Democrats offer their ideas at mayoral forum

Library discussion covers services, crime, economy

6 of 17 are present

July 13, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Front-running Democratic mayoral candidates were quizzed on how they would restructure Baltimore city services as part of a downtown forum last night at the Enoch Pratt Free Central Library.

Before 300 people, WJHU-FM radio host Marc Steiner also asked six candidates questions on crime, economic development and eradicating drugs.

Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley spoke first, saying he would divide the city housing agency into two. Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III serves as the chief administrator for the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

O'Malley believes two directors would make the agency more efficient. A defense attorney and former prosecutor, O'Malley stated that he would improve the city Department of Public Works by hiring six auditors to scrutinize spending.

The agency is the city's largest, with a budget of more than $500 million annually and 6,000 employees. The department handles 10 city services ranging from parking tickets to providing water service.

O'Malley said the audits would help address concerns in the agency about excessive spending.

Carl Stokes set himself apart from the pack as the education candidate. During questions on economic development, the former East Baltimore city councilman and school board member said improving city schools is the "greatest economic development tool."

Stokes has pledged to add $25 million annually to the $200 million school budget to reduce city school class sizes to 15 students.

Democratic candidate Richard Riha said he was concerned about businesses surviving in the city. The hardware store operator complained that city taxes, combined with the explosion of suburban stores, has made it difficult for small businesses to survive.

The audience laughed when Riha discussed wanting to put prisoners to work. Much like the chain gangs of old, Riha said, prisoners could be fitted with "sun belts," solar zappers which would shock if they got out of line.

Candidate A. Robert Kaufman continued his pitch to legalize prostitution and provide drugs to addicts at clinics to reduce city violence and venereal disease.

PAL criticism

On restructuring city services, Kaufman protested the use of police officers to operate 27 Police Athletic Leagues throughout the city.

"The police should be doing police work and not working for the Department of Recreation," Kaufman said.

Kaufman, founder of the City Wide Coalition citizens group, called the campaign contribution system "legal graft" that is aiding big businesses in the city.

Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway said she would put more police officers on the street.

Conaway has pledged to restore foot patrols and assign officers four-square-block areas to patrol.

Conaway also protested city tax breaks to new hotels. "I'm sick of this city paying for hotels," Conaway said. "Let tourism take care of the hotels, we need to start taking care of the people."

Bell calls for audits

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III was the final candidate to speak at the event, sponsored by a group called the Baltimore Coalition of Economic and Community Development.

Bell pledged to initiate audits of all city departments, create a city services hot line and another phone line for whistle-blowers.

On police issues, Bell said he would eliminate the police policy of rotating officers.

"The most valuable and most experienced detectives should be involved in investigating the most heinous crimes," Bell said.

The Democratic mayoral field has 17 Democrats, but 11 failed to respond to registered letters sent to their campaigns inviting them to the forum, Steiner said.

The next major mayoral forum will be sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at 6: 30 p.m. July 26 at 940 W. Madison Ave.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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