Mayoral election heats up with day's campaign stops

While Stokes receives backing, O'Malley draws ire at church

July 09, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Campaigns for some of the 27 candidates in Baltimore's mayoral race began to simmer yesterday with endorsements handed out, promises made and the first angry racial exchange.

Candidates Carl Stokes and Martin O'Malley started the morning shaking hands at a breakfast fund-raiser for state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer, the city's former mayor of 16 years, said he will not endorse a candidate until after July 16 -- the deadline for candidates to drop out of the race. Speaking to several hundred supporters at the Best Western Hotel in the Travel Plaza, the former governor asked residents to look beyond race in choosing the successor to departing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"Look at their records," Schaefer said. "Did they do anything? Are they serious?"

Schaefer supporters, including his former police chief and public safety secretary Bishop L. Robinson, also said they will wait to see which candidates remain in the race before making endorsements.

An hour later, Stokes picked up the endorsement of an old political rival: state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden. Stokes defeated McFadden in 1987 to become an East Baltimore city councilman. McFadden bounced back in 1994, defeating Stokes in his state Senate run.

Joined by members of his Eastside Democratic Organization, McFadden said he backs Stokes, a former school board member, because the mayoral election -- the first without an incumbent in 28 years -- is critical to the city's future. The organization also endorsed city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt for re-election and Nathan C. Irby Jr., executive secretary of the state Board of Liquor License Commissioners, for council president.

"We feel the Stokes-Irby-Pratt team is the team for Baltimore -- not Batman or Robin, not the Joker, not Batwoman, not the Riddler," said McFadden, mocking mayoral hopefuls O'Malley and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who have been given the nicknames Batman and Robin because of their stance on crime.

Pratt attended the event, standing with Stokes in what appeared to be a sign of support.

Pratt said that she will endorse either Stokes or Bell next week. "People on the street have asked me who to vote for," she said. "I told them just to sit tight."

She was not shy in calling for the next mayor to give her office more money and employees.

O'Malley scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference at the Union Baptist Head Start Center at 1211 Druid Hill Ave. to discuss his pledge to expand city preschool programs. O'Malley was delayed getting to the West Baltimore site, where irate church supporters chastised the waiting media.

One supporter accused the half-dozen reporters and cameramen of disrespecting the church by entering the Head Start building. The man, who refused to give his name, accused them of "institutional racism" for covering the event and criticized O'Malley, a councilman and the leading white contender for the post, for using the site that caters to poor, black children as a venue.

Head Start, a federal program, also receives state funds. About 200 children participate in preschool and after-school programs.

The Rev. Vernon Dobson, Union Baptist pastor, summoned the critic inside the building, then also objected to O'Malley's use of the facility for his campaign. Dobson said that, despite the needs of the church and the program, he did not remember the Northeast Baltimore city councilman visiting the site in the past.

"With all that we do for children and all that we do for the community, we can't find them," Dobson said of politicians.

Arriving 45 minutes late after defending a client in court, O'Malley moved the news conference around the corner, where he called for expanding city prekindergarten programs and making school breakfasts more widely available.

"Children who are coming to school should be focused on learning and not their hunger," O'Malley said.

When told of Dobson's objection, O'Malley said he meant no disrespect. O'Malley noted that he called program administrators days in advance to ensure that his visit was OK.

"I'm sorry he feels that way," said O'Malley, who recalled visiting the church three years ago during the campaign of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. "I hope he will realize that we were here to promote programs that work and he should be proud of his program."

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