Crown and Bell disagree on visit

After alleging racism, mayoral hopeful asked donation, owner says

Bell disputes account

September 01, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Peter Hermann | Gerard Shields and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Despite criticizing Crown Central Petroleum Corp. over allegations of mistreating black employees, mayoral candidate and City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III solicited the owner of the Baltimore-based company for campaign contributions, Crown officials said yesterday.

In Monday's prime-time WBAL-TV mayoral debate, Bell criticized his council colleague and mayoral rival Martin O'Malley for failing to support a council resolution last year that denounced Crown over allegations of racism and sexism. Bell noted that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also criticized the company.

Crown owner Henry A. Rosenberg said through a spokesman yesterday that Bell visited his office in August 1998 and asked him to raise money for the campaign. The visit came months after Bell supported the council resolution criticizing Crown, Crown officials said.

After the meeting, Rosenberg received two tickets to a Bell fund-raiser but did not contribute.

"We find it highly inconsistent how he could denounce us and then come seeking our assistance," Crown spokesman J. Steven Wise said yesterday. Crown operates more than 100 service stations in Maryland and more than 300 nationally.

In an interview last night, Bell denied soliciting money from the company or its president. He also said it was "unlikely" that his campaign fund-raisers sent the two tickets to Rosenberg.

"I never directly solicited financial support from Mr. Rosenberg or Crown, and I would not accept it," Bell said.

Bell did not deny visiting Rosenberg, however, saying that it was his duty as council president to meet with local business leaders. "I have the responsibility to communicate but I have the character to tell them they are wrong."

Finally, Bell reiterated his condemnation of the "racism practiced by Crown."

In response to Bell's denial, Crown spokesman James M. Coale said: "I'm sorry he doesn't remember it, I'm sure Mr. Bell calls on a lot of people. Mr. Rosenberg remembers it distinctly."

On Feb. 5, 1996, Crown had workers escorted from its Pasadena, Texas, refinery after claiming that employees had sabotaged the plant. The company had demanded job cuts and an overhaul of seniority rights from the 252-member union work force.

Hourly and salaried women and minority employees filed a federal sexual harassment suit alleging that Crown management had created and perpetuated a culture of rampant racism and sexism. Company officials deny the accusations, calling the suit a union "smear campaign."

In Monday's mayoral debate, O'Malley said that he did not endorse the resolution because he felt officials from the Baltimore-based company should be permitted to respond to the accusations at a council hearing. Recent mayoral campaign reports show that O'Malley received $1,000 each from Crown owner Rosenberg and his wife, Dorothy L. Rosenberg.

"The only thing uglier than racism is calling someone racist when they are not," O'Malley told Bell. "That was my problem, it was basically an issue of fairness."

Stokes gets endorsement

As candidates tried to assess how they fared in Monday's debate, the National Black Police Association -- which represents 30,000 officers across the country -- endorsed Carl Stokes for mayor yesterday, saying his opposition to New York-style zero tolerance policing makes him an ideal choice to lead the city.

"He is the only candidate who embraces our philosophy of community policing, which calls for a true, cooperative partnership between the neighborhoods and the police for safer communities," said the group's executive director, Ronald E. Hampton.

At a news conference in front of Baltimore Police Headquarters, the Washington-based group criticized Bell and O'Malley for supporting what has been called zero tolerance as a way of curtailing crime.

Zero-tolerance debate

Zero-tolerance is a concept in which police enforce the law on even minor crimes with the idea that confronting every wrongdoer will demonstrate that police care and will trip up repeat offenders before they commit more serious violent crimes. The policy has been lauded for reducing the murder rate in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has repeatedly rejected the concept, saying the jails could not handle the increased arrests and such a policy is an open invitation for officers to violate citizens' civil rights.

At yesterday's new conference, Stokes repeatedly pointed to New York, where the practice has come under scrutiny in light of questionable police shootings and statistics that show officers there have stopped 45,000 people, but arrested only 9,000 of them.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents 3,000 city officers, has endorsed Bell.

Profiling issue raised

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