Close city race may lure voters; Baltimore officials say 50% could cast ballots for mayor; 'Looking for a big day' Democratic race considered tossup among 3 candidates


More than 100,000 city residents are expected to trek to voting booths today for a municipal election that will help select Baltimore's next mayor, capping a hard-fought primary campaign featuring 22 candidates.

The campaign for Baltimore's 47th mayor began in December when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that he would not seek a fourth four-year term, setting the stage for the first election without an incumbent mayor in 28 years.

City elections officials are expecting voter turnout to be almost 20 percent higher than originally thought because of forecasts of nice weather combined with a Democratic race that looks too close to call among the top three candidates, Lawrence A. Bell III, Martin O'Malley and Carl Stokes.

"I can conceive of a plausible scenario where any of these three candidates can win," said Carol Arscott of Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications Inc., an Annapolis firm that has been tracking the race.

Thirteen other Democrats are also seeking to win the mayoral primary. Six Republican candidates will compete for the nomination in their party, which is outnumbered 9 to 1 by city Democrats. In addition to the mayoral race, the city's 294,000 registered voters will have the opportunity to select candidates for City Council president and 18 City Council seats. The city comptroller, Joan M. Pratt, is seeking re-election.

One man who will not be running in his first municipal election in almost 20 years is Schmoke.

The city's first elected black mayor will step away from government undefeated.

Schmoke was elected city state's attorney in 1982 and 1986. He won his terms as mayor in 1987, 1991 and 1995. Schmoke will leave city government in December to take a job with the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering of Washington and Baltimore.

After casting his vote today, Schmoke will travel to Louisville, Ky., to speak to college students. Mayoral candidates have criticized the Schmoke administration for lingering problems such as dirty streets, violent crime and poor schools.

Schmoke acknowledged that he expected to be a target for mayoral hopefuls.

'Tale of two cities'

Despite the criticism, Schmoke said the city has made strides. He lauds the Department of Housing and Community Development and city housing commissioner Daniel P. Henson III for renovations to city public housing. Next summer, Baltimore will become the first city in the nation to have demolished all of its high-rise public housing. The city has gained national accolades for the town-home communities that have replaced the housing, such as Pleasant View Gardens in East Baltimore.

"I am one of the first ones to admit that Baltimore is the tale of two cities," Schmoke said. "There have been many significant contributions."

Schmoke intends to issue a final report on the state of the city before he departs in December. And his administration will begin work on recommendations recently received from the Millennium Group, a panel Schmoke created to improve the efficiency of city government by having city workers compete with private companies.

"The new mayor will hopefully have some maneuvering room," Schmoke said.

Yesterday, organizations throughout the city continued their push to increase the turnout for today's primary. City elections Director Barbara E. Jackson initially predicted turnout would be about 30 percent, or about one in three registered voters.

But in the past week, Baltimore elections board Chairman Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham estimated the turnout would be closer to 50 percent. He said he's seen interest rise because of the close races, and good weather should help add to the draw.

"The weather looks great," Cheatham said. "And we're looking for a big day."

Baltimore police will supervise today's voting activity, with district squads assigned to patrol voting polls. Officers assigned to polling places will be required to deliver voting results to the city elections office.

During last year's primary, a private security firm struggled to deliver returns to the central elections office because its workers were unfamiliar with the city.

Last night, the three chief Democratic candidates attended a "Get Out The Vote" rally sponsored by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development. The civic group of about 16,000 families with ties to labor unions, community organizations and schools has registered about 5,000 voters for today's primary.

Candidates speak to BUILD

Each of the three candidates said that, if elected, he would meet with BUILD leadership twice before inauguration day. Given two minutes to speak, they returned to the dominant themes of their campaigns.

Stokes reiterated a vision for the city's future in which everything is possible, and said he wanted BUILD members to be part of his transition team. Bell spoke about income redistribution and promised "to change the paradigm here in Baltimore City to a place where everybody is somebody."

O'Malley said he is convinced the city retains the spirit and courage to solve its many problems.

"I know if New York can do it, and if Boston can do it, and if Cleveland and Pittsburgh can do it, [then] Baltimore can do it," he said.

Latest coverage

For up-to-the-minute results on today's mayoral primary, go to The Sun's Web site SunSpot at

Vote today

When: The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today for Baltimore's primary election for mayor, comptroller, president of the City Council members in six districts.

Eligibility: Voers registered as independents or as "other" can vote in the Republican primary because it is the minority party, but others must vote for candidates within their party.

Problems: In case of problems, voters should contact elections officials at their polling places or register complaints with the Baltimore Board of Elections at 410-396-5550.

Weather: The National Weather Service forcasts a partly sunny day with highs in the upper 70s with no chance of rain

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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