Pratt backs Bell, is expected to bolster his bid for mayor

Size of candidate field hampers NAACP forum

July 27, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Laura Lippman | Gerard Shields and Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III gained a critical boost to his mayoral hopes yesterday with the endorsement of popular Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt.

Pratt ran for state comptroller in September, losing to former Gov. and Mayor William Donald Schaefer by 1 percentage point in the city. With her political organization's muscles flexed and poised to push her city re-election, Pratt's backing is expected to shore up Bell's bid.

"This is huge," Gary L. McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, said of the endorsement. "She's got great organization and great support."

Bell used Pratt's backing yesterday to call for black voters across the city -- expected to be fragmented among three mayoral candidates -- to unite behind the Bell-Pratt ticket. Referring to the campaign theme used by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in 1995, Bell said of Pratt: "She makes us proud.

"We have a lot in common," Bell said, standing next to Pratt at Bell campaign headquarters at 100 E. 23rd St. "We are both soft-spoken. We are not high on self-promotion. We share a vision for the future of the city."

Pratt, 47, was elected comptroller in 1995 and was once considered a possible candidate to succeed Schmoke. She and Bell are advised by political strategist Julius Henson.

Despite a rocky beginning in which she faced criticism for hiring Henson, whom she later dismissed as the city's real estate officer, Pratt's popularity as comptroller has grown. She has become most noted in City Hall for supervising tough audits that show wasteful spending in city agencies. Most recently, Pratt's office discovered that a Towson auctioneer owed the city close to $1 million.

Pratt, a fellow Democrat, said she supports Bell in the field of 17 candidates in the s Democratic primary Sept. 14 because the two often vote together on city Board of Estimates issues. Pratt and Bell routinely oppose the Schmoke majority on the five-member panel that meets Wednesday mornings to approve city spending.

The size of the mayoral field proved unwieldy at an NAACP forum yesterday evening.

"It's like Baskin-Robbins," Democratic candidate Charles A. Dugger observed. "We have flavors for every voter."

By the time 17 candidates had given their three-minute introductory speeches, little time remained for the standing-room- only audience at United Baptist Missionary Convention on Madison Avenue to ask questions. Under the rules of the forum, these questions could be addressed to three of the candidates. Audience members routinely directed their questions toward four Democrats -- Bell, Councilman Martin O'Malley, Carl Stokes and Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway.

"We're trying to be fair and equitable, but it's difficult," said Neil Duke, the forum's moderator. The evening's problems were compounded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's decision to open the forum to candidates for council president, comptroller and City Council.

David F. Tufaro, one of seven Republicans in the mayoral race, said: "It's hard frankly, and it's hard for any group to do it. You have to be rude in order to participate."

Most of the candidates used their time to speak in generalities about the city's future, and voiced little disagreement about the primary issues facing Baltimore -- education, crime, poverty and drugs. Few specific ideas were offered.

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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