Mayoral contest takes to TV

4 Democrats survive their first forum without a major gaffe

One-hour debate Monday

August 28, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's mayoral campaign spilled onto the television screen last night in the first of three televised forums that are expected to play a decisive role in the Sept. 14 primary.

The four Democratic candidates invited to appear on Maryland Public Television's "News Night" achieved their goal of making it through the 30-minute event gaffe-free.

But an audience of about a dozen Baltimore community leaders who watched and posed questions to the group acknowledged that none of the candidates clearly stood out in the sterile question-and-answer format.

FOR THE RECORD - An article published in the Aug. 27 editions of The Sun incorrectly attributed a statement to political strategist Larry S. Gibson concerning the campaign of Republican candidate Carl Adair. Gibson never told The Sun that he believed that if Adair can win the September primary, city voters might cast November ballots along racial lines. A subsequent article published on Aug. 28 wrongly listed Gibson as Adair's campaign manager. He has no formal role in the campaign. And an Aug. 8 article inaccurately stated that Gibson appeared at forums and rallies with supporters of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III. The Sun regrets the errors.
An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun stated incorrectly that Baltimore's last Republican mayor, Theodore R. McKeldin, was elected in 1967. He was elected in 1963. The Sun regrets the error.

The candidates were quick to list city woes, as they have been in neighborhood mayoral forums throughout the summer, but they were less eloquent in proposing concrete solutions.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III continued his push for more attention to the city's African-American residents. Bell called for more economic development assistance to black businesses and the hiring of more black police officers to match the city's 60 percent African-American population.

"The police force needs to look more like the community," Bell said.

Bell has been criticized recently for his lethargic campaign style, but stated his positions last night with enthusiasm.

City Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway pledged to make city government more accessible to neighborhoods. City Councilman Martin O'Malley, who appeared uncharacteristically nervous, answered each question by returning to the premise of his campaign: that the city is unable to move forward until it eradicates the open-air drug dealing that fuels murder, joblessness and blight.

O'Malley came the closest of the candidates in offering concrete solutions by pledging to create a community investment agency that would attract private money to hard-hit city neighborhoods.

"Nothing is more important than improving public safety," the former prosecutor and defense attorney said with his trademark squint. "Nobody wants to invest in a city that isn't safe."

But Former City Councilman Carl F. Stokes may have gained the most from the event. Next to O'Malley and Bell -- both more than 10 years his junior -- the 49 year-old former school board member appeared stately, articulating thorough and confident responses.

Stokes reiterated his pledge to focus on improving city schools, saying that he supports taking back the schools from the state, but not until the system improves.

"Before we get there, we must make sure our schools are working well for our young people," Stokes said.

The forum served as an exhibition game for what is expected to be a premiere event on Monday -- a prime-time televised debate on WBAL-TV Channel 11. The 8 p.m. hourlong debate will be moderated by Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who was pursued as a mayoral candidate earlier in the year before spurning a draft effort. The television debate will continue from 9 to 10 p.m. on WBAL radio.

The format of the Monday debate -- and a subsequent debate Sept. 7 on WMAR-TV Channel 2 -- will include an opportunity for the candidates to question one another.

The mayor's race is the first in 28 years without an incumbent candidate. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will step down in December after 12 years.

The field contains 22 candidates, and MPT Channel 22 will broadcast sessions with the remaining candidates today from 10 a.m. to noon and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. A similar Republican forum will be held at 7 p.m. Friday.

In the Republican arena yesterday, primary candidate Carl M. Adair picked up the support of two longtime GOP allies, former state Dels. Samuel Hopkins and Samuel A. Culotta. The two backers of the city's last Republican mayor -- Theodore R. McKeldin, elected in 1967 -- held a news conference to support Adair, a former business owner and city schoolteacher competing in a six-candidate Republican field.

Adair, an African-American candidate, used the endorsement from his white colleagues to counter claims that he hired Democratic campaign strategist Larry S. Gibson in hopes of winning the Republican primary to stage a racial showdown in the November general election if O'Malley wins the Democratic primary. O'Malley is the chief white Democratic candidate.

"I would not do that," Adair, 65, said of campaigning on race. "And I don't intend that to happen."

Gibson, likewise, denounced that race is a motive for his running Adair's campaign.

"It was really unfair to me and particularly unfair to Carl Adair in light of how this man has lived his life," Gibson said.

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