Bell's war chest $250,000 above closest rival's

Mayoral campaign givers include unions gambling interests

August 21, 1999|By Ivan Penn and Eric Siegel | Ivan Penn and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who has compiled the largest war chest in Baltimore's mayoral race, received his strongest support from contractors, unions and gambling and entertainment interests.

According to reports filed this week, contributors to Bell range from the Club Pussycat on Baltimore's Block, which gave $500, to the production company of boxing promoter Don King, which gave $4,000.

Among the labor organizations was the International Union of Electricians, which gave $6,000; among the business people was contractor Pless Jones, who contributed $7,000 through two of his companies.

Park Place Entertainment, a Las Vegas casino operator, gave Bell $4,000; the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico and Laurel racecourses, gave $2,000.

Bell's bankroll of $700,000 is a quarter-million dollars higher than the second best-financed candidate in the race, City Councilman Martin O'Malley, whose backers include downtown lawyers, developers and poker machine vending companies.

Third in fund-raising is Carl Stokes, the former councilman and school board member who raised $301,000 and has just $87,000 left in his account. He received a mixed bag of donations and has far fewer contributors who gave the maximum $4,000 allowed by law.

This week's filings provided the first details of the spending power available to Baltimore's mayoral candidates. As always, the contributor lists were full of individuals and firms who do business with the city, want to do business with the city or would simply like to have a friend in City Hall.

"There is no doubt about it that a maximum contribution is an investment in the future," said Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.

"In such a crowded field, it is extremely helpful to the voters to know where big investments are being made."

O'Malley agrees -- but said he believes that is true of most people involved in political campaigns, from volunteers to contributors.

"I think they're hoping to get a return phone call," he said. "I don't think that's an undue request."

Not just any donor

Stokes said he is careful not to accept contributions from just any donor because he is concerned about conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety. He said his caution might have contributed to him trailing in fund raising, but maintains he isn't awed by the larger campaign treasuries amassed by Bell and O'Malley.

"I'm not interested in taking large contributions from people who expect something in return," Stokes said. "I'm not afraid to turn down some money. I have turned down money."

Bell did not return phone calls to his campaign office yesterday.

Much of Bell's support has been found among contractors who do business with the city.

"Being in construction, we think he will support the existing Department of Public Works group if elected mayor, and we think they are doing a fine job," said James A. Barron of Ronkin Construction Co., which contributed $2,000 to Bell's campaign.

Some of Bell's top contributors are contractors with city contracts that Bell voted on as a member of the City Council or the Board of Estimates.

For example, Phipps Construction Contractors Inc., which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in city demolition and debris-hauling contracts, contributed $4,000 to the Bell campaign, the most allowed under the law by an individual or corporation.

In April, Bell cast a critical vote to approve a controversial rock-crushing operation proposed by Phipps in Northeast Baltimore that was staunchly opposed by neighborhood residents.

Another prominent demolition contractor that worked with Phipps to knock down the Lexington Terrace public housing high-rises, P&J Contracting Co. Inc., also contributed $4,000 to the Bell campaign.

An affiliated company, PJ Trucking, gave $3,000.

Bell's support also includes some of the city's major road-paving and trucking contractors.

Potts & Callahan Inc. and L. F. Mahoney Inc. have each given $2,000; Monumental Paving & Excavating Inc. gave $1,000.

Among engineering and consulting companies doing business with the city, Whitney, Bailey, Cox and Magnani, whose projects include the effort to halt the erosion of Federal Hill, gave Bell $4,500.

Century Engineering Inc. and Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson, which have worked on road and water treatment projects, each gave $3,000.

`Importance of disclosure'

"What we're really talking about here is really at the heart of the importance of disclosure," said Skullney of Common Cause.

"There's no way that significant contributions can be made and have no impact on the future decision of the officeholder, and it is absolutely essential that the public know this in advance."

Bell's union support spans public and private employee groups.

The city police union -- which has endorsed Bell and whose president played a prominent role in the council president's first television ad -- gave $3,000. Organizations representing retired city officers and firefighters gave $1,000 each.

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