Work site not exactly an issue in mayoral race

September 10, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

CARL STOKES brought up the business the other night, during those last few nasty minutes of the second televised mayoral debate. He questioned Martin O'Malley's commitment to the city of Baltimore because O'Malley's kids go to school in Towson, O'Malley's wife works in Towson, and O'Malley has a law practice in Towson.

As we all know, Towson is a provincial capital. If you imagine Baltimore County as a large pair of pants from a Big & Tall store, Towson is its seat. (Interstate 83 would be the zipper.) It's just north of the city of Baltimore.

Stokes thinks he has a legitimate point: If O'Malley wants to be mayor of the city, he should work in the city.

"He moved his practice to Towson," Stokes said. "He made a conscious decision to move his practice out of the city."

He's right. O'Malley used to have a law office on East Lexington Street, conveniently near Baltimore Circuit Court (though his criminal case work usually took him to District Court) and City Hall (where he's worked as a city councilman since December 1991).

Last year, the governor appointed O'Malley's friend, Robert Steinberg, to a Baltimore County judgeship. Steinberg asked O'Malley to take his caseload at his law firm in Towson.

"I agreed to do it, it's that simple," O'Malley said yesterday. "I didn't want to do it. But Bob [Steinberg] pushed hard and, career-wise, it was the responsible thing to do for my family."

Sounds like it was a good job opportunity. Sounds like money.

Which, I assume, is the reason Carl Stokes left his job in Baltimore -- he used to work in management for this newspaper, and he owned retail clothing stores -- to become vice president of business development for a medical equipment company called Mid-Atlantic Health Care.

And that's in Owings Mills.

And that's in Baltimore County (the right hip pocket, if you're still following my big pants analogy).

You see how icky this argument gets.

If you follow the argument to its illogical conclusion -- that having a job in the city is a prerequisite for being mayor -- then Lawrence Bell is the only qualified candidate.

A `so what?' resolution

Baltimore City Council bill 97-484 -- the Crown Central Petroleum resolution that Bell keeps using against O'Malley, his rival in the Democratic mayoral primary -- is overrated as an instrument of influence. It did not condemn Baltimore-based Crown for its 1996 lockout of refinery workers in Texas. It did not denounce it as a racist or sexist company. It merely demanded that Crown and the union representing its workers settle the dispute. It called on Baltimoreans to support union efforts to press Crown for a resolution.

Nice gesture, I suppose, but not exactly a resounding denunciation of Henry Rosenberg and kin.

O'Malley says he didn't endorse the resolution because union activists intimately familiar with the labor dispute in Texas were the only people invited to testify at a City Council hearing on the matter. Crown Central wasn't invited until the last minute, O'Malley said yesterday, and because the company never got a chance to testify, he didn't think the resolution was fair.

Resolutions are a form of political grandstanding. They're a way for City Council members to rack up easy points with various constituents and special-interest groups. They have almost no teeth.

The language of 97-484 is very conservative. I can't find the word "condemn" or "denounce" anywhere in it. It doesn't call for a boycott of Crown stations or products. In fact, it warns that a boycott could have a detrimental effect on the company and its employees. It mentions that eight employees had filed a civil suit charging Crown with racial and gender discrimination, and that environmentalists had sued the company over violations of the Clean Air Act.

Signing the resolution would have been easy for O'Malley (though he might not have received a campaign contribution this year from Henry Rosenberg). He would have scored points with unions, environmental groups and civil rights organizations without condemning Crown.

Still, he says Crown should have been accorded a hearing on the charges before the council voted on the measure. That's his story and he's sticking to it.

L. Bell, on the other hand, flashes the Crown Central card -- he's done it twice in televised debates -- as a way of portraying O'Malley, the white guy running for mayor, as insensitive to working people, African-Americans and women. At the same time, L. Bell holds himself up as a crusader for the oppressed when the resolution of which he is so proud did little to change or prove anything.

If he feels so strongly about the evils of the company, why doesn't he wear a "Boycott Crown" pin when he campaigns? Bob Kaufman is the only candidate who does.

Pub Date: 9/10/99

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