Allegations may derail a future in politics

Bundley defied the odds in primary race for mayor

July 28, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Andrey Bundley, the political newcomer who managed to take about a third of the Democratic vote from the better-funded, better-known Mayor Martin O'Malley in the mayoral primary last year, has spent a lifetime defying odds and expectations.

Raised in a tough West Baltimore neighborhood that drew his brother into a life of drugs and crime, Bundley did more than just stay out of trouble and in school. He earned a doctorate and became a principal at Walbrook Uniform Services Academy.

When Bundley challenged the popular mayor in September's primary, pollsters predicted he would get 1 percent of the vote. Bundley got 32 percent.

Bundley was at the center of a very different surprise yesterday, as city school officials announced that about a third of Walbrook's 396-member graduating class might have been given diplomas without meeting the requirements for graduation, and that hundreds of students in lower grades who should not have been promoted were allowed to advance to the next grade.

The allegations, which Bundley said were untrue and politically motivated, came as a jolt to many people.

"I have a great deal of faith in Andrey, not as mayor but as a principal," said Arthur W. Murphy, a Baltimore political consultant who said he considers both Bundley and O'Malley friends. "If Andrey says these kids should have graduated, they should have graduated. That's my reflexive reaction. ... Andrey wouldn't allow stuff like that to happen unless there was good cause."

This isn't the first time that Bundley has faced criticism over a graduation issue. During the campaign, some of his literature claimed his school had an 85 percent graduation rate, "the highest in the city." Actually, the rate was 70.8 percent in 2002. Bundley said the figures on his literature were supposed to read "retention rate," the percentage of a freshman class that make it through their senior year.

The latest allegations could affect Bundley's future not just in education, but in politics, observers say. The principal - who was transferred to the smaller Harbor City Learning Center earlier this month and says he has been placed on paid leave - was hailed as "an up-and-coming star" by state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden after his better-than-expected primary showing.

"I think the people who are already committed to Bundley probably are going to dismiss the allegations," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University. But it's "going to be very hard for him from now on" to win new supporters.

Like Murphy, Crenson dismissed the idea that mayoral politics has played a part in the allegation - a claim O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said "did not merit a response."

But City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, chairman of the council's education and labor subcommittee, did not discount the possibility that the charges could be fallout from the mayor's race.

"He was a mayoral candidate," Stukes said. "I understand how getting on the hit list is. I'm not suggesting the mayor would [be involved], but it doesn't mean someone within the administration wouldn't."

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