up a long time ago. I didn't wait for my cousin. I didn't wait for a draft."

Stokes also warmed the crowd by criticizing the tax breaks known as PILOTS (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) granted to developers of downtown hotels.

"Next month, why don't you put $1 in your tax bill and say, `Here's my payment in lieu of taxes,' " Stokes said, eliciting laughs from the crowd.

Bell, 37, delivered a short, sometimes angry speech and expressed pride in his record of opposing the administration of departing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"Ask yourself who was on the front lines and who was on the sidelines?" Bell yelled, pounding his fist on the podium. "I stood up when a lot of people were afraid to stand up."

A. Robert Kaufman, 51, the candidate of the City Wide Coalition, used his four-minute speech to ridicule Bell, Stokes and Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley.

Kaufman wants the city to create an auto and home insurance cooperative to provide lower rates to residents. Bell, Stokes and O'Malley initially supported the effort but failed to follow through, he said.

Phillip A. Brown Jr., 44, tried to distinguish himself as an alternative to the status quo. "Some of the people up here are telling you what they're going to do when they haven't done anything," he said.

O'Malley silenced the hall with a passionate pledge to end the exodus of city residents by wiping out open-air drug markets. The 36-year-old attorney said Baltimore will never be able to lure new companies to enterprise zones until it secures drug-free zones.

O'Malley also defended the PILOTS, saying that in three years the city will get $6.6 million in revenue from parking, hotel room and sales taxes.

"If we didn't waive the property taxes, we wouldn't be earning $6.6 million," he said.

Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway, the only female Democratic candidate, stressed her 20 years of municipal service and pledged to restore neighborhood police foot patrols if elected.

The four candidates for council president -- Clerk of the Courts Frank M. Conaway; West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon; Nathan Irby, executive secretary of the state liquor board; and City Wide Coalition candidate David G. S. Greene -- also appeared at the forum.

Leaving the meeting, Michaels said he was impressed with Stokes and felt O'Malley looked too young. Yet none picked up his vote for the Sept. 14 primary, he said.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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