Dixon, O'Malley bypass debates

Hopefuls for council president, mayor criticize incumbents

League of Women Voters forum

`Complacency,' crime statistics among issues drawing protests

Election 2004

October 29, 2004|By Lynn Anderson and Doug Donovan | Lynn Anderson and Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The only debates for the offices of Baltimore mayor and City Council president proceeded last night with one small hitch: Mayor Martin O'Malley and City Council President Sheila Dixon didn't show up.

That gave their challengers - Elbert "Ray" Henderson, the Republican mayoral candidate, and Joan L. Floyd, Dixon's Green Party challenger - an unfettered forum to criticize the closely aligned Democratic incumbents.

They started off with the obvious: that neither incumbent seemed to care enough about the League of Women Voters' event at St. Michael's Church on St. Paul Street to show up and discuss their track record with concerned residents.

"I think the reason incumbents don't show up is complacency," Henderson said. "They are sitting in their office and they say, `I've been here in this office for a long time. No one will come and knock me off.'"

Henderson, 54, an employee with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, shared the spotlight with official write-in candidates Frank M. Conaway, who is clerk of the city Circuit Court, and Charles U. Smith, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker.

They also criticized the mayor, with Conaway comparing his battle with the incumbent to David and Goliath.

"Come Tuesday, I will give them a sling shot to the head, and he goes down," Conaway said referring to the O'Malley administration, with the mayor as the biblical giant.

For her part, Floyd chastised Dixon for not showing, but she conceded that the incumbent was probably busy with City Hall business. Floyd said she attended a public hearing before the debate at which Dixon was expected, but well into the hearing Dixon had yet to make an appearance.

"This, in a microcosm, is why I am running," Floyd said. "The process is letting people down."

Floyd said Dixon has failed to set a good example for the rest of the City Council in demanding accountability from departments. For example, Floyd said, no one is keeping tabs on the Zoning Board, which has not kept minutes of its meetings. Floyd said that she recently requested minutes from a board meeting last year, and that when she complained they were missing, she was told by a staff member to "go tell it to a judge."

"I don't feel they have been doing a good job for the people of Baltimore," she said.

Mayoral candidates were likewise hard on O'Malley.

Conaway accused the mayor of "cooking" recent statistics to incorrectly show that crime in the city is decreasing. "I believe that we have been deceived," he said, repeating his campaign slogan, a take-off on the O'Malley administration's Believe campaign.

Conaway also criticized the mayor for hiring police commissioners from out of state. He said Baltimore would be better served by locals who know the city and its crime history.

Henderson offered ways to improve local schools. He said that too many schools are run by bureaucrats instead of caring administrators who are wiling to listen to students. Henderson said that new tax revenue could be generated by refurbishing abandoned houses and bringing new residents to the city. That money, he said, should go exclusively to schools.

"Taxes should be going to our schools, but no one is responsible," Henderson said. "Everyone is talking about who should be responsible. We should be responsible."

Smith said that his chances of winning the election are slim and that he is running to improve his name recognition for future elections. He said he would throw his support behind either Henderson or Conaway should one of them win.

As for the missing incumbents, former League of Women Voters president Millie Tyssowski said the organization sent invitations to both on Sept. 9. She said O'Malley formally declined to appear on Oct. 13. Dixon declined on Oct. 18. The league had asked both candidates to respond by Sept. 20.

"The League regrets that the late declinations of Mayor O'Malley and Council President Dixon make it impossible to negotiate a new forum date with the November 2 election so nearby," Tyssowski wrote in a news release. "The league believes that this delaying tactic is a disservice to Baltimore Citizens."

O'Malley and Dixon had prior commitments. O'Malley attended a dinner held by the Jewish National Fund. He was invited before the League of Women Voters issued its invitation. He he has been in at least three debates with Henderson.

Dixon said after the debate that she did not attend because she was busy with meetings and council business. She said she resented Floyd's criticism. "She doesn't know my schedule," Dixon said. The incumbent conceded that she was late to the earlier public hearing but had a staffer sit in until she arrived.

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