O'Malley elected mayor

Amid low turnout, Democrat gains 90% of the votes for mayor

November 03, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn, The Baltimore Sun

City Councilman Martin O'Malley -- a 36-year-old defense attorney and singer in an Irish rock band -- was elected Baltimore's 47th mayor yesterday, getting the go-ahead to make good his pledge to shut down open-air drug markets and put the brakes on the city's runaway murder rate.

"This much I promise you tonight," O'Malley told a cheering crowd of 600 supporters at the Columbus Center last night.

"That as mayor, I will work every second of every waking hour to make sure a sense of urgency is returned to the noble work of city government." Backed by the 9-to-1 majority in registered Democrats, O'Malley cruised to victory, though computer problems delayed an official tally.

A key piece of the city's new $6.5 million election system -- a computer that assembles vote tallies from each precinct -- malfunctioned about 9 p.m.

The problem required about 20 election workers to type in results from each of the city's 989 voting machines.

The tally will not be considered final, city election officials said, until a recount is completed tomorrow.

With 59 percent of the ballots counted early this morning, O'Malley had captured 90 percent of the vote, outdistancing Republican newcomer David F.

Tufaro by more than 50,000 votes.

On a rainy day when only 27 percent of the city's eligible voters went to the polls, residents appeared willing to grant O'Malley a five-year mayoral term by approving a referendum to align future city elections with presidential races beginning in 2004.

At the gathering of Democratic supporters, Gov. Parris N. Glendening welcomed the early indication of an O'Malley victory. "This is the beginning of a new era," Glendening said.

"We're going to work together closely." O'Malley's victory topped nine races whose results create the largest turnover at City Hall in 12 years. In addition, Baltimore joins such other predominantly black cities as Gary, Ind., and Oakland, Calif., in electing a white mayor.

West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, 45, was easily winning her bid to become the next City Council president. Dixon, the first black female council leader in city history, was leading Republican opponent Antonio W. Campbell by 36,500 votes in early returns, gaining 85 percent of the vote.

"Every community in Baltimore City will play a part in this government," Dixon said.

Residents also gave City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt a second four-year term. Pratt defeated Republican political novice Charles U. Smith with 86 percent of the votes with about a third of the ballots counted, keeping her hopes alive of someday becoming Baltimore's first female mayor.

In the City Council races, Republicans hoping to become the first GOP council members in 60 years appeared to be falling short as city voters backed 14 council incumbents in six city districts.

Four new Democratic council members, however, were elected to fill vacancies, including Bea Gaddy, the well-known East Baltimore advocate for the homeless.

O'Malley will be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 7, succeeding Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the city's first elected black mayor, who is stepping down after 12 years. Schmoke's decision last December not to seek a fourth four-year term ignited the first city election without an incumbent mayor running in 28 years.

O'Malley -- who built his eight-year council reputation in highly publicized battles with Schmoke appointees Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and Public Works Director George G. Balog -- jumped into the mayoral race on June 22, two weeks before the filing deadline.

He vaulted to the front of 16 Democratic challengers in a hard-fought primary with former colleagues, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former East Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes. Although O'Malley was criticized as trying to capitalize on a black vote split between the two, he won with 53 percent in the Democratic primary.

"These naysayers bet on the worst in us," said jubilant City Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings of Northwest Baltimore, who backed O'Malley. "The people are betting on the best in us." 'Zero tolerance' Over the past eight years, Baltimore has had 300 murders a year despite employing a wide range of crime-fighting strategies.

Police attribute three of every four Baltimore murders to a flagrant illegal drug trade that has festered in the city's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. O'Malley led the council push for the city to implement the so-called "zero tolerance" crime fighting strategy that has helped cities such as New York and New Orleans lead the nation in reducing violent crime and murders.

Under the plan, police target nuisance crimes such as loitering and public drinking in an effort to catch fugitives before they commit more serious crimes.

Voters who trickled to the polls in the rain yesterday welcomed O'Malley's plan.

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