City Councilman Martin O'Malley -- a 36-year-old defense attorney and singer in an Irish rock band -- was elected Baltimore's 47th mayor yesterday, getting the go-ahead to make good his pledge to shut down open-air drug markets and put the brakes on the city's runaway murder rate.
"This much I promise you tonight," O'Malley told a cheering crowd of 600 supporters at the Columbus Center last night.
"That as mayor, I will work every second of every waking hour to make sure a sense of urgency is returned to the noble work of city government." Backed by the 9-to-1 majority in registered Democrats, O'Malley cruised to victory, though computer problems delayed an official tally.
A key piece of the city's new $6.5 million election system -- a computer that assembles vote tallies from each precinct -- malfunctioned about 9 p.m.
The problem required about 20 election workers to type in results from each of the city's 989 voting machines.
The tally will not be considered final, city election officials said, until a recount is completed tomorrow.
With 59 percent of the ballots counted early this morning, O'Malley had captured 90 percent of the vote, outdistancing Republican newcomer David F.
Tufaro by more than 50,000 votes.
On a rainy day when only 27 percent of the city's eligible voters went to the polls, residents appeared willing to grant O'Malley a five-year mayoral term by approving a referendum to align future city elections with presidential races beginning in 2004.
At the gathering of Democratic supporters, Gov. Parris N. Glendening welcomed the early indication of an O'Malley victory. "This is the beginning of a new era," Glendening said.
"We're going to work together closely." O'Malley's victory topped nine races whose results create the largest turnover at City Hall in 12 years. In addition, Baltimore joins such other predominantly black cities as Gary, Ind., and Oakland, Calif., in electing a white mayor.
West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, 45, was easily winning her bid to become the next City Council president. Dixon, the first black female council leader in city history, was leading Republican opponent Antonio W. Campbell by 36,500 votes in early returns, gaining 85 percent of the vote.
"Every community in Baltimore City will play a part in this government," Dixon said.
Residents also gave City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt a second four-year term. Pratt defeated Republican political novice Charles U. Smith with 86 percent of the votes with about a third of the ballots counted, keeping her hopes alive of someday becoming Baltimore's first female mayor.
In the City Council races, Republicans hoping to become the first GOP council members in 60 years appeared to be falling short as city voters backed 14 council incumbents in six city districts.
Four new Democratic council members, however, were elected to fill vacancies, including Bea Gaddy, the well-known East Baltimore advocate for the homeless.
O'Malley will be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 7, succeeding Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the city's first elected black mayor, who is stepping down after 12 years. Schmoke's decision last December not to seek a fourth four-year term ignited the first city election without an incumbent mayor running in 28 years.
O'Malley -- who built his eight-year council reputation in highly publicized battles with Schmoke appointees Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and Public Works Director George G. Balog -- jumped into the mayoral race on June 22, two weeks before the filing deadline.
He vaulted to the front of 16 Democratic challengers in a hard-fought primary with former colleagues, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former East Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes. Although O'Malley was criticized as trying to capitalize on a black vote split between the two, he won with 53 percent in the Democratic primary.
"These naysayers bet on the worst in us," said jubilant City Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings of Northwest Baltimore, who backed O'Malley. "The people are betting on the best in us." 'Zero tolerance' Over the past eight years, Baltimore has had 300 murders a year despite employing a wide range of crime-fighting strategies.
Police attribute three of every four Baltimore murders to a flagrant illegal drug trade that has festered in the city's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. O'Malley led the council push for the city to implement the so-called "zero tolerance" crime fighting strategy that has helped cities such as New York and New Orleans lead the nation in reducing violent crime and murders.
Under the plan, police target nuisance crimes such as loitering and public drinking in an effort to catch fugitives before they commit more serious crimes.
Voters who trickled to the polls in the rain yesterday welcomed O'Malley's plan.
"It's a shame that a city like New York, which is saturated with people from different places all over the world, feels safer than Baltimore," said Isaac Jones, 42, an East Baltimore voter who backed O'Malley.
Yet, O'Malley's zero tolerance plan met resistance from political opponents, including black city ministers, who fear heightened police action will result in a rise of police brutality by white officers arresting African-American suspects.
