Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will join those fighting for her job for her first political debate of the campaign this afternoon at a forum addressing disability issues.

While the other candidates -- former City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, State Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley and Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway, among others -- have squared off at at least half a dozen times, Rawlings-Blake has chosen not to attend a forum until today.

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The challengers, and in some cases, the moderators, have criticized Rawlings-Blake for not appearing at other debates, where the topics have centered on schools, crime and economic development.

Earlier this week, Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple, one of the city's largest churches, left an open podium on the stage to mark Rawlings-Blake's absence.

Organizers of today's debate say that the questions will be centered on issues concerning disabilities. Perhaps it will be similar to this forum last fall, where Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich answered questions about policies concerning disabled people.

Rawlings-Blake's campaign says that she will attend a total of four debates before the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. Those include: an August 16 debate hosted by former state senator and WOLB radio host Larry Young, an August 25 debate hosted by interfaith coalition BUILD, an August 29 debate hosted by Maryland Public Television and an August 30 debate hosted by WYPR, The Baltimore Sun and the League of Women Voters.

The August 29 debate could present some complications, because Fox 45 and other news organizations had planned a debate on that day.

Rawlings-Blake, who became mayor in February 2010 following the resignation of Sheila Dixon, is following a familiar political strategy by limiting her participation in debates.

Dixon followed a similar route in 2007, facing opponent Keiffer Mitchell in only a handful of forums as the September primary neared.

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