In a stunning finish to an often tumultuous campaign, City Councilman Martin O'Malley handily won the Democratic primary for mayor last night as a majority of Baltimore voters embraced the former prosecutor's pledge to shut down the city's flagrant open-air drug markets.
"This is a phenomenal statement about the fact that our city is ready to move forward," said O'Malley, 36, who gained 53 percent of the vote in a majority African-American city.
"The people of our city are hungry for change and hungry for new leadership."
An eight-year councilman from Northeast Baltimore who plays guitar in his own Celtic rock band, O'Malley will face Roland Park developer David F. Tufaro in the general election Nov. 2.
Tufaro, 52, won the Republican nomination by defeating five other GOP contenders in the first city primary in 28 years without an incumbent mayor.
In addition, Sheila Dixon won the Democratic primary for City Council president -- Baltimore's second-highest elected office -- and 14 council incumbents were given the party's nod.
East Baltimore homeless advocate Bea Gaddy won nomination to a council seat in the city's 2nd District.
City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt also easily won her primary race and is expected to win again in November.
O'Malley ran on a platform of "Change and Reform," defeating his former council ally, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, and former City Councilman Carl Stokes, along with 14 lesser-known candidates.
O'Malley collected an astonishing 53 percent of the vote, gaining substantial support from the city's black neighborhoods in a hard-fought Democratic primary that moves him within one step -- the November general election -- of becoming Baltimore's 47th mayor.
When O'Malley entered the race in June, he was expected to benefit from a split in the city's African-American vote.
Instead, he collected a majority of the total vote, calling the results a defeat for "division and fear."
"It was not a campaign that divided the vote, but a campaign that united the people of this city," O'Malley said after learning of his win.
"From the first day of this campaign to this primary night, I never once doubted the goodness, the fairness and integrity of people of the Baltimore City."
City elections officials said that 42 percent of voters turned out.
With 100 percent of the vote counted late last night, former school board member Stokes had garnered 28 percent. Bell -- at one time dubbed the front-runner -- posted a scant 17 percent.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the city's first elected black mayor, will step down in December after 12 years in office.
Democrat heavily favored
O'Malley, a council maverick with a penchant for theatrics who built his reputation battling Schmoke administration officials who included Police Chief Thomas C. Frazier and city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, is heavily favored to win the November election because Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the city, 9 to 1.
Immediately after learning of his primary victory, O'Malley said he was hoping to meet with his mayoral rivals to come together with ideas for the city.
"I'll work with anybody who is ready to roll up their sleeves," O'Malley said. "Lord knows, there is enough work to do."
Bell's defeat was a heartbreaking loss for the 12-year council veteran who entered the campaign this summer with a 16-point lead over Stokes, according to independent polls.
Bell's bid was quickly crippled by reports of personal financial troubles, including the repossession of his 1996 Mustang.
Bell, 37, was also forced to fire his campaign consultant last month after supporters disrupted an O'Malley event in which black state leaders, including House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, endorsed O'Malley.
Bell campaigned yesterday with former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., who along with his wife, Cora, was hired in recent weeks to aid the floundering Bell campaign.
Barry casually strolled with Bell's political entourage yesterday along the sidewalk in front of Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School.
"I hope Lawrence wins," said Barry, who left office last year after a checkered mayoral career that included a drug conviction and a congressional takeover because of mismanagement.
"He's been on the City Council for 12 years and he shows compassion. He's a people person."
Bell, however, came under fire this month when campaign finance reports showed that he spent about $4,300 in campaign contributions on a New York wardrobe.
Support for Bell among city whites -- which at the outset stood as high as one in three -- plummeted with the personal finance woes and Bell's recent call for voters attending an African-American festival to support "a man who looks like you do."
Bell said he was thankful for the 12 years he served in the City Council and congratulated his former friend, O'Malley, while asking supporters to pray for the city.
"What's more important than my welfare as an individual," Bell said, "is this city."
