Financial backers prefer O'Malley stay in Baltimore

Mayor says he has yet to decide whether to seek gubernatorial nomination

May 30, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley will rely mainly on his inner voice and the counsel of a handful of friends and relatives in deciding whether to run for governor.

But if he listened to the financial backers who opened their checkbooks for his 1999 mayoral campaign, he'd hear a resounding message: We don't want you to go.

"I would really like to see him stay in Baltimore and finish what I consider to be a pretty good job he's done so far," said Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of First Mariner Bank and a waterfront developer.

"I'm speaking as a business person in Baltimore who's spending a lot of money. I think some stability is good for me, personally," Hale said.

Edward L. Dopkin, co-owner of Classic Catering People and a $4,000 contributor to O'Malley in 1999, said he just moved into a new city house that he would not have built if he thought the mayor might leave.

"He's only halfway there to finishing all the things he started," Dopkin said. "I think he's a great guy. I think he's a great mayor. He has an obligation to the citizens and the people who put him there."

Midway through a four-year term, O'Malley, 39, is thinking about his next position. The prospect of an open governor's seat is tantalizing - Gov. Parris N. Glendening cannot seek re-election - and the mayor has demonstrated disdain for the leading Democratic contender, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

O'Malley, a Democrat, has said he will declare his intentions shortly before the July 1 filing deadline, noting that he entered the mayor's race late and won a three-way primary.

But as he waits, Townsend has wrung endorsements from most of Maryland's leading politicians, including the state's two U.S. senators and lawmakers from the largest counties, as well as many labor unions.

It's unclear how many people want O'Malley to enter the Democratic primary. A statewide poll conducted in January for The Sun found that 43 percent of respondents preferred that he remain as mayor, 29 percent said he should challenge Townsend and 27 percent were unsure.

The mayor said the opinions he hears are more evenly divided: About half want him to stay in the city, and the rest want him to run for governor.

That conflicting advice mirrors "my own inner conflict between head and heart," he said. "My head tells me to go. My heart tells me to stay."

"It's probably the first and last time in my life when I'll go down the street and I run into people that say, `I really hope you run.' And I can say, `Thank you,'" he said.

"And I run into people who say, `I really hope you'll stay.' And I say, `Oh, thank you.' And both of them are sincere, and I'm sincere in both of those responses. I don't run into people who say, `You dog, you should get out of politics altogether.'"

Among the largest contributors to his last campaign, a list that includes many business owners and industry groups, opinion appears tilted toward his staying in City Hall.

"It would almost be a shame if he left the city at this time," said Cecile Myrick, chairwoman of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, whose political action committee gave O'Malley $5,800.

"Compared to the previous administration, it's just unmeasurable," she said. "We honestly do need Martin O'Malley working for the city, and bringing it up the way he is doing."

Diana Doheny, who along with husband Peter gave $5,200 to the mayor, said she was aware of O'Malley's higher aspirations from the start, but hopes that he puts them aside temporarily.

"I knew when he announced he was running for mayor that it wouldn't stop there," she said. "I was hoping that he would make a difference in the city, and one term is not enough time to do that. I think it's a bit premature for him to jump to the governorship."

Edward Magruder Passano, a former Waverly Press executive who now works as a small-business consultant, said he's not a fan of Townsend but wants O'Malley to continue as mayor.

"I'm a city resident, and I'd like him to keep cleaning the city up," Passano said. "I think he's made progress, but he's got a long way to go."

Passano, a Democrat, said he believes an ideal combination would be Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in Annapolis and O'Malley in City Hall. "I think Ehrlich as governor and O'Malley as mayor would be a terrific team for the city and the state," he said.

Sid Traub, owner of a Baltimore postcard manufacturing company that gave $4,000 to the mayor, said he would "not contribute" if O'Malley ran for governor, adding that Townsend "is fully capable of being governor."

"He's got the ball started, and I'd like him to keep it rolling. I feel confident with him," Traub said. "When you drive down the Jones Falls Expressway, even on a weeknight, there's a healthy flow of traffic going back into the city. I feel like we've turned the corner and he can keep this thing going."

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