O'Malley overwhelms his Democratic rivals

Councilman to face GOP primary winner Tufaro on Nov. 2

Turnout exceeds 40%

Former prosecutor defeats 16 candidates, including Bell, Stokes

Primary 1999 : Mayoral Race

September 15, 1999|By Gerard Shields Ivan Penn and Laura Lippman | Gerard Shields Ivan Penn and Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

In a stunning finish to an often tumultuous campaign, City Councilman Martin O'Malley handily won the Democratic primary for mayor last night as a majority of Baltimore voters embraced the former prosecutor's pledge to shut down the city's flagrant open-air drug markets.

"This is a phenomenal statement about the fact that our city is ready to move forward," said O'Malley, 36, who gained 53 percent of the vote in a majority African-American city.

"The people of our city are hungry for change and hungry for new leadership."

An eight-year councilman from Northeast Baltimore who plays guitar in his own Celtic rock band, O'Malley will face Roland Park developer David F. Tufaro in the general election Nov. 2.

Tufaro, 52, won the Republican nomination by defeating five other GOP contenders in the first city primary in 28 years without an incumbent mayor.

In addition, Sheila Dixon won the Democratic primary for City Council president -- Baltimore's second-highest elected office -- and 14 council incumbents were given the party's nod.

East Baltimore homeless advocate Bea Gaddy won nomination to a council seat in the city's 2nd District.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt also easily won her primary race and is expected to win again in November.

O'Malley ran on a platform of "Change and Reform," defeating his former council ally, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, and former City Councilman Carl Stokes, along with 14 lesser-known candidates.

O'Malley collected an astonishing 53 percent of the vote, gaining substantial support from the city's black neighborhoods in a hard-fought Democratic primary that moves him within one step -- the November general election -- of becoming Baltimore's 47th mayor.

When O'Malley entered the race in June, he was expected to benefit from a split in the city's African-American vote.

Instead, he collected a majority of the total vote, calling the results a defeat for "division and fear."

"It was not a campaign that divided the vote, but a campaign that united the people of this city," O'Malley said after learning of his win.

"From the first day of this campaign to this primary night, I never once doubted the goodness, the fairness and integrity of people of the Baltimore City."

City elections officials said that 42 percent of voters turned out.

With 100 percent of the vote counted late last night, former school board member Stokes had garnered 28 percent. Bell -- at one time dubbed the front-runner -- posted a scant 17 percent.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the city's first elected black mayor, will step down in December after 12 years in office.

Democrat heavily favored

O'Malley, a council maverick with a penchant for theatrics who built his reputation battling Schmoke administration officials who included Police Chief Thomas C. Frazier and city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, is heavily favored to win the November election because Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the city, 9 to 1.

Immediately after learning of his primary victory, O'Malley said he was hoping to meet with his mayoral rivals to come together with ideas for the city.

"I'll work with anybody who is ready to roll up their sleeves," O'Malley said. "Lord knows, there is enough work to do."

Bell's defeat was a heartbreaking loss for the 12-year council veteran who entered the campaign this summer with a 16-point lead over Stokes, according to independent polls.

Bell's bid was quickly crippled by reports of personal financial troubles, including the repossession of his 1996 Mustang.

Bell, 37, was also forced to fire his campaign consultant last month after supporters disrupted an O'Malley event in which black state leaders, including House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, endorsed O'Malley.

Bell campaigned yesterday with former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., who along with his wife, Cora, was hired in recent weeks to aid the floundering Bell campaign.

Barry casually strolled with Bell's political entourage yesterday along the sidewalk in front of Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School.

"I hope Lawrence wins," said Barry, who left office last year after a checkered mayoral career that included a drug conviction and a congressional takeover because of mismanagement.

"He's been on the City Council for 12 years and he shows compassion. He's a people person."

Expensive wardrobe

Bell, however, came under fire this month when campaign finance reports showed that he spent about $4,300 in campaign contributions on a New York wardrobe.

Support for Bell among city whites -- which at the outset stood as high as one in three -- plummeted with the personal finance woes and Bell's recent call for voters attending an African-American festival to support "a man who looks like you do."

Bell said he was thankful for the 12 years he served in the City Council and congratulated his former friend, O'Malley, while asking supporters to pray for the city.

"What's more important than my welfare as an individual," Bell said, "is this city."

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