Baltimore's mayoral candidates met face-to-face yesterday for their last scheduled debate before Tuesday's general election as they tried to show their differing agendas to city voters.
During a debate on the Larry Young Morning radio show on WOLB-AM 1010, Republican mayoral nominee David F. Tufaro criticized Democratic challenger Martin O'Malley for raising $1.3 million in campaign contributions. Much of the money came from businesses, including some who have contracts with the city, Tufaro said.
The flood of contributions after the September Democratic primary shows that an O'Malley administration would be run by "the same old crowd," said Tufaro, a Roland Park developer making his first bid for public office.
"That clearly suggests a small, elite group of people trying to have access," Tufaro said. "One of my advantages is that I'm not a professional politician."
O'Malley, an eight-year city councilman who defeated 16 other candidates in the September Democratic primary with 53 percent of the vote, took exception to Tufaro's remarks. O'Malley said half of the contributions to his campaign came after donors realized that his odds of being mayor increased after the primary win.
"I really [won't] come into office owing anybody except my wife and my family," said O'Malley, who pledged accountability to voters. "If I don't do the job, I go."
The 36-year-old former prosecutor and defense attorney was also asked again to justify his plans for implementing a zero-tolerance policing strategy credited with reducing violent crime and homicides in U.S. cities such as New York, New Orleans, Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia.
Critics of the plan, which involves police targeting nuisance crimes such as loitering and public drinking, fear it will lead to an increase in police misconduct and brutality, particularly against young African-American males.
O'Malley, however, said he would not back down from his plan and noted that most of the lives that will be saved through reducing the murder rate will be young, black males.
"I absolutely believe that it's the key to turning our city around," O'Malley said. "We don't have time to get lost in division or dwell on our fears. We've got to start taking action in this city."
Tufaro has pushed for more interaction among federal, state and city police in targeting repeat violent criminals. In Richmond, Va., a similar plan called Project Exile has cut the homicide rate by 50 percent, Tufaro said.
Tufaro criticized O'Malley's zero-tolerance plans as "a highly simplified view."
Later, on The Marc Steiner Show on WJHU-FM 88.1, the candidates were questioned by three city high school students in separate 30-minute interviews that focused on city schools. O'Malley said he would concentrate on improving city preschool and kindergarten programs in an effort to give city children a good start toward education. If children know their ABCs by 5 years old, O'Malley said, they are more likely to read by 9.
Tufaro has advocated the use of vouchers that would allow parents to pick their city school. Tufaro said the city and state's focus must be turned away from building multimillion-dollar stadiums.
"We've had a one-party system that has tolerated that," Tufaro said in reference to the Democrats.
Getting the vote
The candidates will appear separately on WEAA-FM 88.9 radio at 6 p.m. tonight. They will also join Young at 4: 30 p.m. Monday at a get-out-the-vote rally at North Avenue and McCulloh Street.