As much as the election was a resounding endorsement of O'Malley, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said the vote was a citywide rejection of his second cousin, Bell.
"People just said, 'We don't want that,' " Mfume said. "People voted, not for the best black candidate or the best white candidate, but for the best candidate."
The election loss might also serve as the political epitaph for Stokes, who in 1995 lost in his bid to be the City Council president. Stokes has also lost previous runs for the state House of Delegates and Senate.
Stokes, 49, was the first major candidate to announce his mayoral bid shortly after Schmoke announced last December that he was stepping down.
The former school board member kept his campaign rolling at a steady clip throughout the year, picking up grass-roots support from dozens of state legislators in addition to two of the city's largest clergy groups, Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
Yet Stokes, too, was forced to address miscues, including driving with a suspended license, being hit with a four-year $13,800 federal tax lien during his council tenure and falsely claiming a Loyola College degree in English on his campaign literature.
Although Stokes rebounded with the help of clergy and several newspaper endorsements, including The Sun's, the Loyola incident appeared to be a crippling blow.
Stokes immediately conceded last night, endorsing O'Malley and pledging to work with him while showing little animosity to city voters.
"They've proven time and time again that they are very fair," Stokes said of voters. "I'm very proud of the African-American community."
O'Malley survived the political land mines that exploded around Bell and Stokes, yet faced his share of scrutiny.
Opponents called him a "political opportunist" for entering the race two weeks before the July filing deadline to capitalize, they said, on the split black vote and challenge his former council ally, Bell.
Bell and O'Malley jumped to the forefront of council leadership over the past two years by calling for tougher crime-fighting strategies, earning the nicknames "Batman and Robin."
Issue of drug traffic
O'Malley countered the criticism of his candidacy by saying he joined the race after seeing that Bell and Stokes were failing to address the open-air drug market issue.
In recent debates, O'Malley told television viewers he feared not trying to lead the city more than losing.
Bell supporters labeled O'Malley a hypocrite for calling for a tougher stance on crime while serving over the past seven years as a defense attorney representing suspected criminals.
Most recently, the father of three whose wife, Katie, is the daughter of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, acknowledged paying $1,000 in campaign funds to a West Baltimore minister to lobby clergy for the endorsement of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a powerful group of about 200 mostly African-American churches that endorsed Stokes.
O'Malley successfully fought off a Stokes attempt during the final week of the campaign to strike fear into minority city residents over O'Malley's call to adopt the so-called "zero tolerance" policing strategy.
The foundation of the program that has helped reduce violent crime in cities such as New York, Cleveland and New Orleans is to enforce all city laws, including nuisance offenses such as loitering and drinking in public, in order to catch repeat criminal offenders before they commit more serious crimes.
O'Malley has been the council's most vocal advocate for the five-point policy that includes restructuring city courts to make them more efficient.
To work, the program requires city police to have citation powers to issue tickets for minor crimes, keeping those from clogging the court system.
With more serious offenses, the program requires state prosecutors rather than police to file charges against suspects. Studies have shown that up to 60 percent of charges filed by Baltimore police are not prosecuted, generally because of insufficient evidence or witness problems.
In addition, prosecutors filing charges allow police to get back on the streets quicker, proponents say.
O'Malley led the City Council in forcing State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to implement the procedure in July for at least five days a week after threatening to hold up funding for her office.
The plan includes requiring a judge to set up at Central Booking for swifter justice.
Worries about rights abuses
Opponents of zero-tolerance, including Schmoke and Police Commissioner Frazier have expressed concerns that it infringes on civil liberties. Frazier has also claimed that the city court system would be unable to handle the increase in city arrests.
O'Malley's pledge to target drug dealers resonated with African-Americans, particularly women such as Sandra Taft, who spent her morning in West Baltimore with an O'Malley shirt coaxing voters in Shipley Hill to support her candidate.
"Before we get to education, we need to make it safe to pass on the streets, " said Taft, 50. "Seniors are afraid to go to the grocery store. We need to rebuild these neighborhoods."
