Undaunted by polls, five are vying for mayor with wit, determination

Facing long odds, short money

September 06, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

They're outsiders, and they know it. Just don't call them underdogs.

In a crowded field of seven mayoral hopefuls, these five candidates are the ones sending an anti-establishment, down-with-the-status-quo message in criticizing the two frontrunners in the Baltimore mayor's race.

None has garnered more than 5 percent support in either of two polls conducted for The Sun this summer, and their campaign coffers are tiny compared with those of the leading candidates, interim Mayor Sheila Dixon and Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. Still, they remain undaunted.

Some predict victory, undeterred by poll numbers and the lack of big-name donors. Others say their mission is to inspire voters with dynamic messages amid the staid rhetoric of their competitors.

They have been given a chance to share their ideas in most, but not all, of the debates and forums held this summer by neighborhood groups and broadcast outlets. One of the candidates used the campaign's only televised debate to drop out of the race and throw his support behind Mitchell.

Several of these candidates accuse the news media - including The Sun - of failing to adequately cover their campaigns and say their grass-roots support will emerge Tuesday at the polls.

In addition to attacking Mitchell and Dixon for failing to fix Baltimore's crime and education problems, they have promoted their visions for leading the city with their style of determination, insight and, at times, wit.

The candidates include a second-term delegate in the General Assembly, a socialist with a long history of criticizing politicians for selling out to "fat cats," a schools administrator who surprised political observers by capturing a third of the vote in the 2003 mayoral primary against Martin O'Malley, a PTA president who is a perennial candidate and a businessman with a famous last name.

Phillip A. Brown Jr.

Brown, a PTA president at Thurgood Marshall High School, ran for mayor in 1999.

His campaign has been built on attacking the current city leadership. He says he offers voters a candidate who is "from the streets of Baltimore and didn't get a silver spoon in his mouth."

Brown's message is framed by his work in struggling city schools.

"I have been a PTA president for 15 years," he says. "When we were having meetings on the closing of schools and about the new CEO, these people weren't there. They haven't talked to people out in the streets."

Brown doesn't have a Web site, has rarely responded to requests for interviews and has not publicized a full platform. He says he doesn't need the publicity.

"I don't need all that fancy stuff," he says. "They say I'm not a frontrunner. Well, that's just what the Sunpaper writes. I don't care if the paper writes articles or not."

Instead, Brown says, he focuses on connecting with voters one at a time. "People on the street know me," he says. "They say, `That's my man. He speaks for me.'"

In a terse exchange with Mitchell during a recent debate, Brown said he didn't think Baltimore had a gang problem but rather "a lot of wannabes."

Mitchell has proposed hiring more officers and establishing a gang unit, tactics that Brown has said are unnecessary.

"We've tried that New York-style policing and didn't hire extra prosecutors," he says, then shifted his criticism to Mitchell and Dixon, saying, "Where were they when O'Malley was in office? They were in their big offices."

Brown says Baltimore is at a crossroads, with many of its residents struggling from paycheck to paycheck and schools failing students.

"I am out there running because kids have problems in their school system," he says.

Andrey Bundley

In 2003, Bundley ran a grass-roots campaign on about $150,000, compared with Mayor Martin O'Malley's $2 million. The high school principal-turned-politician garnered a third of the vote against O'Malley, which some observers said marked the start of a promising political career.

Bundley, 46, said he has been looking toward the Sept. 11 primary since the loss four years ago. He acknowledged that he does not have the support of large corporate donors, saying that the Mitchell and Dixon's campaigns are "manufactured by the establishment."

Bundley says his strength is an aggressive door-to-door campaigning style that is popular among voters.

Recently, he has targeted Mitchell, saying the news media erroneously anointed the councilman as a frontrunner.

"Polls are inaccurate," he says. "I am a good steward of time. The establishment can't stop that. They can stop me from getting equal time in the media, but they can't stop me from using my own time effectively."

Raised in West Baltimore by aunts and uncles after the death of his mother when he was 13, Bundley graduated from Coppin State University, earning master's and doctoral degrees from Pennsylvania State University.

Bundley sometimes recounts his story on the campaign trail to inspire voters, he says.

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