Memorable primary moments

September 26, 1999|By Gerard Shields

Gerard Shields, a City Hall reporter for The Sun, helped cover Baltimore's mayoral primary races for the newspaper. A week after the voting, Shields shook his notebook and came up with the following notes, quotes and sundry observations from one of the more memorable city elections in decades.

Key moment: It came when supporters of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III shouted down leading state legislators at a rally for Bell's mayoral rival, Martin O'Malley. If anyone says Baltimoreans are not passionate about their politics, refer to this turning point. Appropriately, held on the steps of the city's War Memorial.

Best campaign line: City Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway, speaking to Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, said voters should cast their ballots for her because of her gender: "You have voted for 46 mayors of this city who were men, and look at the condition of it."

Biggest disappointment: A tie between NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and mayoral candidate Carl Stokes. Mfume's spurning of the draft movement left some supporters in mourning. Stokes' lie about graduating from Loyola College dismayed the faithful and cost him the race.

Best quote: Hands down, it was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings' assessment of Bell during the heated O'Malley rally: "He's a child. He behaves like a child. He thinks like a child." A knockout blow.

Best campaign pitch: O'Malley's "There is much more that unites us than divides us."

Best campaign slogan: Bell's "Back to basics, block by block."

Wildest twist: The arrest of long-shot mayoral candidate Dorothy Joyner Jenningson burglary charges. When a police officer spotted Jennings on local television, it became national news. This was a textbook example of truth being stranger than fiction.

Most persistent: A. Robert Kaufman. He has now lost elections on the federal, state and local levels, running for president, governor and mayor while never gaining more than 10 percent of the vote. Talk about not taking a hint.

The When-Will-He-Ever-Learn Award: It goes to city Department of Public Works Director George G. Balog. Though Balog is being investigated by a grand jury and the FBI over allegations that he forced city contractors to contribute to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 1995 campaign -- allegations he denies -- his minions tried to raise money for Bell this time around.

Media public service: Former state Sen. Larry Young. Despite pressure from some quarters to make race the central issue of the campaign, the morning talk-show host on WOLB-AM resisted. What's more, every candidate in the city was invited to speak on his show, including all the council candidates.

The Heart-In-The-Right-Place Award: Stokes touched many with his passionate speech about the lack of outrage in the city, and with his line: "I'm not going to live like this anymore."

Key endorsement: State Sen. Joan Carter Conway's backing of her former colleague and friend, O'Malley, was key to dimming the racial overtones of the election. She signaled to blacks and liberal whites feeling guilty about voting for O'Malley that it was OK.

Best billboard: Kaufman. The white candidate's use of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote about the "content of one's character" proved a clever twist in the majority-black city.

Cheapskate Award: Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart. The 1984 and 1988 presidential contender sent $100 to the O'Malley campaign. O'Malley had served as a Hart campaign leader in Maryland. Must be tough times in Colorado.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Award: William Edward Roberts Sr. The genteel 72-year-old East Baltimore community activist used his appearance at a Center for Poverty Solutions forum to repeatedly urge voters: "You have the power. The people have the power."

Attention getter: The Rev. Jessica June Davis, the leader of a small East Baltimore church, campaigned by calling herself -- in a voice like that of a sports announcer -- "the next mayor of Baaaaaaltimore." Although the political novice didn't have a chance, her name and her delivery caused people to pause and listen.

Coolest television ads: Stokes' black-and-white spots were innovative and stood out from the rest.

Campaign mystery: So how did Bell's repossessed 1996 Mustang get so banged up? The world might never know.

Lowest campaign tactic: It was Bell's use of African-American political hero Parren J. Mitchell in a radio ad for his mayoral candidacy. Mitchell, 77, is in the Keswick Multi-Care Center after suffering several strokes. That Baltimore's political community was not outraged at Bell's tactic was unconscionable.

Best retort: During the second televised debate, Bell tried to criticize O'Malley for not backing a City Council resolution condemning Crown Petroleum for alleged discrimination. O'Malley gazed at him with his best Clint Eastwood squint and asked, "Lawrence, aren't you tired of this?"

Most memorable hand-held sign: Fringe candidate Phillip A. Brown Jr.'s "There Are Know Frontrunner."

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