Duncan denounces mayor's slots stance

Montgomery Co. executive blasts his support of profits for noneducational uses

General Assembly

February 24, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

In a Baltimore Baptist church with black ministers from across the city and the state at his side, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan reiterated his opposition to slots yesterday and sought to separate himself from Mayor Martin O'Malley, his potential chief rival in next year's Democratic primary for governor.

Duncan's news conference at City Temple Baptist, in the heart of O'Malley's city, seemed unabashedly designed to underscore the possibility that the mayor's views on the divisive slots issue could cost him African-American votes next year.

In his remarks, Duncan said slot machines are wrong for Maryland and Baltimore, in particular. Gambling income is not the answer to the city's problems, he said.

"There is a brighter future than that," Duncan said. "We can and we will improve Baltimore City's schools. We can and we will bring up education levels in the city of Baltimore. And we can and we will bring more higher-paying jobs to the city of Baltimore.

"But not if we go down this course."

O'Malley declined repeatedly yesterday at his weekly news conference to comment on Duncan's Baltimore appearance.

Duncan, and the ministers gathered to support him, repeatedly blasted O'Malley for condemning slots as a "morally bankrupt" way to fund education but then supporting the machines for other purposes.

"I don't understand how someone can stand up and say this is morally bankrupt but we need to do it," Duncan said.

O'Malley reiterated his position yesterday that he could accept a "limited number" of slots at Pimlico Race Course, where gambling already occurs.

"I don't want to lose the Preakness. I don't want to lose jobs from horse racing," he said.

At the same time, O'Malley said the introduction of slots is "not my silver bullet solution to what ails the state."

"It seems like Groundhog Day every year down there," he said, comparing the slots debate in Annapolis to a movie in which a man experiences the same day every day. Slots is consuming the General Assembly for the third consecutive year.

"It's a distraction from other things that need attention," he added, citing reform of the juvenile justice system.

On that, O'Malley and Duncan appear to agree. Duncan said that while the state leaders argue over slots, they're missing opportunities to help Maryland's economy.

"We're not paying attention to real, long-term economic growth," he said. "Everyone in the state is fixated on the short-term ... the easy fix."

The black ministers gathered at the church applauded what they described as Duncan's "courage" for opposing slots.

Though some black ministers have endorsed slots as a tool to jumpstart the economy, these religious leaders made clear that as Baltimore struggles with poverty and addiction, the last thing the city needs is another temptation.

"The problems we see in our urban arena have more to do with the decay of the family than the raising of money," said P.M. Smith, pastor of Baltimore's Huber Memorial Church. "We don't need gambling as another seduction. We don't need gambling as another addiction."

Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to the article.

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