O'malley's Exit Could Shake Up Hierarchy

Politicians jockeying for posts that might be open if he wins

October 02, 2005|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

As the race for Maryland's governor became more defined last week, politics in Baltimore became a free-for-all.

Nearly a dozen City Hall politicians - including many who cheered as Mayor Martin O'Malley officially kicked off his campaign for governor - have started jockeying for the handful of posts that could come up for grabs if the mayor wins.

Not since 1987, when William Donald Schaefer ascended from City Hall to the State House, has Baltimore faced the fluidity of an interim government and the possibility of a midterm radical reshuffling of power that follows a mayor's resignation.

At City Hall these days, it seems everyone is a candidate for something.

"Whenever the top honcho leaves, that's the natural occurrence," said City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., considered a potential candidate for mayor. "There's all this speculation."

Under the City Charter, O'Malley's departure would send Council President Sheila Dixon into the mayor's office to serve the remaining 11 months of his term. That would give her a considerable advantage if she decided to seek a full term in 2007, experts said.

Less clear is who would replace Dixon as council president, a post that could also lend cachet to a mayoral candidate or someone who seeks election to a full-term as president.

Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, the council vice president, would not automatically assume the presidency if Dixon left. Instead, the remaining 14 council members, including Rawlings Blake, would vote to pick a new president.

Rawlings Blake, selected as vice president in 1999, might have an advantage because she is so closely aligned with O'Malley. Her father, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings, provided an endorsement for O'Malley in 1999 that was a key to the mayor's victory.

Those ties were evident when Rawlings Blake was chosen to formally introduce the mayor at the kickoff of his gubernatorial candidacy Wednesday in Patterson Park. Dixon attended the event but did not speak.

"It's natural for elected officials, especially when you've been in a position for a while, to seek higher office," said Rawlings Blake, who said she would like to be council president but that she has no designs on the mayor's office.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt is also considered by observers to be a possible mayoral candidate. Pratt and Dixon have run successful citywide campaigns that could give them a leg up on council members who represent only a slice of the city's voters, said Arthur Murphy, a political consultant.

"Everybody else has a very small turf," he said. "[Dixon] fought hard to become president of the City Council, and it's hers to lose. ... Everybody else has a hard row to hoe against those two."

Dixon won't say whether she intends to run for mayor in 2007. Asked whether she is preparing to assume the position for the remainder of O'Malley's term, she said she has been working closely with the mayor and that she is confident she could do the job.

"We all have ambition, but the bottom line is, I'm going to do the best job I can with what I'm doing now," Dixon said. "You can't allow one person to determine my destination."

Like Dixon, none of the potential candidates reached by The Sun would confirm their candidacies. Most said announcements will be appropriate once O'Malley is farther along in his campaign. A few, including state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, did not return phone calls.

Others considered potential candidates include Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., who lost in a write-in mayoral campaign last year; Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a former council president who ran for mayor in 1995; State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy; and Kweisi Mfume, a former U.S. representative from Baltimore, if he falls short in his bid for the U.S. Senate.

Decisions must be made soon to give candidates time to raise money, assemble citywide campaign organizations and craft messages that distinguish them, experts said.

Raising campaign funds quickly will be a key for local races because it will help reduce the huge field of potential candidates.

Many council members are working to differentiate themselves by focusing on issues. It's a tall order for members of a body that deals with dozens of minor zoning cases, budget transfers and feel-good resolutions, and historically has deferred to the mayor.

That changed this summer, when the council put up a strong fight against a publicly financed $305 million convention center hotel proposed by O'Malley for downtown. The council approved the hotel 9-5, but not before several members had staked their claims on the issue.

Mitchell, an outspoken critic, voted against the proposal.

Another potential candidate, Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., voted for the hotel only after he and other members won concessions from O'Malley, including additional funding for neighborhood projects and low-income housing.

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