A prominent group of Baltimore-area ministers is calling on Mayor Martin O'Malley to remain in his job and not run for governor - as supporters of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are being pressured to endorse her unannounced candidacy for the office.
The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, an organization of 200 predominantly black clergy that in 1999 opposed O'Malley's candidacy for mayor, has scheduled a news conference for today to voice its concerns about his possible gubernatorial run.
"This is not time to be considering political options," the Rev. Gregory B. Perkins, president of the group, said yesterday. "With a murder rate that's still out of control, he needs to focus his attention on fulfilling the promises he made to the citizens of Baltimore."
The news conference comes as Townsend's campaign is pressing state lawmakers and community leaders to publicly endorse her in what political observers say is an effort to keep O'Malley out of the Democratic primary.
"I think that's a very smart part of the strategy," said Del. Cheryl C. Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat whose delegation endorsed the lieutenant governor at an event last week.
The apparent endorsement strategy is not the first move to block an O'Malley bid.
In January, Townsend's chief fund-raiser urged Democratic donors to prove their loyalty to her by withholding contributions from O'Malley. The request by Michael G. Bronfein, a Baltimore venture capitalist and former chief executive officer of NeighborCare Pharmacies, escalated tensions between the two potential gubernatorial candidates.
O'Malley declined yesterday to comment about the issue of Townsend's endorsements, but he said through a spokesman that he's "focused on his job in Baltimore."
Townsend also declined to comment about O'Malley's possible gubernatorial run or the apparent endorsement strategy.
Instead, she spoke of the positive working relationship that she and O'Malley have. "We're working together for Baltimore," she said.
Still, it has become increasingly clear the Townsend campaign seeks to lock up the Democratic nomination. Townsend met with the ministerial alliance in January and again last month. During the meetings, Perkins said, her staff seemed "anxious" to get the group's endorsement.
In addition, lawmakers and political observers said that the Townsend campaign in the last week has stepped up calls to supporters who have not announced their endorsements and to those who have yet to make a commitment, urging them to say publicly that they are backing her.
"I got a call from her Friday evening," said Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "She said everyone else in the delegation had endorsed her, so when was I going to."
Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he got a call the middle of last week, asking him to join in an endorsement announcement that was scheduled for yesterday but was canceled. Exum said he wants to hear what Townsend plans to do for African-Americans in the state before backing her.
"We've had conversations," Exum said. "I haven't made up my mind."
The push comes as the General Assembly prepares to complete its session Monday, after which the gubernatorial campaign is expected to move into high gear.
Just two candidates - both Republicans - have announced their gubernatorial candidacies, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., 44, and perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont, 84.