Crime focus of mayoral forum

Four candidates discuss ideas for combating violence

August 17, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's mayoral candidates tried to out-tough one another last night, each attempting to portray himself or herself as the most determined to fight crime and shut down the city's illegal drug trade.

Although he has not emphasized hard-nosed policing as much as his opponents in the battle for the Democratic nomination Sept. 14, Carl Stokes raised his voice, cursed and evoked images of blood running through the streets during a forum at the Omni hotel downtown.

"What has disappointed me most is a city that has not been outraged, that has not been very angry, that has not risen up in arms about two issues in this city: lousy schools and the violence and the blood that run in the streets of Baltimore every day," Stokes told the audience of 200.

Thundering like a preacher, Stokes said he's determined to cut the city's murder rate by half, in part by ordering police to arrest repeat offenders for so much as "spitting on the streets or jay-walking."

The event, attended by four of the 16 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, was held by the Downtown Partnership and Greater Baltimore Committee, which in May announced that reducing violent crime is the top priority for improving the city's business climate.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III talked about his 12 years of legislative experience and his record of helping to cut taxes and push for urban renewal. He said his election would boost the self-esteem of young black men like himself.

Martin O'Malley, chairman of the council's tax and finance committee, talked about his love for his three children, his desire to unify the city and his experience as a criminal prosecutor and defense attorney.

Mary W. Conaway, the city's register of wills, would push for more affordable housing and said that only a woman can pull the city out of the mire of troubles created by more than a century of male leadership.

But mostly the candidates talked about stopping the city's illegal drug trade, which has frightened away thousands of residents and made Baltimore the fourth-deadliest city per capita in the nation last year.

O'Malley said his legal background makes him the only candidate experienced enough to employ crime-fighting strategies that have dramatically reduced murder rates in Boston and New York City.

These tactics would include focusing on repeat offenders, speeding the processing of minor violations by creating a misdemeanor court at the city's central booking facility, and giving police the authority to issue citations for nuisance crimes without wasting hours in a lengthy booking process.

"When we turn the corner on public safety, we can turn the corner on everything else," O'Malley said.

Bell said he would create a strike force to clean out houses used by drug dealers and end a policy of rotating homicide detectives, which has caused many of the best officers to leave the city.

"We need to do everything we can to eliminate the illegal drug trade that has destroyed so many of our young people," said Bell.

Conaway said she has talked to leaders in other cities, including San Francisco, and concluded that nothing will do more to help fight crime than forcing police to get out of their cars.

"It is my intention to put more foot patrols on the street," Conaway said. "Along with this, I plan to create a volunteer auxiliary police force, who will be the community people to be the eyes and ears of the Police Department, to make sure that the people who are in the community belong in the community, and that they are not drug pushers."

Pub Date: 8/17/99

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