City mayoral race begins to take shape

Baltimore

Maryland Votes 2006

November 09, 2006|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN REPORTER

Just hours after Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley became governor-elect, the race to take over his office at City Hall began in earnest - with two leading city officials jumping into next year's mayoral contest and approximately a dozen others on deck.

City Council President Sheila Dixon and City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt both said yesterday that they intend to seek the mayor's office in 2007. Both have broad citywide support and could be formidable contenders in a potentially crowded field of candidates that could include State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

Baltimore's next mayor will face many of the same issues O'Malley did when he took office - one of the nation's highest homicide rates, struggling schools and thousands of abandoned homes. The new administration also must build on O'Malley's successes, including increased investment in the city and a string of budget surpluses.

"I really want to make sure that we move forward as seamlessly as possible," Dixon said yesterday, adding that she plans to run for mayor next year. "I want the citizens to feel confident that we will keep it moving in the right direction."

Dixon will serve out the remainder of O'Malley's term- January through December 2007 - a position that could give her a significant advantage of incumbency. Dixon, 52, has long been expected to run for a full term, but the timing of Pratt's announcement was surprising.

"I am interested in running for mayor and, in fact, I will be convening an exploratory committee soon," said Pratt, 54, who has been talked about for the position for months. "I think that I could be more effective in the mayor's position [than as comptroller]. ... I think the seat is wide open."

In fact, there are about a dozen candidates who may be considering a run for City Hall. City Council members Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Kenneth N. Harris Sr. have both been considered possible candidates. State Del. Jill P. Carter, a Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore, has discussed interest in the job. Most of the possible candidates, however, are not ready to commit.

"I'm keeping all my options open," said Mitchell, 39.

"All options are on the table," said Harris, 43.

"I'm not at the point where I can say `yes' or `no,'" said Carter, who declined to give her age. "It's a consideration because we drastically need change and independent and uncompromised leadership."

Another city leader often considered a possible contender is Jessamy, who has had a rocky relationship with O'Malley over the years. Asked yesterday whether she is interested in running for mayor, Jessamy said, "I am," but added she would not make a firm decision until January.

"Every single day out in the community, people approach me and ask me," said Jessamy, 58. "If I can bring hope and a semblance of a bright future for families and kids - that's missing a lot in our city - I'll work to do that in whatever way I can."

Jessamy, Pratt and Dixon are all elected citywide.

As interim mayor, Dixon will face a number of challenges. First, Dixon's ascension leaves open the position of City Council president, for which several council members are already jockeying. She must overcome an ethics scandal that has led to a continuing investigation of her office by the state prosecutor. Finally, she must deal with the reality that many of O'Malley's top staff members could follow him to Annapolis.

But Dixon, who will be the city's first female mayor, said she will use next year to try to maintain and build on the agenda set by O'Malley. With crime and public safety a top concern for city residents, Dixon said that she would "focus on consistency" for the Baltimore Police Department and seek to retain Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm.

Regarding the investigation, Dixon indicated she is preparing to launch a public-relations campaign to counter articles in The Sun that questioned City Hall contracts that were awarded to the firm that employed her sister.

"I hope in the very near future, probably something that I will end up doing despite the advice of my attorneys, is really putting out some facts about that because it's time to bring that to a close and move forward."

Some have suggested that former congressman and NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume could lay claim to the mayor's office. But since losing in September's U.S. Senate primary, Mfume, 58, has not said whether he is considering a run. Others have proposed city school board Chairman Brian D. Morris as a strong candidate, but Morris, an O'Malley ally, would not comment on that possibility.

Andrey Bundley, who challenged O'Malley in the 2003 mayoral primary, is expected to run again. Frank M. Conaway, recently re-elected as Baltimore's clerk of the Circuit Court, said he formed an exploratory committee three weeks ago to consider a run for mayor. He said he will make a decision in about two weeks.

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