Battle of ads heats up as race for council president nears end


Since early summer, the four major candidates for City Council president have run a quiet campaign and left the daily drama to the mayoral race -- unwittingly taking themselves out of the limelight and the minds of some voters.

Now that there are just a few days before Tuesday's Democratic primary, the candidates -- all in a dead-heat in a mid-August Sun poll -- say they are changing tactics. Gone are the folksy appeals for votes, replaced by pleas on radio and television.

Voters "are not paying attention to us," said candidate Carl Stokes. "Maybe we haven't been doing enough to make enough noise."

Mr. Stokes and his three opponents, Lawrence A. Bell III, Joseph J. DiBlasi and Vera P. Hall, are going all out in hopes of capturing the ears of voters.

Mr. Stokes will promote his candidacy on television the day before the election and continue his radio ads and take part in a 95-car caravan of hand-waving today.

Mr. Bell, a world class hand-shaker, has enlisted the help of Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume and former Democratic Rep. Parren J. Mitchell on his meet-and-greet walks through the city.

Mr. DiBlasi is spending nearly $100,000 on two commercials that will run through Monday. He is the only candidate to use television so extensively.

Mrs. Hall has taken to a series of hand-waving trolley rides through the city. Through Monday, she will have four commercials rotating on nine radio stations -- the most of any candidate.

Some voters say the candidates' latest moves come too late. "It's too close to election day. It seems they have waited to the last minute to get out there and campaign," said Devon Wilford of East Baltimore. "I think they should have started earlier."

The candidates have different allegiances, voter bases and campaign focal points.

This week Mr. Bell, the young 4th District candidate closely allied with City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, stood at North and Pennsylvania avenues and handed out campaign literature to passers-by and people getting off buses.

Mr. Bell has found much support in the black community but has not been able to win financial support. A $43,000 loan by his father, a prominent Baltimore dentist, has kept Mr. Bell competitive.

Mr. DiBlasi, a councilman in the 6th District, has targeted his door-to-door campaign to Roland Park, Guilford, Hampden and Hamilton and East Baltimore. The only white candidate in the race, he has taken considerable criticism for declaring that he would target the white vote. He has since said he will target all voters.

While on the trail, Mr. DiBlasi highlights his business acumen and the fact that he can work with mayoral candidates Mrs. Clarke and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Mr. DiBlasi lent his campaign $50,000, which is what enabled him to buy so much television time.

Fifth District Councilwoman Hall is closely allied with Mr. Schmoke and with that connection has far outpaced her opponents in fund raising. She has raised nearly $200,000, a big chunk going to radio ads that played weeks before her competitors'.

This week, the mayor and Mrs. Hall for the first time tied their campaigns together in a radio ad and a glossy mailing. In both campaign pieces, they say that they together have saved 2,400 jobs, saved taxpayer dollars, improved public safety and cleaned up the neighborhoods.

Mr. Stokes has won the ire of both Mrs. Clarke and Mr. Schmoke in his eight years in the council. He has harshly criticized both on their stances on education and redistricting. The 2nd District councilman has shown that his appeal crosses racial lines, more so than any other candidate, according to the mid-August Sun poll.

His campaign, which started off strongly, has slowed. His campaign reports show that he has collected only $8,444 in the past month, by far the lowest amount of any candidate. Mr. Stokes in his radio ads has stressed his education record.

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