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Black group excludes Bell from meeting Nominee for president of City Council is only African-American left out


Poised to become the majority for the first time in Baltimore history, the African-American Coalition of the City Council threw a get-together to welcome the victors after the primary election.

Invitations went to all the African-American council candidates who prevailed in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary -- except one. Lawrence A. Bell III, who captured the nomination in a close race to become the council's next president, was not invited.

An independent, outspoken council member for the past eight years, Mr. Bell, 33, was the only black incumbent or newcomer to be excluded from the coalition meeting Tuesday night. The move surprised Mr. Bell and some of his supporters, who worried about a potential repeat of the 1987 power play in which Council President Mary Pat Clarke was stripped of her power to appoint committees.

But longtime coalition members dismissed such concerns as unfounded and said they did not invite Mr. Bell only because he has not been active with the caucus.

"He's not a member of the coalition, and that's been known for better than three years," said Melvin L. Stukes, who chairs the group and represents the southern 6th District.

While saying he put in a call of congratulations to Mr. Bell, Mr. Stukes added, "This was just to say congratulations to the new winners and answer any questions they may have. It was a simple greeting and meeting."

Mr. Bell questioned why he was "any less a member than the new people" and said he was trying to move beyond past disputes.

"There's not much I want to say about this," he said. "I want to include everyone. I plan to meet with each council member individually, and I want to be inclusive and a unifying force."

Most current members of the coalition generally have supported Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and backed Vera P. Hall, one of his allies, in the council presidency race. Among them are: Paula Johnson Branch of the 2nd District, Sheila Dixon of the 4th District and Iris G. Reeves, who is leaving the 5th District. Carl Stokes, who also sought the council presidency and has been independent on the council, attended the meeting, but Agnes Welch, from the 4th District, did not.

Several council candidates said they were unaware that Mr. Bell had not been invited. Joan Carter Conway, the first black candidate ever nominated in the Northeast's 3rd District, did not attend the session but was taken aback to learn the likely council president had been excluded.

"I think he definitely qualifies," she said. "If we're really going to be working together, why wasn't he invited?"

Mr. Bell -- who won a five-way race by tireless door-to-door campaigning and touting his efforts to fight spiraling crime -- faces Republican Anthony D. Cobb in the Nov. 7 general election. However, in Baltimore, Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1.

African-Americans are likely to make up the majority of the 19-member council, the goal of a 1991 redistricting plan that came too late to alter that year's election.

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