WHEN LAST seen in the full flowering of his devotion to civic virtue, brotherhood and the democratic process, Robert Clay was getting into Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings' face for his perceived crime of daring to endorse Martin O'Malley for mayor of Baltimore.
As Rawlings strode across War Memorial Plaza early last month, that was Clay standing next to Julius Henson, who was then the key trouble-shooter (and creator) for Lawrence Bell. Henson was the one screaming at Rawlings. Clay was the one standing next to Henson, holding aloft the sign that said, "O'Malley is A Hypocrite."
Moments later, as Rawlings tried to pronounce his belief in the most heartfelt words in this campaign -- "We do not endorse the best white candidate. We do not endorse the best black candidate. We endorse the best candidate" -- there was Clay once more.
As he unleashed several dozen Bell supporters to shout down Rawlings -- "We want Bell, we want Bell," they bellowed directly into Rawlings' face -- Clay stood directly behind them, leaning into them, ordering, "Pump it up, pump it up."
That was the worst moment of this low-rent campaign for mayor, until Clay got back into it again last week, with the phony Aryan Blood Brotherhood letter, Part II.
He had 3,000 copies of the letter reprinted so that the Rev. Daki Napata of Union Baptist Church could hand out copies in some of the city's African-American neighborhoods.
"For discussion purposes," Napata said.
Never mind that the original letter's racist sentiments are so sickening that Martin O'Malley and Carl Stokes immediately repudiated them.
Never mind that experts say it's unlikely that the so-called Aryan Blood Brotherhood exists, and that the letter is a fraud.
And never mind that Clay and Napata, having been outed by two African-American female clerks at the Catonsville Office Depot who were asked to print the 3,000 copies and were so offended that they notified Baltimore County police, -- these two men want everybody to believe their feeble explanation: They are benevolent souls who only did it to open the subject of racism for discussion.
Let's see now: We have a phony, repugnant letter, repudiated by O'Malley, the man it allegedly attempts to prop up, and these two want us to believe this is a fine way to provoke open, healthy, civic-minded, benign public discussion.
What we have here, besides rank hypocrisy and the belief that voters in the City of Baltimore have the collective brains of a moth, is another example of the undoing of Lawrence Bell.
The City Council president, once the apparent front-runner in the race for mayor of Baltimore, looks like a poor overmatched dweeb running for leadership of his junior high school student council who's surrounded himself with thugs in an attempt to muscle his way into office.
Except that every time his bullies get caught, what do we hear? Last month, after the ugly confrontation with Pete Rawlings, Bell said, gosh, he didn't know anybody in his campaign -- such as Henson or Clay -- was going to do such a thing.
Last week, after the 3,000 copies were printed, he said, gosh, he couldn't imagine anybody connected to his campaign -- such as Clay and Napata -- would do such a thing.
He can't control elements of his inner circle, and he wants to run the entire city? His response would be pathetic and embarrassing, except that the tactics are so hurtful to the life of this community.
Where did it go wrong? This was a young man, Bell, who looked like one of the promising parts of the city's future. He seemed smart, and he worked long hours, and he learned from some of the most savvy and civic-minded people at City Hall on his way up.
Also, he understood the destructiveness involved every time the city chooses sides by race. He decried the Schmoke campaign of four years ago, and said he would never do such a thing himself, and said he understood the need to bring all communities in the city together.
And almost nothing committed in his name in the past month has conformed to his previous language -- at a time when O'Malley and Stokes have gone out of their way to make inclusiveness a constant theme in their campaigns.
When Rawlings endorsed O'Malley last month, he committed an act of statesmanship and political courage -- whether you agree with his opinion of O'Malley or not. Rawlings knows the ancient suspiciousness and the fears that divide us by race. But he also knew that someone brave had to take that first step across the divide.
Those who work for Bell tried to block him in the crude way of the street thug.
And they've gone one step further -- printing 3,000 copies of a phony racist letter and leaving Bell with no adequate response to give to a city that once imagined much better things from him.
Pub Date: 9/07/99