Lawmakers endorse O'Malley

event disrupted by Bell forces

Rival political camps in mayor's contest have confrontation

August 06, 1999|By IVAN PENN AND GERALD SHIELDS | IVAN PENN AND GERALD SHIELDS,SUN STAFF

It was war at the War Memorial -- though it was only a political battle, and the weapons were shouts, chants and placards.

Supporters of City Councilman Martin O'Malley gathered for a rally for his campaign with key endorsements from state lawmakers, and supporters of Council President Lawrence A. Bell III crashed the event, shouting for their candidate.

"We want Bell ... ," the council president's more than 50 supporters shouted.

" ... to pay his bills," countered O'Malley's smaller crowd of backers, in an unscripted retort that referred to three lawsuits filed against Bell over his personal finances between February 1997 and June.

FOR THE RECORD - The credit line on yesterday's front-page photo of Del. Howard P. Rawlings was incorrect. The photo was taken by Marty Katz, not Mary Katz. The Sun regrets the errors.

The shouting disrupted what was supposed to be one of O'Malley's shining moments, as he, the leading white candidate for mayor in Baltimore, where a majority of the voters are African-American, picked up endorsements from influential General Assembly members of both races -- including the heads of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

O'Malley won endorsements from state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and four delegates: Howard P. Rawlings, Kenneth C. Montague Jr., Samuel I. Rosenberg and Ann Marie Doory. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who also attended the event, endorsed O'Malley on Tuesday.

Yesterday's events at the War Memorial, across from City Hall, indicate that this year's chaotic mayor's race has reached two critical turning points:

The race has increasingly become a Bell vs. O'Malley battle. And Baltimore's pacesetters in the State House have clearly found their candidate.

Some see a good relationship between the lawmakers and the mayor as crucial to helping the city thrive. One in every four dollars in the city budget comes from the state, and officials in Annapolis play a central role in administering several city agencies, including the schools.

As for the political competition, it appears that one other top candidate, former City Councilman Carl Stokes, has slipped after disclosures that he falsely claimed to have graduated from Loyola College. He attended the school but did not graduate.

Stokes has acknowledged that the disclosures had hurt his fund-raising efforts, but expressed confidence that he would be able to "restart" his campaign.

But at least one of the General Assembly leaders who endorsed O'Malley yesterday, Hoffman, had been ready to endorse Stokes until the disclosure about the degree. "All the misstatements gave me so much pause, I couldn't do it," Hoffman said.

Rawlings, who has made no secret of his unhappiness with the quality of the 27 candidates for mayor, was also leaning toward Stokes as recently as a few weeks ago, but said yesterday that he too was turned off by the degree flap.

O'Malley's gains have clearly rattled Bell's forces and raised concerns among some black leaders that the candidacy of the Northeast Baltimore councilman will divide the city and spark racial hostility.

O'Malley was initially given little chance of winning in overwhelmingly black Baltimore, but his campaign is gaining momentum -- though mostly as a result of his opponents' missteps.

Bishop Douglas Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the umbrella group of the city's black ministers, said he believes the endorsements O'Malley picked up will "undoubtedly" affect the contest.

"Now, there's some doubt that one [African-American] candidate will receive the plurality of votes to win the seat," Miles said.

Miles emphasized that voters should focus on who would be the best mayor, regardless of race.

"While I would love to see African-American leadership continue in this city, that ought not be the sole criteria," he said. The group's endorsement, easily as important as that of any politician, is expected to be made Tuesday.

On the street level, it was evident yesterday that Bell's forces considered O'Malley's gains to have come at Bell's expense, and they moved with surprising force to attack O'Malley.

Julius Henson, a Bell campaign consultant well known for warlike tactics in political races, began working to disrupt the O'Malley event as soon as it was publicized just days ago.

At every turn yesterday, Bell's forces upset the endorsement ceremony -- confronting O'Malley's supporters in front of City Hall, then in the City Hall Rotunda, and finally on the War Memorial steps.

"I'm not going to let them come down here and have their day," Henson said.

Though Henson's tactic broke the unwritten rules of political engagement against obstructing an opponent's events, it was not the first time he has resorted to it. While working on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's campaign last year, Henson staged a similar protest during Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Still, the appearance of shouting, chanting Bell supporters at an O'Malley event frustrated O'Malley's supporters.

"I think this is political vandalism," Rawlings said in an interview, after a heated exchange with Henson.

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