In West Baltimore, the field narrows

Political chatter shows Stokes, Bell drawing most support

August 31, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Listening to the political chatter in West Baltimore's Edmondson Village Shopping Center, it's as if the mayoral contest has become a two-man race.

"Carl Stokes! That's all I have to say," Dionne Love, 26, says with a wave of her hand as if dismissing the other 21 Democratic and Republican candidates.

"I like [Lawrence] Bell," her cousin Emmanuel Alvez, 21, retorts in a split second. "I saw his ads on TV about crime. He seems like he's dealing with the community."

The family debate outside the Village Washtub Laundromat and Dry Cleaners last week mirrors contrasting views among a dozen other potential voters at this shopping center on the city's western edge, where political posters have so dominated the landscape that competing mayoral campaigns battle for space in some of the same yards.

It's not that this overwhelmingly Democratic community is necessarily more political than others, but rather that the main thoroughfare, in front of the shopping center, is heavily traveled Edmondson Avenue. It's a place where candidates can get the most out of their political dollars while keeping the neighborhood's attention on the Sept. 14 primary.

Opinions are strong about what issues the next mayor should tackle, with crime, school improvement and after-school activities topping the concerns of many of those interviewed over two days last week.

If there is any real surprise, it's the popularity that east-sider Stokes has on the west side of town, a stronghold for Bell that includes the southern tip of the 5th District and the western end of the City Council president's home district, the 4th.

In the four or five blocks leading west to the shopping center, dozens of political signs back "Bell" or "Stokes" in big, bold, colorful letters.

But there's little sign and minimal talk of one of the other leading mayoral candidates, City Councilman Martin O'Malley.

Everyone makes mistakes

Love, a customer service representative for Dial America Marketing, waits for a load of clothes to dry and picks up her discourse on the merits of Stokes' candidacy.

"We need a good mayor," Love says. "The violence, it's kind of worse now. That's why I say Carl Stokes, because he's a spiritual man. He's intelligent. He has problems " but, she adds, everyone makes mistakes.

Love is referring to Stokes' claim on campaign literature that he graduated from Loyola College. He attended the school but did not graduate. The revelation cost him support from state Del. Howard P. Rawlings and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who backed away just days before planned public endorsements of his campaign.

Alvez, a loan consultant for Provident Bank of Maryland, is sticking with Bell. He's convinced that Bell will attack the city's crime problem, Alvez's chief concern.

"I've been through a lot of things. I had to grow up on my own. I didn't have my mother and father. And now there's a lot of peer pressure and no type of guidance," he says.


Inside the laundry, Barbara Cox, 48, folds freshly dried towels and pauses to give her take on the race for the city's top job. She's one of the few interviewed who considers O'Malley.

"I really haven't made up my mind," says Cox, an Edmondson Village resident. "It's really between O'Malley and Stokes. I don't think Bell has a chance, just from what I'm reading."

In particular, Cox referred to reports of Bell's personal financial troubles, which include three lawsuits -- two over his failure to pay condominium fees and one for a debt on a 1996 Ford Mustang convertible that was repossessed.

Bell's campaign also appeared to have lost support when his campaign consultant, Julius Henson, disrupted an endorsement rally for O'Malley early this month. Four days later, Bell fired Henson, but the incident may have left an indelible mark on his campaign.

"Out of the candidates, O'Malley and Stokes seem the better choice," Cox says as she returns to folding towels. "When they're asked questions, they have answers. They seem more mature."

LaShawn Burton, 34, a forklift operator, recently registered to vote and isn't sure which candidate she'll choose. But she knows what she's looking for in a candidate.

"I want to see the school system get better," the mother of three says after putting a load of clothes in a dryer. "If they've got money to keep building these buildings downtown, they can build something for the homeless. I feel they can get some money for the children, get money for recreation centers."

Moses Thorpe, 62, a street sweeper for the city, says he plans to support Stokes. Thorpe says he knows Bell and Stokes, has listened to both men and believes that Stokes, a former city councilman and school board member, will bring much-needed change to City Hall.

"They need to clean out City Hall," Thorpe says as he carries his shopping bags to his car.

"I don't think Bell is ready," he says. "I don't think Bell would be good for the city. He's more for contracting out city work. That's what he's done while in office. That's just my opinion."

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