Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley will run for mayor, pitting him against a former ally, Council President Lawrence A. Bell III.
O'Malley, a lawyer and former state prosecutor, confirmed yesterday that he will announce his mayoral bid today, but he declined to comment further.
O'Malley and Bell have built their council reputations on battling with the Schmoke administration and Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to adopt tougher crime-fighting strategies.
O'Malley, 36, who has served on the council from the 3rd District for eight years, is expected to immediately become a leading contender among the nine mayoral declared candidates.
He also will become the most formidable white candidate in the field, hoping to beat the odds in a city where 63 percent of registered voters are African-American.
"He's one of the more energetic, busiest and focused council members we have," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who has called the field of previously declared candidates "frightening."
"O'Malley is a very credible candidate who has a very good chance of winning by splitting up the black vote," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.
O'Malley's bid signals more bad news for Bell.
The 37-year-old council president, who worked in concert with O'Malley throughout their tenure, has repeatedly faced questions over whether he is ready for the job.
Rawlings and other state leaders, including Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, have tried to recruit several candidates to challenge Bell.
One of those was Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mfume, who is Bell's second cousin, decided against running.
Similar platform to Bell
O'Malley's candidacy is expected to cost Bell votes because both will be running on a similar public safety platform.
City public safety unions representing firefighters and police officers have spent the past week trying to bring them together on the same ticket -- with O'Malley as candidate for council president -- to no avail.
By challenging Bell, O'Malley will risk his political future and possibly hurt Bell's chances, critics say.
"That's unfortunate," said Stephan G. Fugate, president of Baltimore Fire Officers Association Local 694, which has backed Bell. "I think Martin is history. He is simply not going to win."
While supporting the "zero tolerance" crime strategy that has helped cities such as New York reduce crime, O'Malley has also led the call for the restructuring of the clogged city court system.
In addition to his council and law work, O'Malley moonlights as an Irish balladeer with his band, O'Malley's March.
He has gained a reputation for grandstanding to attract attention to his political issues.
Last month, he ordered city Public Works Director George G. Balog to remove an illegal pay telephone in West Baltimore that was suspected of being used by drug dealers.
As chairman of the Finance and Taxation Committee, O'Malley also guided and supported $71 million in tax breaks for two proposed downtown hotels.
He said the projects will add $6.6 million annually to city coffers within three years.
Former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is on Bell's campaign team, also lamented O'Malley's mayoral run and hoped that he and Bell could work together.
"He's a wonderful man," Clarke said of O'Malley. "And a great singer. We needed some music in this campaign."