Republican optimistic on mayor's contest

Tufaro is bolstered by GOP underdog's win in N.J race

September 17, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In the tradition of great battle cries such as "Remember the Alamo," Republican mayoral candidate David F. Tufaro has come up with his own inspiring slogan in the struggle to defeat Democratic opponent Martin O'Malley:

"Jersey City."

Tufaro, the 52-year-old Roland Park Republican, points to Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler as proof that a Republican can win in a Democratic city against overwhelming odds.

Tufaro is on the Nov. 2 general election ballot facing what has been for 30 years a seemingly insurmountable electorate hurdle: Democratic voters in Baltimore outnumber Republicans 9-1. Yet Tufaro believes that if he can distinguish himself from O'Malley as a better businessman, voters will take notice.

Jersey City's Schundler, a former Democrat, did just that in 1992, winning in a city where Republican registration was 6 percent.

"Winning is not out of the question," Tufaro said yesterday at his Fells Point office. "I am running as someone who is not part of the political establishment."

But first there is O'Malley. The 36-year-old councilman stunned his political detractors by gaining 53 percent of the Democratic primary vote Tuesday in a race against two formidable opponents.

Despite his big win in the primary, O'Malley is taking nothing for granted and said he can't wait to get back out into city neighborhoods.

O'Malley lamented what he called a sound-bite Democratic primary that failed to allow candidates in a field of 17 to adequately discuss their visions for the city. And he respects Tufaro enough as a successful businessman to look upon the campaign as more of a chess match than the battle royal that he just completed.

"He seems like a good person and his heart's in the right place," O'Malley said of Tufaro. "It will be fun; maybe we can have some good public dialogue."

Unlike recent televised debates that included discussion of personal character flaws, the general election discourse will likely focus on more cerebral topics, such as the city's impending four-year, $153 million budget deficit and how best to cut the property tax rate.

"We can have a good 45-minute debate about tax increment financing," O'Malley said chuckling. "I'm sure every TV set in the city will be off in 15 minutes."

Tufaro and O'Malley agree that the city's fiscal condition is critical to turning Baltimore around.

But the two men have differences on how to go about it.

Tufaro, a partner in Summit Properties, a North Carolina-based development firm that has built several apartment complexes in the city, said he intends to reduce spending by allowing private companies to compete with city workers to provide services.

Taking a page from the book of Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, Tufaro believes that if the Yellow Pages telephone book has three or more private companies handling a service, municipal employees should probably not be in the business.

Tufaro supports opening the doors of city government to private companies, noting that half the cities in the nation use private haulers for trash. Baltimore spends $35 million to maintain and operate city cars; the larger Indianapolis does it through a private service for $9 million, Tufaro said.

"You aren't going to lose jobs," Tufaro said about city union fears of layoffs. "You're going to lose government jobs, but somebody has to provide the work."

O'Malley criticized the privatization proposal. Instead, O'Malley likes the Philadelphia model created by Mayor Ed Rendell that creates a labor-management panel to work together to come up with more efficient service.

O'Malley contends that the people who know best how to save the city money are the front-line workers who know their jobs.

Tufaro is expected to make an issue of tax breaks to Inner Harbor hotel developers. As chairman of the council's Taxation and Finance Committee, O'Malley guided the legislation that provided $85 million in future tax breaks to two Inner Harbor hotels.

O'Malley supported the measures, saying that the $6.6 million in new taxes the projects will bring to the city annually can be used to create a community reinvestment agency to force banks to invest in poverty-stricken city neighborhoods. Tufaro criticizes the tax-break tool, noting that many of the beneficiaries are big campaign contributors.

O'Malley received $12,000 from hotel developer Harvey Schulweis, who is seeking tax breaks to build a new Inner Harbor hotel on Pratt Street.

"I don't blame the developers for trying; that's part of your job as an aggressive developer," Tufaro said. "But [the tax breaks] have become subject to abuse."

Tufaro himself benefited from city tax deferment policies in 1989. His company built the Waterloo Apartments at Calvert and Centre Streets with city support to defer its tax payments for several years. Tufaro contends the measure wasn't a tax break, but allowed the company to get on its feet before requiring tax payments, which it paid in full.

O'Malley said he doesn't like the tax breaks the city offers developers, but he sees them as an economic tool to stimulate job growth and the city economy.

"I've never said that there wasn't a better way to go," O'Malley said.

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