Long list of choices awaits city voters

Large field of candidates presents challenges for local civic groups

July 08, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Veterans of city elections described the flood of candidates for mayor and City Council yesterday as a potential nightmare for civic groups and voters trying to determine which politicians hold the best antidotes to Baltimore's ills.

Despite Tuesday's filing deadline, the mayoral field grew by one yesterday when elections officials verified the candidacy of the Rev. Jessica June Davis, a Democrat, host of the daily radio show "The Moral Agenda" on WBGR-AM. Her candidacy increased the mayoral field to 27.

"In all my years here, I've never seen even half this many candidates file," said city elections chief Barbara E. Jackson. "Voters are going to have to take their time to find their candidate on the ballot."

The Baltimore League of Women Voters scheduled its first mayoral forum for July 27, intending to invite what it expected to be about a dozen candidates. Now, the group said, it may have to reconsider -- faced with the logistics of providing equal time for more than two dozen mayoral hopefuls.

"It's truly wild," said Millie Tyssowski, president of the city league. "Our plan was to invite everybody, but I guess we'll have to address that problem."

In the past, the league has weeded out candidates in wide fields by requiring them to have campaign treasurers and headquarters. It has also restricted candidates to those garnering more than 5 percent of the vote in public opinion polls.

But with polls yet to be taken on the new field, Tyssowski said, the first forum may be nothing more than introductions and positions stated by those who have filed.

Wanda Draper may have been the first person to experience the impact of the wide mayoral field as director of public affairs for "The Bottom Line," a talk show on WBAL-TV with NAACP President Kweisi Mfume as host. Draper was in charge of corraling candidates for the taping of the show, which occurred Tuesday night -- an hour before the filing deadline.

Draper sent invitations last week to the first 11 candidates who had filed. Three others filed for mayor on Friday, and -- for lack of room on stage at the taping -- they had to be seated in the audience.

Add to that inventory the 13, including Davis, who filed on Tuesday -- none of whom will appear on the program when it airs in two parts at the end of July.

"Technically," Draper said, "it's a nightmare."

Candidates agreed. The large field threatens to turn community forums into nothing more than sound-bite pitches with candidates getting only minutes to make their case on a range of issues that includes reducing violent crime, joblessness and the city's tax rate.

"In order to get your word in, you had to border on being rude," said City Councilman Martin O'Malley, a mayoral hopeful who participated in Tuesday's taping. "It was very frustrating."

Others, such as Douglas McNeil of Marylanders for Democracy, welcome the political free-for-all. McNeil noted that three of the 27 mayoral candidates are independents, and need signatures of 2,900 voters to get on November's general-election ballot.

The field for the Sept. 14 mayoral primary includes 17 Democrats and 7 Republicans.

"I like lots of choice," McNeil said. "The large selection of candidates is a good idea."

With no incumbent running for the city's two top offices -- mayor and council president -- and with four open City Council seats, a plentitude of candidates decided to run.

"Voters have clear choices from wackos to serious candidates on whether the city is going to improve or stay status quo," said Gene Raynor, former city and state elections director.

The number of candidates -- particularly in the city's six council districts -- should help boost voter turnout, Raynor said.

Some of the candidacies surprised even family members. State Sen. George W. Della Jr., holder of perhaps the premier name in South Baltimore politics, awoke yesterday to find that sister-in-law Carolyn Della had filed for a 1st District council seat.

The senator, Della, who lives in that district, has been working to re-elect its three council incumbents -- John L. Cain, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. and Lois Garey. He called all three to reassure them of his support.

Asked how distant a relative Carolyn Della is, the state senator replied: "We're more distant now than we were the day before."

Carolyn Della, 48, a commercial and industrial assessor for the state, said she is not a ringer and had decided by herself to run because of her concern about crime. "I'm my own person," she said.

Staff writer Joe Mathews contributed to this article.

Candidates for September primary

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

1st District: Democrats

Melvin Bell, 900 block of N. Caroline St.

John L. Cain, 900 block of S. Bouldin St.

Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., 3900 block of Eastern Ave.

Carolyn Della, 1300 block of Patapsco Ave.

Lois Garey, 6500 block of Rosemont Ave.

Charles Krysiak, 400 block of Cornwall St.

Kimberly Letke, 3700 block of Mount Pleasant Ave.

James W. Morrow, P.O. Box 5237.

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