With less than a week before the primary, the two 41st District Senate candidates who are widely considered the leaders in the race squared off last night on issues ranging from abortion and the death penalty to slot machines at Pimlico and race relations.
Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Lisa A. Gladden each presented herself as running a friendly campaign against a respected opponent to the crowd of about 50 at Temple Oheb Shalom in Northwest Baltimore, but the tension in the racially charged campaign remained high as they fielded questions. A third candidate, former Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., did not attend.
"We have two good people," Gladden, an African-American, said in her remarks. "We also have the undercurrent of race, and it's making this race ugly."
Gladden is challenging Hoffman, who is white, for the new 41st District Senate seat. The primary is Tuesday. The new city district, drawn in June by the Maryland Court of Appeals in the state's redistricting process, combines part of Gladden's old 41st District in West Baltimore, part of Hoffman's old 42nd District in North Baltimore and part of a third district in West Baltimore.
The new district is 70 percent African-American, and Gladden, who has the support of most of the city's African-American political leaders, said she believes a black candidate should represent it. Hoffman argued that she always has represented a mixed-race district and would be the more effective legislator as chairman of the influential Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, a position she has held since 1995.
"I am running for re-election because I love Baltimore City," Hoffman said. "This new district is very comfortable to me."
Last night, their positions sounded similar on most issues.
Both support abortion rights, increased funding for drug treatment and education, including funding of the landmark Thornton Commission legislation that would pump an extra $1.3 billion a year into Maryland's public schools by 2007.
The two, however, differ on some of the details of how they would handle various issues.
Gladden said she opposes the death penalty on moral grounds. Hoffman said she believes some convicted criminals should be kept off the streets, but the death penalty should not be used because the state can give life without parole and because it has been unfairly imposed on African-Americans.
Gladden told the audience that she opposes all uses of state dollars for private education. Hoffman said she opposes vouchers for private schools but supports funding for such needs as textbooks in schools that serve low-income children.
"Because of my love, passion and my tremendous debt to Baltimore City public schools, I cannot support vouchers," said Gladden, telling the crowd that she grew up attending them. She said every tax dollar available for schools in the city should go toward making the public education system the best it can be.
Gladden also said she wants slot machine gambling at Pimlico Race Course, located within the contested district, as a way to help fund the city's education needs.
Hoffman said she does not oppose slots at the track but wants to know first what effect gambling will have on the community. She said she is concerned about whether the slots would operate 24 hours a day, bringing constant traffic and bright lights to the community.
"I don't know how I would vote on it until I see what the proposal would be," Hoffman said.