Candidates rush to run for mayor

Crowded field of 26 to contest in Sept. primary

Bell first on long list

Schaefer visits elections office but does not file

July 07, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Twenty-six candidates filed to run for Baltimore mayor by last night's deadline, creating the largest field of contenders in at least 33 years.

Vacancies for City Council president and four seats on the 19-member council spurred another 83 candidates to join a 10-week campaign sprint to the Sept. 14 primary election.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will step down in December after 12 years, making this mayoral election the first without an incumbent in 28 years.

"It looks pretty confusing," Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said of the mayoral ballot. "The outcome is going to be very difficult to call."

Although Schmoke warned that state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former mayor and governor, would join the race, last night's deadline passed without Schaefer joining the political fray.

About an hour before the 9 p.m. filing deadline, Schaefer created a stir by walking into the city election office on Fayette Street and looking over the list of mayoral candidates before stating that he wasn't joining the contest.

"I just came down to see who filed," Schaefer said. "As a citizen I would like to know who's running. It's the most critical campaign for mayor in the last 10 or 12 years."

Although the number of candidates swelled on the final day, the mayoral front-runners remain unchanged.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III maintains the coveted post position on the alphabetical Democratic mayoral ballot. And his job as the city's second-highest elected official over the past four years gives Bell critical name recognition in the crowded field.

Other top Democratic contenders include Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway, Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley and former East Baltimore Councilman and school board member Carl Stokes.

In a city in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-to-1, seven Republican candidates will make a mayoral bid. In addition, three independent candidates joined the race, ensuring that their names will appear on the general election ballot in November.

The remaining mayoral field consists of little-known community activists and citizens concerned about the city's deterioration.

Sandra Okwaye, a 44-year-old Northeast Baltimore hospital worker, was one of the 12 candidates who paid the $150 filing fee to throw her name into the mayoral mix on the last day. Okwaye said she is tired of crime and drugs ruining the city.

"I know what Baltimore needs, I've been a victim of crime and I've had relatives that have been victims of crime," said Okwaye, a registration assistant at Sinai Hospital and mother of two. "It's all about being sick and tired and when you are sick and tired, you just have to get up and do something."

The crowded ballot will likely help Bell among voters unwilling to pore over the long list of candidates. And mayoral hopefuls in the race before yesterday's deadline acknowledged that the growth of the field makes the task of distinguishing themselves from the pack much more difficult.

"Unfortunately, one dynamic is that if there is a lot of people, it makes it difficult to focus in on the candidates," said mayoral candidate A. Robert Kaufman.

City Council candidates will face a similar challenge. Eighty-three candidates filed for the 19 council seats. The heaviest field will be in the 4th District, where 17 candidates filed for three seats, one of which is open. Fourteen candidates will compete in the 3rd District, which has two open seats, while 16 candidates will fight for a seat being vacated by Councilman Robert L. Douglass in East Baltimore's 2nd District.

For council hopefuls, the open seats served as the honey attracting them to the race.

"Usually when an incumbent says they are not going to run, it brings out a lot of people," said city Elections Director Barbara E. Jackson, who called the mayoral field the largest in 33 years. "It brings out a lot of people who believe they can win."

With Bell stepping down as council president, seven candidates filed for his position. Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway will run for council president alongside his wife, Mary, a mayoral candidate. Also in the council president field is West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon and former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., now executive secretary of the city liquor board.

The Conaways led the list of families with multiple candidates, with son Frank Jr. filing for a 4th District council seat. "It's an open seat," his father said of his son's candidacy. "It's in his blood, it's in his family."

Candidates for September primary

The following Baltimore residents have filed to run for office in the September primary:

Democratic mayoral candidates:

Lawrence A. Bell III of the 3300 block of Auchentoroly Terrace

Phillip A. Brown Jr. of the 5400 block of Bowleys Lane

Mary W. Conaway of the 6800 block of Cross Country Blvd.

Robert S. Cunningham of the 6800 block of Cross Country Blvd.

Richard A. Darrah of the 2100 block of Echodale Ave.

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