Protesters charge Sun bias in coverage of mayor's race

Black candidates targeted by newspaper, critics say

August 03, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Chanting "The Sun is unfair to blacks," several African-American ministers and about 40 supporters rallied yesterday outside the newspaper's Calvert Street headquarters to protest what they perceive to be racially biased coverage of Baltimore's mayoral campaign.

Protesters complained that the newspaper has prominently displayed critical articles on the three leading black candidates for mayor, while downplaying or ignoring stories that would place them in a more favorable light. The leading white candidate has not received similar scrutiny, they said.

Among those attending the hourlong rally that started at noon were state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV and prominent political strategist Larry S. Gibson.

Like many who attended the rally, Mitchell is backing City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III for mayor. But the West Baltimore state legislator said he participated not simply to boost Bell's candidacy, but to demand more balanced coverage.

Mitchell told the protesters that The Sun should report on the positive contributions of leading black mayoral candidates Bell, former City Councilman Carl Stokes and Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway.

"Don't just dwell on their negatives," he said.

Northeast Councilman Martin O'Malley, who is white, is among 27 Democratic and Republican candidates seeking the city's top office in the Sept. 14 primary.

Gibson -- the architect of the three successful mayoral campaigns of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who decided not to seek a fourth term -- declined to say whether he has been advising Bell.

Asked if he thought The Sun's coverage had been biased, Gibson said: "My presence speaks for itself."

In the last several weeks, The Sun reported that Bell has been sued three times in 18 months over unpaid debts and that Stokes claimed in his campaign literature to have earned an undergraduate degree from Loyola College. He never graduated from there. The newspaper also questioned whether Conaway could have earned a theology degree on her own time while working full-time at the courthouse.

John S. Carroll, editor of The Sun, said the paper was committed to fair and thorough coverage of the mayoral race. "By the time the campaign is over, we intend to have given the voters a great deal of information on all the principal candidates," Carroll said. "Some of it will be positive, some of it will be negative, none of it will be based on racial considerations."

Conaway attended the rally with her husband, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway, a candidate for council president, but did not address the crowd.

The Rev. James H. Stovall Sr. of Full Gospel Baptist Church in Howard County and the Rev. Arnold Howard of Enon Baptist Church in West Baltimore said The Sun should report equally on all candidates.

"We want full coverage," said Howard. "If you're going to report dirt, report it on everybody."

A flier distributed at the rally criticized O'Malley for campaigning as a crime-fighter while having a private law practice that includes criminal defendants.

The flier contained no campaign authority line or other identifying information, and the organizer of yesterday's event, the Rev. John Wright of First Baptist Church of Guilford, disavowed responsibility for it.

Wright called for another rally tomorrow at Lafayette Park.

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