No day of rest for mayoral candidates

Campaign: On the Sunday before Election Day, Bell, O'Malley and Stokes take their search for votes to the city's churches.

September 13, 1999|By Gerard Shields, Laura Lippman and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields, Laura Lippman and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

And on the seventh day, they were still campaigning.

Sunday may be a day of rest for many, but the city's mayoral candidates kept pushing yesterday, trying to gather critical votes in the waning hours of the hard-fought campaign that culminates with tomorrow's primary election.

The day began with the three most visible Democratic candidates -- Lawrence A. Bell III, Martin O'Malley and Carl Stokes -- whirring through city churches, meeting congregation members by the thousands, hoping they will become their Tuesday voters.

Even before O'Malley arrived at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church yesterday, one of his chief rivals was working to counter his support. Across the street in the 1300 block of Druid Hill Ave., "Carl Stokes for Mayor" signs lined the sidewalk, as campaign workers passed out the candidate's leaflets.

Inside the church, the mayoral talk was all O'Malley. The 36-year-old Northeast Baltimore councilman attended Bethel's 8 a.m. service with his wife, Katie, their daughters Grace and Tara, and his father-in-law, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, endorsed O'Malley last week, raising eyebrows among some African-American voters. Reid leads the largest African-American church in the city, yet some followers argued that he should have supported a black candidate instead of O'Malley, who is white.

Other members took issue with Reid making his endorsement last week outside of the church rather than in a more neutral location that didn't put the church in the political fray.

Reid didn't back away from his support of O'Malley yesterday, saying that as a leader, he felt obligated to make a choice. Yet he told church members that they must decide for themselves for whom to vote. "There's been a lot of confusion and controversy," Reid said. "I made an endorsement that I'm clear on and I'm serious about. There are people in our congregation that support other candidates. That is your right."

With those words, Reid called on the congregation to welcome O'Malley.

"I introduce to you the next mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley," Reid said. "Give him a hand, whether you agree with him or not."

Some congregation members gave him enthusiastic applause. Others, however, sat still, waiting for the moment to pass.

"I've been a follower of his for the religious part of my life," Roland Sterns, 66, of East Baltimore said after the service. "He has a right to decide whomever he wants to support."

But, he added, "I have my candidate."

Sterns said he planned to vote for one of the black candidates. "It would be difficult for me to go with anyone other than my own [race]," he said.

O'Malley called Reid's support a strong boost for his campaign, adding that he was grateful for the church invitation.

"He's a real leader with courage," O'Malley said of Reid. "Bethel has been very kind to me."

Bell hopscotched across the city from east to west, hitting churches of almost every denomination. At Metropolitan United Methodist Church, at 1121 W. Lanvale St., Bell was allowed to speak from the pulpit and used the opportunity to speak about the prodigal son.

"In a very real sense, all of us are reflected in that story," he said. "If you believe this prodigal son is a man of integrity, vote for me."

Bell sought to clarify statements made during the campaign, in which he was quoted as saying voters should choose him because he was "a man who looks like you do." Bell said he was simply trying to show that he is a role model for "every young black man who looks at a 37-year-old named Lawrence Bell and sees he could rise to the level of City Council president."

After the service, Bell said he chose the prodigal son story because "all of us are imperfect. It's really about everyone."

Stokes also toured city churches in the morning but brought the clergy to him last night at a rally outside City Hall. About 400 Stokes supporters filled War Memorial Plaza, where leaders from several ministerial organizations spoke in support of Stokes.

The Rev. Douglas I. Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, urged Stokes supporters to get to the polls tomorrow and bring others for their candidate.

"We're here to make our voice heard," said Miles, whose group endorsed Stokes. "We are here to make our vote count."

Stokes, a former city councilman and school board member, also picked up yesterday the endorsement of the Vanguard Justice Society Inc., the city's African-American police union. Speaking to the crowd as darkness began to fall, Stokes credited church, family and school for bringing him to within one election of becoming mayor.

"I can't turn over a place that's worse off than what was handed to me," Stokes, 49, told the crowd.

Meanwhile, the dispute over racist literature that surfaced in the campaign last month continued yesterday.

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