Bell supporters' actions at rally draw criticism

Veteran politicians say it was wrong to disrupt O'Malley endorsements

August 07, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The disruption of mayoral hopeful Martin O'Malley's endorsement ceremony Thursday by supporters of his opponent, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, drew criticism yesterday from veteran politicians, including one of Bell's aides.

"I'm extremely upset about the incident," said former Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a volunteer with the Bell campaign. "It's very unfortunate. I spoke to [Bell's] brother, who is the campaign manager. It won't happen again."

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city's Senate delegation, and former state Del. Kenneth Webster, a longtime political strategist who supports O'Malley, also criticized the Bell camp for its actions.

Other mayoral candidates -- city Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and former Councilman Carl Stokes -- distanced themselves from the attack.

"That is something that they decided to do and they did it," Conaway said. "I have no comment about that."

Stokes indicated he would not resort to such tactics. Inclusiveness " is what is needed in Baltimore, and that is how I have always worked, especially during this campaign," he said.

Julius Henson, a consultant for the Bell campaign, staged Thursday's disruption. He and more than 50 Bell supporters chanted and brandished anti-O'Malley placards on the steps of the War Memorial, across from City Hall.

The shouting drowned out some of the speakers endorsing O'Malley, including state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

O'Malley, once one of Bell's strongest political allies, said the action was a surprise because it was not typical of Bell's style.

Yesterday, more than 24 hours after the incident, it remained unclear whether Bell endorsed the action. He has not return repeated telephone calls over the past two days. Bell's spokesman, David Brown, said yesterday the council president was out of town and declined to say where he was or how to reach him.

"I think that they've made a big mistake," said Matthew A. Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University. "I could be wrong. But I think this is going to mobilize people to not vote for Bell because they'll see something in his campaign to be frightened of."

Crenson said that Henson's tactics might be common in such places as New York or Chicago, but not here.

"[Baltimore does] have a history of" such campaign antics, Crenson said. "It just happened more than 100 years ago. I think the benefit is going to be for O'Malley because his campaign was under attack."

Henson insisted that the rally was a fair way to challenge an opponent.

"This was about taking them out of their game," Henson said. "It was boisterous, but it was peaceful." He called the criticisms "sour grapes."

McFadden, who supports Stokes, said Bell supporters' actions could permanently hurt the council president's relationship with state lawmakers. He said that while lawmakers will work in the interest of the city and its citizens, Bell could face political trouble himself.

"Our efforts are to make conditions better for the city," McFadden said. "But I'm certain there are going to be some strained personal relationships."

Pub Date: 8/07/99

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