Despite a possible candidacy by his prominent cousin, Baltimore City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III is piecing together a political machine as he prepares to declare he will run for mayor.
Bell, considered one of the favorites in this year's mayoral race, has lined up several members of his campaign team, even though a cloud appears over the campaign while the city awaits a decision about the possible candidacy of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, whom state leaders in the General Assembly are pushing to run.
"The question is, is [Mfume's candidacy] a real cloud or is it a virtual political cloud?" said Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, a former city councilman and Bell's political strategist. Despite the possibility that Mfume might run, "there are more people signing on and making commitments to Lawrence."
Among them is Tammy Hawley, a former chief of staff for Mfume when he was a congressman. She is managing Bell's campaign.
Bell also has hired fund-raiser Jim Cauley, who raised money for Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. in 1994, mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke in 1995 and Montgomery County businessman Raymond F. Schoenke Jr., who ran for governor in the last election.
Bell has scheduled his first major fund-raiser for March 4, Cauley said. Political observers say the city's mayoral candidates will need $1 million each to campaign competitively in this race.
Two candidates have registered for the race, Carl Stokes, a former city councilman and school board director, and A. Robert Kaufman, a social activist. Three others have declared their candidacies: Mary W. Conaway, city register of wills, and community activists Phillip A. Brown Jr. and Robert L. Marsili.
In addition, City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt is considering a run for mayor, as are city State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway.
Although Bell has not declared his candidacy, he is expected to be a front-runner when he makes an official announcement. He received a boost from an early poll last summer that showed him leading the field of candidates because of his name recognition and popularity.
"It helps that money thing a bit, too," said Cauley, who joined the Bell campaign at the urging of former council president Clarke and City Councilman Martin O'Malley.
Clarke, who lost in her bid for mayor against Kurt L. Schmoke in 1995, joined the Bell campaign as a volunteer to help during the race and with his transition team, if he wins.
Some of Bell's foes in the General Assembly, however, are pushing his cousin to run. Baltimore Democratic Del. Howard P. Rawlings has said repeatedly that the list of candidates is "frightening."
But a Mfume candidacy faces a major hurdle. State lawmakers must pass a bill to change the city's residency requirement because the civil rights leader lives in Baltimore County. Lawmakers want to reduce the requirement from a year to six months so Mfume will have time to move back into the city.
Mfume has said that he does not plan to run. If he remains out of the race, Bell is widely believed to be a formidable candidate.
"I don't think anyone doubts that [Bell is] going to be a candidate," Landers said. "But the people in the political arena ask, 'What would possess [Mfume] to give up a national job for a mayor's job?' "
Pub Date: 1/29/99