Mayoral filing deadline tonight

12 have joined race

some await possible `phantom menace'

July 06, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

After announcing in December that he would not seek a fourth four-year term, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke predicted that the field of mayoral contenders would not be formed until the final filing day.

Today is that day.

Candidates wanting to be Baltimore's 47th mayor have until 9 p.m. to file their papers and pay the $150 registration fee at the city elections office, 417 E. Baltimore St.

Throughout the campaign season, Schmoke has predicted that a "phantom menace" would jump into the race at the last minute hoping to win the city's first mayoral election without an incumbent in 28 years.

Twelve candidates have declared their candidacies, but Schmoke and his administration allies still believe the "menace" could show up today in the form of William Donald Schaefer, a former mayor and governor.

"He's a political opportunist," said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. "And it's not over yet. Candidates have until 9 p.m." tonight.

Schaefer, 78, was elected state comptroller in November. Two weeks ago, he said he would not run because of his age and wobbly knees that make it difficult for him to get around. But anyone who knows the gregarious man who was Baltimore's longest-serving mayor agrees that if he wakes up this morning feeling fairly good, he might head on down to the city election office.

Those close to Schaefer believe he'll stay in Annapolis.

"This year, I'd expect anything," said city Real Estate Officer Anthony J. Ambridge.

More interesting than who might jump into the race today could be who among the 12 contenders might bow out by the dropout date, July 16.

The chief contenders in the mayoral election include City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway, Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley and former East Baltimore councilman and school board member Carl Stokes.

Also running are neighborhood activists Phillip A. Brown Jr., A. Robert Kaufman, Richard Riha and William Edward Roberts Sr.

Stokes not backing off

Over the past few weeks, the Bell campaign has been trying to get Stokes to run for City Council president. But the 49-year-old former health care company representative, who was one of the first to file in December, says he will remain in the mayoral race for the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

"I'm not running for any other office than mayor," Stokes said before a recent news conference. "I was running against Schmoke, I was running against Kweisi. Any attempt to get me out of this race shows a weakness of the other candidates."

The "phantom menace" in the race might have already shown his face in the form of O'Malley.

Two weeks ago, O'Malley surprised many by becoming the leading white contender in a city with 60 percent black population. Pundits contend that the 36-year-old attorney could win the race if enough black votes are spread among Bell, Stokes and Conaway.

The same analysts, however, continue to call Bell the front-runner.

The front-runner

The West Baltimore council president has scored well in polls conducted to measure candidate electability. A recent survey of 411 likely city voters by Gonzales/Arscott Communication Inc. of Annapolis showed Bell in good position with high name recognition, strong favorable marks and low negative responses.

Candidates traditionally hesitate to run if their positive-to-negative ratio is less than 3-to-1. Bell scored 6-to-1.

"That is fairly rare for an incumbent," Carol Arscott said. "It's his race to lose."

Bell's exit from the council presidency into the mayor's race has caused a domino effect in the city election, resulting in a flood of candidates seeking the 19 council seats. Five candidates have filed to succeed Bell, including two former state legislators.

Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway, a former delegate, is running for council president, as is former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby, executive secretary of the state Board of Liquor License Commissioners. West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon is also attempting to step off the council floor for the top council position.

Two relative unknowns, City Wide Coalition candidate David G.S. Greene and Shelton J. Stewart will also seek the job.

The GOP jumps in

Unusual for Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-to-1, a platoon of Republican candidates has jumped into the city races.

Roland Park businessman David F. Tufaro is considered the GOP leader in the mayor's race, running against community activists Roberto Marsili of Little Italy, Arthur W. Cuffie Jr. of Bolton Hill, Melanie M. Taylor and Dorothy C. Jennings.

Eight Republicans will also seek to join the council. Community activists Robert N. Santoni Sr. of the 1st District and Joseph Brown of the 6th District are thought to have the best shot.

With only hours left before the final city election ballot of the century is formed, those familiar with the city election process warn voters to hang on tight in waiting for the "phantom menace."

"It would be a surprise," Arscott said of the possibility that a high-profile candidate might file. "But that's what makes politics so fun."

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