Angered by an invitation he said might "deceive" the public, Baltimore Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley threatened to withdraw his support of a fund-raising dinner for former mayoral candidate Carl Stokes, who is seeking money to repay $23,000 in campaign loans.
The invitations for the the $500-a-plate fund-raiser billed the Dec. 5 event as "Unity Dinner '99 In Honor of Mayor Elect Martin O'Malley." Although the invitation prominently presents O'Malley's name, it mentions nothing about Stokes' debts. It lists Stokes among more than 50 politicians and community leaders.
"I was shocked," O'Malley said when he saw the invitation late yesterday. "It wasn't anything they ran by me. I'm really sickened by it."
A week after the Sept. 14 primary election, O'Malley promised Stokes, who finished second in the Democratic race, that he would help him raise money to pay his campaign debts.
Stokes, who raised $724,494 during the city's primary race, borrowed $30,000 from close friend Raymond V. Haysbert, former Parks Sausage owner, to help him keep pace with challengers O'Malley and City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who raised more than $1 million each.
As of yesterday, Stokes owed $23,000, according to his spokeswoman Kelley Ray.
Stokes said he hired a company, Life Lines Inc., to help with the fund-raiser at the B&O; Railroad Museum -- two days before O'Malley's inauguration ceremony. As part of the effort, Stokes supporters set up a "Unity Committee," which will collect the money.
Stokes said he decided to call it a "unity event" as a way to bring the city's Democratic Party back together after a heated primary election.
But Stokes said he never intended to mislead anyone into thinking that the event was a fund-raiser for O'Malley.
"Certainly, we weren't trying to deceive anyone," Stokes said. "The invitation obviously showcases Martin. It doesn't seem to say 'help Carl Stokes,' " but those who were contacted understand the purpose of the event.
But the dispute over the invitation has fanned the flames in an increasingly tense relationship between O'Malley and Stokes.
Stokes raised O'Malley's ire on two occasions during the election season. First, Stokes published a campaign brochure before the primary with a picture of the Rodney King police beating with a statement suggesting that O'Malley's zero-tolerance policing strategy would lead to similar incidents.
Then, after losing the primary election, Stokes told O'Malley's Republican mayoral challenger David F. Tufaro that he would serve as his housing commissioner.
Despite those incidents, O'Malley said he planned to help Stokes with the fund-raiser.
"I was trying to be a good sport," O'Malley said.
"Being a gentleman, I honor my commitments."
To add more support for the fund-raiser, Stokes also asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend if he could use their names for the event. Glendening and Townsend agreed, but neither plans to attend the affair because of other obligations, said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for the governor.
"Both Martin and Carl are friends of the governor's," Morrill said. "This is to help Carl to pay off his campaign debt."
The invitation does not include any details about where the money will go, but Ray, Stokes' spokeswoman, said money beyond the $23,000 debt would support efforts to unify the Democratic Party in Baltimore.
"These are all yet-to-be-defined activities," Ray said. "The money is not all going to Carl. That's why they set up this committee."
Even so, O'Malley said it should be made clear to the public that the event is for Stokes.
"I, at least, thought he could do that in a forthright, honest way," O'Malley said.