Mfume plays TV host to candidates

Mayoral hopefuls at forum will be on air this month

July 07, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Kweisi Mfume -- the man who many Baltimoreans hoped would run for mayor -- spent yesterday quizzing mayoral hopefuls in the first televised candidates forum.

Mfume is the host of "The Bottom Line," a talk show airing from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WBAL-TV. The former West Baltimore congressman and city councilman interviewed 14 of the 26 declared mayoral candidates for two one-hour shows scheduled to run July 17 and 24.

Mfume, who is president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spurned a draft for mayor. Last night, he asked candidates how they intend to stop the exodus of 1,000 residents a month.

Before Mfume and about 100 audience members, candidates found out how difficult it will be to get their messages across in the crowded field. They shouted over and interrupted one another and jostled for camera time.

Former East Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes quickly tried to distinguish himself from the pack by pledging to be the education mayor. Stokes, a former school board member, has vowed to contribute $25 million more annually to schools and reduce class size.

"People do want to live in the city," Stokes said. "But we must refocus our energy on schools."

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley said the safety of citizens is the top priority.

"When we begin to tackle the area of crime, then we will be able to market the city," Bell said.

O'Malley agreed that fighting crime is the key issue and pledged to shut down open-air drug markets. He pointed to Boston and Philadelphia.

"All of these cities are coming back to life," O'Malley said. "And how did they do it? By rolling back crime."

Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and neighborhood activist Phillip A. Brown Jr. said they want to reduce crime by restoring foot patrols in neighborhoods.

Brown, who operates a security firm, stood out as the loudest of the candidates and prompted the most heated exchange, which occurred when Bell said he was proud to run on his council record.

Brown loudly interjected: "You don't have to tell the people about your record, the people will tell you about your record."

Making his first bid for mayor, Republican Carl M. Adair -- former teacher, business owner and Coppin State College administrator -- took exception to the insinuation by an audience member that only those candidates who have held elective office can best manage the city.

"Don't tell me what [experience] is," said Adair.

Mfume chose to remain with the NAACP despite an effort by a committee of 250 state, city, business and community leaders to draft him for mayor. Mfume said he enjoyed being the host of the show rather than a mayoral candidate.

"No regrets," he said.

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