Those fears were heightened last month when a 21-year-old black East Baltimore man suspected of stealing a car was shot and killed by a white officer, who said that the suspect attempted to grab his partner's gun during a scuffle.
Eyewitnesses dispute the account, saying that police roughed up Larry J. Hubbard, who pleaded for his life before being shot. City police leaders welcomed O'Malley's apparent victory and accepted his challenge to make the city safer.
"We have a tremendous opportunity," said Gary McLhinney, president of the city's 3,200-member Fraternal Order of Police Lodge. "And a lot is expected." Tufaro's difficult bid For Tufaro, a Roland Park developer making his first bid for public office, the 10 percent support he was attracting was almost half that of the last two GOP candidates.
Yet GOP activists credited Tufaro, 52, with restoring a party voice through the campaign by challenging O'Malley's positions on crime, schools and economic development. Tufaro's campaign focused on a pledge to cut city property taxes by reducing city spending.
The key, Tufaro said, is allowing private companies to bid on providing city services, as is done in Indianapolis and Philadelphia. About 500 Republicans gathered at the Normandie Room on East Lombard Street to await results heard Tufaro concede defeat.
"This campaign was a victory for the two-party system, a victory for issues that would not have been brought to the fore," Tufaro said. "I think I at least made it a more interesting general election than we've had in some time." In the end, however, it was Baltimore voters such as Wilhelmena Vaughan who decided the mayoral race.
The retired West Baltimore teacher whose daughter was murdered several years ago was one of thousands of middle-age black women -- traditionally the most active voters in Baltimore -- who wanted O'Malley to lead the city into the new century.
While O'Malley's primary and general election challengers built their campaigns on promises of improving schools or cutting taxes, voters such as Vaughan agreed that making the city safer was the top priority.
"Zero tolerance?" Vaughan said at a recent protest of the Hubbard shooting. "I'm for sub-zero tolerance. Someone has got to do something." In doing so, Vaughan and others significantly shifted Baltimore's political climate.
Schmoke gained national attention for liberal policies such as calling for widespread drug treatment instead of incarceration. O'Malley, however, has been classified as a "new Democrat," willing to back positions traditionally claimed by conservatives, such as cracking down on crime, boostering economic development and ordering drug treatment through the criminal courts.
Unlike the shy, cerebral and unassuming Schmoke, who often referred to himself as a "policy wonk," O'Malley flaunts a brash confidence and penchant for theatrics that has gained him comparisons to former Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
Yet the same brilliant smile, clean-cut family image and solid education credentials that kept Schmoke undefeated in five city elections and beloved among mothers and grandmothers across the city also helped O'Malley yesterday, political analysts said.
"You can hear them saying, 'I hope my son grows up just like that,' " WOLB-AM 1010 radio talk show host and former state Sen. Larry Young said of the voters.
"They have a great deal of hope and dreams." The task ahead Yet for his sweeping victory, O'Malley will wake up today facing the hurdle of trying to solve some of the toughest urban woes in the nation.
The problems that dogged Schmoke include violent crime, failing schools, the highest property tax rate in the state, widespread poverty, rampant drug addiction, the budget deficit and the exodus of 1,000 city residents a month.
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And O'Malley -- considered one of the most effective city legislators -- will face a tough challenge from his colleagues on the council, where, unlike Schmoke, he won't be guaranteed the majority 10 votes of support for his initiatives.
And the city's five-member spending board, the Board of Estimates, will include Dixon and Pratt, two prominent black women whose ambitions include someday succeeding O'Malley.
Although O'Malley picked up the key endorsements of African-American political leaders and a third of the black vote in the critical primary, over the past week, African-American supporters repeatedly warned him that they intend to hold him accountable to his pledge to create a diverse, inclusive government that will reconnect residents who have lost hope in their city.
"Can Martin O'Malley make us feel like we count?" asked Harold Williams, 30, an African-American from East Baltimore who voted for O'Malley yesterday.
"That's the question. That's the big question." O'Malley says he is up to the challenge.
On Monday night as the sun set on the 10-month mayoral campaign that gained national attention, O'Malley stood on a West Baltimore street corner shaking hands with a black supporter.
O'Malley looked the voter in the eye with his trademark steely squint. "I'm going to do my best," he said. "I'm going to do my very best."