Stone Soul Picnic a stop on the campaign trail

Straw poll to sketch outcome of primary

August 22, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

This being an election year, there was not only food, beer and African carvings at the Stone Soul Picnic in Druid Hill Park yesterday, there were also politicians.

At the opposite end of the field from the event's stage -- music is the prime draw for the thousands who spend a Saturday in the park every August -- was a tent devoted to candidates' booths. At a table there, employees of WOL-AM, one of the stations under Radio One, which sponsors the picnic, took ballots for a straw poll for Baltimore mayor.

"It's just for bragging rights," said Larry Young, the former state senator who anchors the morning show on WOL. He'll announce the results tomorrow at 8 a.m.

Young said attempts to make the vote more sophisticated -- getting an accounting firm to tally the ballots, demanding voting cards -- were abandoned before the picnic.

"It's just a straw vote, nothing more," he said.

The line might not have been as long as the ones for the food, but there was a steady stream of people taking the ballots and circling their choice among the 10 Democrats and five Republicans listed.

A totally unscientific, looking-over-the-shoulder sample of this poll indicated a landslide for City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III.

Bell's staff appeared the most organized for the poll. As they handed out literature and talked to people, they directed supporters to the straw vote table.

When Bell arrived in the middle of the afternoon, T-shirted, placard-bearing supporters surrounded their candidate, forming an entourage that would have done a heavyweight champion proud.

Bell was the only candidate to make it up on stage, ostensibly not as an office-seeker, but as council president.

After a few presidential remarks, Bell plugged his candidacy, saying, "No matter what you might have read in the newspapers or seen on television, you are looking at a man who looks like you do, who is qualified to be mayor."

His competition for the Sept. 14 Democratic primary was not quite as visible.

Democratic City Councilman Martin O'Malley came and worked the crowd a bit, but gave his reason for not taking the stage as: "I didn't ask."

Carl Stokes, the other leading Democrat in the primary race, put in a late afternoon appearance. So did David Tufaro, a candidate for the Republican nomination who probably spent the most time of any candidate at the picnic, talking to a variety of people.

"We didn't get a booth here because they wanted too much money for them," Tufaro said. "But we did want to talk to people."

Tufaro said it is tough being a Republican in a predominantly Democratic crowd. "You'll be talking to someone and they will agree with everything you say, and then you tell them you're running for the Republican nomination and they say, `I can't vote for you.' "

But Tufaro was not the only person to circle his name on the straw poll ballot. One of the WOL employees manning the poll table was impressed to see the Republican working the crowd.

"He's got the guts to come out here, I'm going to vote for him," said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous, as he circled Tufaro's name. "All I see of the other candidates is a bunch of T-shirts."

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