Mayoral hopefuls prove entertaining as their visions for city are revealed

17 of 27 candidates show up at forum to address issues

July 28, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mimi Piper and her husband, Jim, could have spent last night renting a summer movie or watching "NYPD Blue" reruns.

Instead, the Roland Park couple went to a Johns Hopkins University theater to witness this summer's greatest entertainment: the Baltimore mayoral field.

As if watching a Shakespearean drama unfold before her, Mimi Piper laughed, frowned and rubbed her forehead in anguish as 17 of the 27 candidates discussed their vision for Baltimore's future at the League of Women Voters event.

"In a way, it reminds me of the old days when I used to watch the school board meetings," said Piper, a social worker for city schools. "It's entertaining."

Among the responses that sent Piper and 300 audience members at Shriver Hall reeling was one candidate's pitch that he didn't want to be elected and another's call for the city to install e-mail at 7-Eleven stores so that residents could chat with City Hall.

"It seems like we're wasting a lot of time," Piper said after listening to the wide field. "But it's a democracy."

Despite complaints that such events limit the crowded field's time to answer questions, the league's forum was the most organized so far this election season. Candidates were asked to address specific questions on issues ranging from schools to neighborhood development.

Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley once again stirred the crowd with his proposal to reduce special education funding in the schools by creating more preschool programs and a citywide curriculum.

"We misdiagnose more people into special education than any other city in America," said O'Malley, drawing applause from the crowd.

Former East Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes again called for reducing class sizes. He criticized City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who challenged Stokes' call to cut class sizes to 15 students as unrealistic.

"I think we need to be honest," Bell said. "Going down to 15 and 16 with the money we have now is not realistic."

Stokes objected. "That is the attitude that permeates city government," he said.

The Pipers heard wild answers from many of the field's political novices, who are making their first bid for public office. They also heard heartfelt concern for the city's woes from Charles A. Dugger, an activist and candidate.

A city public school teacher, Dugger held a basketball tournament for youths after the forum, his personal effort to address crime, health and discipline in the city.

"The low expectations we have for our children you would be appalled by," Dugger told the crowd. "The children are not being challenged."

Pub Date: 7/28/99

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