Mayoral hopefuls go on attack

Crime, schools, vacant housing focus of TV show taping

October 06, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

During the taping of a television show last night, Baltimore's two mayoral candidates started out warily, but then attacked each other's positions on crime, vacant houses and troubled schools.

Appearing on WBAL-TV's "A Bottom Line," scheduled to air Saturday, Democrat Martin O'Malley and Republican David F. Tufaro discussed a wide range of issues and listened to the audience describe the city's problems.

Asked by the show's host, Kweisi Mfume to discuss their differences, each gave a short speech on how happy they were to have won last month's primary. O'Malley said it was a "humbling experience."

It took only a few minutes for the candidates to state their campaign themes. O'Malley stuck to his public safety platform while Tufaro said his background as a developer and businessman could lend new credibility to city government.

Then Tufaro went on the offensive. He criticized O'Malley for his parting shot at Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who resigned last week. The Democrat referred to Frazier with a Latin phrase that means, "Thus always to tyrants."

Noting that Frazier is now head of a Justice Department program that could funnel federal funds to Baltimore, Tufaro said: "That's not a way to win friends."

O'Malley, who as a city councilman was one of Frazier's harshest critics, did not back down, saying that Frazier's tenure was "an ugly time" marred by allegations of racism and questionable conduct.

"I was not concerned with offending the police commissioner while trying to restore order to city streets," O'Malley said, leaning forward in his chair and urging his opponent "to put aside personal issues and move forward."

O'Malley seemed poised throughout the hourlong taping at WBAL's studio on Television Hill, crossing one leg over the other and bantering with the audience during breaks. Tufaro studied index cards during the brief respites.

Tufaro said he can persuade the overwhelmingly Democratic city to take him seriously, and he used every opportunity to remind voters that there is a race.

When some in the audience referred to O'Malley as the next mayor, Tufaro interrupted by shouting out the Nov. 2 date of the general election.

Mfume, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who rejected overtures to run for mayor, kept the discussion flowing.

He quizzed O'Malley on his call for a new style of policing that some have dubbed a "zero tolerance" approach, which has been credited with lowering crime in cities such as New York, but also linked to increased abuse by officers.

O'Malley distanced himself from the term, saying critics "are caught up in semantics."

He criticized what he called "the status quo leadership of some in the Police Department who attack what they've done in New York and equate it with brutality. I think that is unfortunate."

Tufaro said he has "heard Mr. O'Malley use the word and tell people it is what got him elected. I don't think Mr. O'Malley knows what he means. On one hand, [the term] gets support, and on the other hand, it creates fear in the community."

Another area where the two disagreed was school reform. Tufaro has supported vouchers, a system of public aid for private education. Mfume suggested that such a plan would benefit only a small portion of the population.

Tufaro called the idea a temporary solution that would force public schools to compete and perform better. O'Malley called for consistent curricula and an expansion of Project Headstart, a federally funded program to help disadvantaged children.

The two differed on development issues. Tufaro accused city officials of "indiscriminately" giving away tax breaks for downtown developers, and O'Malley countered that the money the development will bring to city coffers makes the deals worthwhile.

Tufaro criticized demolishing public housing developments and said the low-rise buildings could be converted into useful dwellings. "It is very costly to tear down and rebuild rather than to rehab the houses that are there," he said.

O'Malley called for a plan that would target decaying neighborhoods, "and not just punch out houses here and there."

The Democrat keyed most of his reforms to ending crime and improving education. "The single issue that has been holding us down are open air drug markets, addiction and dwindling opportunities for our children," he said.

Tufaro said that as a developer and city resident for 27 years, "I have watched things slip by. My opponent blames Republicans in Congress. But Republicans have not been running this city and state. It is time for real reform."

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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