Candidates in city rush to raise cash, revise plans

In a bind after Assembly fails to push primary to '04

April 09, 2003|By Tom Pelton and Doug Donovan | Tom Pelton and Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Candidates for city offices scrambled yesterday to revise their political plans and raise money after learning they would face the voters not next year - as many had expected - but in September.

"This is totally ludicrous, insane, crazy, unfortunate and embarrassing," said City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who is plotting a possible run for City Council president.

Instead of announcing their plans nine months or more from now, some candidates felt pressure to fling their hats into the ring immediately after the legislature failed to change the primary date.

Among several potential candidates making moves yesterday, former City Councilman Carl Stokes - who lost the Democratic primary to Martin O'Malley in 1999 - said it was "highly likely" that he would launch a second campaign for mayor.

Andrey Bundley, principal of Walbrook High School, said he will file his paperwork today to run for mayor. And veteran defense attorney Warren Brown announced yesterday that he will run for the City Council's 7th District, in West Baltimore.

Arthur Murphy, a political consultant hired by several City Council members, said the unexpectedly short period before the primary gives a boost to politicians who have campaign war funds and name recognition.

"This helps incumbents and the people who can raise money, and it hurts people who can't," said Murphy. "People who have deeper pockets will get re-elected, no problem."

Potential candidates such as Stokes face an uphill battle with only five months to raise money before the primary.

Stokes' 2003 annual report to the Maryland State Board of Elections, filed Jan. 15, shows he has $23,000 in debt.

This compares with the more than $1 million O'Malley's campaign has in the bank. O'Malley - who raised $65,000 playing with his Irish rock band at Hammerjack's nightclub March 23 - is also planning a large fund-raiser at Ravens Stadium on May 14. A similar event for him at the stadium last year drummed up $1 million.

"Our last mayoral race cost about $1.2 million, so we basically already have what we need to run this race," said Colleen Martin-Lauer, a fund-raising consultant for the O'Malley campaign.

Stokes said he is not intimidated. "Martin can be beaten. There's no doubt in my mind that he can be beaten," said Stokes, 52, who served on the council from 1987 to 1995 and is a vice president at Mid Atlantic Health Care.

Two other possible mayoral candidates, City Comptroller Joan Pratt and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said yesterday that they had not decided whether to challenge O'Malley.

After squabbling until almost midnight Monday, the last day of the General Assembly session, legislators were unable to agree on a way to fix a problem with the state laws that control the date of the city primary.

The lack of agreement meant that a glitch will remain that requires the city to hold its primaries 14 months before the general election in November 2004.

The glitch grew out of clashing city and state revisions of election laws in 1998 and 1999.

City officials blame Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who wants to force the city to align its elections with the state cycle. This would help boost turnout for gubernatorial elections and force city officials to choose between running for city or state positions so they wouldn't have a "free shot" at higher office.

But Miller's efforts conflict with a 1999 referendum approved overwhelmingly by city voters to align the city's election dates with the federal cycle. The federal calendar has a primary and general election next year.

"I'm disappointed. The 78 percent of city voters who wanted the election to coincide with the presidential election - President Miller decided he was just going to disregard them and disregard home rule and mess with our election date and thwart the will of the people," said O'Malley.

Councilman Robert W. Curran, who led the 1999 effort to have the election and primary in 2004, said: "Mr. Miller just wanted to show us he's the boss. ... He's all-controlling."

Miller's defenders blame City Council members for drafting the referendum without first doing their homework to find out whether they would need state legislative approval.

"President Miller did not create this problem - it was created at the local level," said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway. "The state has always had control over the date of the primary."

The fallout from the disagreement is this: Candidates for mayor and City Council could lose the Democratic primary in September, then linger in office as lame ducks for more than a year, when the winners would take over.

"I don't think voters would have changed the general election if they knew the response from the state would be to have a 14-month lag between the primary and the general elections," City Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake said.

The city's primaries and general elections could remain out of whack for years to come if the legislature doesn't act.

Moreover, the financially strained city government - contemplating layoffs and facing more state cuts - will have to spend at least $700,000 for election judges and other expenses in a primary it did not expect, city officials said.

"We would save money and help turnout with the presidential race if we were lined up with the presidential election," said City Council President Sheila Dixon.

The September primary will also serve as a debut for the City Council's new election landscape. From 1967 to a referendum in November the city was divided into six three-member districts. The city is now carved into 14 single-member districts.

Barbara Jackson, the city elections director, said her office has been dealing with a deluge of calls from voters and potential candidates puzzled about the new district borders.

"We were hoping for a primary next year. But we accept whatever happens, and we will deal with it."

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