Dynamics call for new tactics in mayoral race

August 14, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

BALTIMORE'S Democratic state Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings doesn't like the word "boy." And he certainly never referred to City Council President and mayoral candidate Lawrence Bell as a boy, as reported in this column last Saturday. "I'm careful about my use of language," Rawlings said. "I never referred to him as a boy. I would never use that term to refer to another black man. It's offensive."

But Rawlings stands by the statement he did make: he called Bell a child.

"He acts, thinks, talks like a child," Rawlings repeated earlier this week. He shouted those same words on Aug. 5 to Julius Henson, who led about 50 Bell supporters to a rally where Rawlings gave his endorsement to mayoral candidate Martin O'Malley. Bell supporters came to the rally, drowned out Rawlings' words of endorsement and brandished anti-O'Malley signs.

Bell has denied knowledge of his supporters' actions and has fired Henson as a campaign consultant. The action may have come too late to sway those disgusted by the affair.

"I think Henson reflects Bell's mentality in how you deal with the public and with issues," Rawlings said a day before Henson was sacked early this week. "I'm sure this soiree into political vulgarity was known by Bell and sanctioned by Bell."

Rawlings said Bell's supporters may be trying to play the race card in an attempt to get black voters to support a black candidate and keep an African-American in the mayor's office.

"It's clear they saw what happened four years ago," Rawlings said, referring to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, then the black, two-term incumbent, in his race against Mary Pat Clarke, who had the misfortune in that election of being white.

"But the dynamics were different four years ago," Rawlings noted. "Then you had an incumbent black mayor. Blacks thought The Sun and whites wanted to remove their incumbent black mayor. No major black leader supported Mary Pat Clarke."

Rawlings figures Bell's supporters are pinning their hopes on a large black turnout. They may be in for a rude awakening. Rawlings said he went to the market the Saturday after he endorsed O'Malley and, far from getting negative reaction from the blacks he met, received only compliments for his courage.

"Courage had nothing to do with it," Rawlings said. "I think it [endorsing O'Malley] is what my responsibility is as a political leader."

But it does take courage to stick to your guns and abandon the herd mentality afflicting some Baltimore blacks who say our next mayor must be black. And it takes guts to say it in front of a crowd waving anti-O'Malley signs.

"It's a behavior that ought to frighten people -- that you want to squash a different point of view," Rawlings concluded.

Well said, Mr. Delegate. And hold that thought.

Walter Hayes of Parkville remembers being in Dundalk last October when former Baltimore County Councilman Louis DePazzo tried to introduce gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey at a rally in Dundalk. Supporters of Gov. Parris Glendening appeared, heckled DePazzo as he tried to introduce Sauerbrey and tried to drown her out as well.

"One guy had a bullhorn and knocked over a senior citizen," Hayes recalled. "The police came and took away the bullhorn and things quieted down after that."

About a week later, on the Sunday before the election, Hayes was in Annapolis for another Sauerbrey rally. The Democrat horde soon showed up. They passed out whistles.

"They yelled and blew whistles to drown out Ellen," Hayes said. "There didn't seem to be the moral outrage last year that there seems to be this year."

Unless you talk to Rawlings.

"I think it's despicable," the delegate said of last year's actions by his fellow Democrats. "I don't support it. I'm a firm believer in political discourse. That kind of behavior is despicable whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats or whites or blacks."

This Rawlings guy has so much integrity you have to wonder why he's a Democrat.

But Julius Henson may be reading Hayes' account and laughing uncontrollably -- or at least nodding in furtive agreement -- somewhere in Baltimore. Hayes' point is a good one: If Henson and Bell's supporters were wrong to crash O'Malley's endorsement rally, then Glendening's goofy supporters were -- as Rawlings has pointed out -- equally wrong to crash the Dundalk and Annapolis Republican rallies.

And if it was OK for Glendening's supporters, it's sure OK for Bell's. In fact, it was Baltimoreans who went for Glendening big in the last gubernatorial election. The tactics that Bell supporters are being skewered for are the same ones Glendening's supporters used. If Baltimoreans have any consistency at all, they should vote for Bell overwhelmingly come Sept. 14. Those who claim they're outraged by the antics of Bell's supporters but remained silent about those of Glendening's -- and then went out and voted for the man -- clearly have some soul-searching to do.

But maybe Hayes' recollection is reason number 342 why Baltimoreans should not put another Democrat in the mayor's office.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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