In a radio debate last night, the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for Baltimore comptroller accused each other of being incapable of taking on the role of watchdog over municipal spending and traded other charges.
Former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides criticized his opponent, political novice Joan M. Pratt, of being too close to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to maintain the independence of the office and charged that she had a poor attendance record as a member of the municipal pension boards.
Ms. Pratt, a certified public accountant running for her first elective office, accused Mr. Lapides of being too close to local politicians who endorsed him for comptroller, and too "anti-Baltimore" in his state Senate voting record. Those votes, she charged, included opposition to the new downtown baseball stadium and Convention Center expansion.
The candidates jabbed at each other for about an hour on the "Mark Steiner Show" on WJHU-FM. They answered questions from listeners and from R. B. Jones, a columnist for the Baltimore Times and Alice Cherbonnier, managing editor of the Baltimore Chronicle.
Ms. Pratt has received $6,000 from the Schmoke campaign, Mr. Lapides noted. He said the mayor's campaign had given him $500.
"I'll be 12 times as independent as my opponent because she got 12 times as much money from the mayor," he said.
After Mr. Lapides criticized Ms. Pratt's attendance as a member of the pension boards -- missing one-third of the meetings in the last four years -- she said the position is voluntary and that she attended all the important meetings.
She then shot back, "He talks about my attendance record and I think we should talk about his voting record."
She then criticized Mr. Lapides' votes against the new stadium, the Convention Center expansion and funding for city schools and police as being "anti-Baltimore."
Mr. Lapides replied, "I'm proud of that vote [against the stadium]. The stadium is for multimillionaire owners and players. I was for the renovation of Memorial Stadium."
Both candidates agreed on several issues concerning the office of comptroller.
They said they would scrutinize minority contracting firms to make sure they are truly owned by women and minorities, closely monitor municipal agencies for waste and fraud, and would ban "walk ons" -- spending requests and contracts the Board of Estimates is often asked to approve without advance notice.
The comptroller sits on the five-member Board of Estimates, which includes the mayor, council president, city solicitor and the public works director.
Although the candidates took many shots at each other, Mr. Lapides said he was pleased that the comptroller's race has not been tinged with racial tensions as have other races for municipal offices.
"I hate to see the divisiveness in many campaigns this year . . . race has never been a problem in our run for comptroller," he noted.
Mr. Lapides is white and Ms. Pratt is black.
When the comptroller's race began early this year, Ms. Pratt was considered a long shot.
But her dogged campaigning -- particularly in black neighborhoods where her photograph is plastered on telephone polls and buildings -- and her successful fund-raising have brought her within striking distance of her opponent.
A Sun poll in mid-August showed Ms. Pratt trailing Mr. Lapides by 15 percentage points with 39 percent of voters undecided.
Ms. Pratt also had raised more money than Mr. Lapides -- $209,677 compared to his $197,703 -- as of last week.
She raised her funds from church members, minority and female business owners and supporters of Mr. Schmoke.
Mr. Lapides has raised money from local politicians, lawyers, artists, college presidents and long-time constituents whom he served for 32 years in the legislature.