During the last week of the campaign, Stokes raised fears that African-American and Latino residents would suffer police brutality under the zero-tolerance policy. Several highly publicized cases in New York have raised concerns.
Stokes issued an 11th-hour mailer showing white police officers beating black resident Rodney King in Los Angeles with the question "Are you ready for zero tolerance?"
Policing the police
O'Malley countered the attack, pledging that a key component of his strategy would include "policing the police."
O'Malley served as Frazier's most vocal council critic, chairing a committee that reviewed accusations against the department for punishing minority officers more harshly than whites.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued a finding determining a pattern of disparate treatment by the department against minority officers.
O'Malley intends to create a Police Department that is more courteous and assertive, not aggressive, he said.
Unlike the 1995 mayoral race between Schmoke and white City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the election returns yesterday showed that O'Malley won with the support of the black community.
Throughout the campaign, O'Malley hammered home that African-Americans in the city were equally tired of high crime, dirty streets and blighted neighborhoods, saying: "There is more that unites us than divides us."
O'Malley's mayoral bid was buoyed by key endorsements from some of the city's most prominent African-Americans, including Rawlings and the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of the city's largest African-American church, Bethel AME at 1300 Druid Hill Ave.
The O'Malley victory in a majority-black city -- plus a large crossover vote of white support for Stokes -- was a stark contrast to 1995 when voters split along racial lines.
"One of things that is happening in Baltimore politics, especially when council members run, is there is an understanding for the need for crossover votes," said Linneal Henderson, a political science professor with the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.
"They understand they need a strong and diversified base not only to win elections, but to govern."
Mfume called O'Malley's victory a statement that Baltimoreans want change.
"People have shown here that they are looking for a fresher face," said Mfume, who spurned an effort to draft him into the race.
"Voters are just determined that they want change."
In the Republican race, Tufaro rode the support of new party leaders in a city with 30,000 GOP voters.
Tufaro's chief challenge came from Carl Adair, a 65-year-old African-American industrial arts teacher and former owner of several city service stations.
Adair, who called himself a "McKeldin Republican" in deference to the city's last Republican mayor, Theodore R. McKeldin, gained a boost late in the primary campaign by attracting the support of Schmoke's political manager, Larry S. Gibson.
In the end, Tufaro, whose fund raising surpassed Adair 7 to 1, prevailed.
The former Piper & Marbury attorney said he intends to campaign hard against O'Malley, focusing on the need to lower the city's tax rate of $5.83 per $100 of assessed value, the highest in state.
In addition, the two are expected to square off over how best to reduce the cost of providing city services as the city faces a projected four-year $153 million budget deficit.
Tufaro supports the privatization model pioneered by Indianapolis that would force city workers to compete with private companies; O'Malley backs the establishment of a labor-management council aimed at making government more efficient.
Despite higher-than-expected turnout, city elections officials said everything went smoothly during the second election in which they used their new computerized system.
The office hired extra technicians to handle any problems, but reported that many stood idle through the day.
"I've been here 16 years," said Election Board Chairman Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, "and it's the quietest election day I've ever seen."
Sun staff writers Eric Siegel, Joe Mathews and Mike James contributed to this article.
325 of 325 precincts
Lawrence Bell ..............................19,611
Phillip A. Brown Jr..............................129
Mary W. Conway .............................1,157
Robert S. "Bobby" Cunningham .........132
Richard A. Darrah .................................21
Jessica June Davis................................83
Charles A. Dugger ...............................188
Vincent Phillip Fullard.............................23
John William Hahn....................................8
A. Robert Kaufman................................233
Gene Lamar Michaels..............................72
Martin J. O'Malley................................61,219
William Edwards Roberts Sr. ....................92
Carl M. Adair..........................................1,571
Arthur W. Cuffie Jr. ...................................315
Lynwood H. Leverette................................254
Melanie M. Taylor........................................561
David F. Tufaro..........................................3,252
Pub Date: 9/15/99