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Council president forum set for tonight

As the increasingly tense and bitter race for City Council president heads into the final weeks, incumbent Sheila Dixon is using her financial advantage to buy radio ads on stations with a mostly black audience.

City Councilwoman Catherine Pugh, a public relations executive, has raised less money. But she's trying to keep up on the airwaves by pouring $52,000 of her own cash into her campaign, buying TV ads in an attempt to overcome a name recognition disadvantage.

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The other challenger, Carl Stokes, a former city councilman, is firing away with sharply negative rhetoric during public forums, but he has so little money he can't afford commercials.

The three will go head to head at 7 p.m. today in a forum at Coppin State College. The race has drawn extra attention this year because whoever wins automatically will ascend to the mayor's office without a popular vote if incumbent Martin O'Malley runs for governor in 2006 and wins.

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The most recent campaign disclosure forms, released yesterday, suggest that the president's race is also much tighter than the mayor's re-election contest.

Dixon, who is running for re-election to a second four-year term, has $120,095 in her campaign coffers compared with Pugh's $91,432 and Stokes' $10,756.

"One of the most exciting things about Sheila's fund-raising ability is that she has gotten donations from every segment of the community - business leaders, community folks, the whole range," said Cheryl Benton, campaign consultant for Dixon.

The three candidates have stressed different themes. Dixon, an ally of O'Malley, has stressed that her cooperation with the mayor has helped to move the city forward in reducing crime and spurring growth.

Stokes, who lost to O'Malley in the 1999 mayoral primary, has been stridently critical of the administration, accusing Dixon of being a "rubber stamp" for a mayor who has failed to give enough money for education or social programs.

Pugh, a former business college dean, has stressed her ability to work with businesses and community leaders.

She has had a reputation as a darling of the city's business community, but the records show that Dixon is also much loved by commercial interests.

Among those giving to Pugh's campaign were state comptroller and former Gov. and Mayor William Donald Schaefer, ($1,250); longtime civic activist Walter Sondheim Jr. ($250), and Walter D. Pinkard, chief executive of Colliers Pinkard, a commercial real estate firm that gave Pugh $1,000.

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Contributing exclusively to Dixon's camp were dozens of businesses, including Phipps Construction and the Manekin LLC development firm of Columbia. Dixon also received support from a large number of churches and prominent figures such as former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who gave $500.

Many supporters hedged their bets by contributing to multiple candidates.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume tapped his old congressional campaign treasury to give Dixon and Pugh $2,000 apiece.

Greyhound Lines Inc. of Dallas, which has been pushing for a new downtown terminal, gave $4,000 to Dixon and $700 to Pugh.

Pugh said Stokes' late and unexpected entry into the race has meant that she has had to spend more money to buy ads to get attention.

"It will be a more expensive campaign than we originally anticipated, trying to get our name and message out there," Pugh said.

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Records show that Pugh's public relations business, Catherine E. Pugh & Co., lent $52,000 to the campaign on Aug. 2. That accounts for almost a quarter of the $218,280 she has raised since January.

The infusion of personal cash has helped Pugh, a former TV news reporter, produce TV commercials. She recently started running a 30-second spot on Fox and several cable stations.

"Hi. I'm Catherine Pugh and I'm excited about becoming your full-time president of the Baltimore City Council," she says in the ad. "I've raised over $1 million for schools and community projects, and I want to deliver for you."

Dixon's campaign has raised more than twice as much as Pugh's - $440,593 - but has also spent more, including $32,896 to a local media company called TCI Media Services.

She is running a series of radio ads on channels with a predominantly black audience, including WCAO and WWIN. The commercials stress her roots in West Baltimore and her family's ability to overcome tragedy and share in accomplishments.

"Together, we have gotten a lot done in the past four years, made our schools accountable for what they spend, increased women and minority participation in city contracts and established the commission on HIV/AIDS," Dixon says in the ads.

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Although it has more money, the Dixon campaign has spent on radio advertising instead of television advertising. "African-American radio has proven to be a very strong medium for reaching the target audience in the black community," said Benton.

Stokes' campaign has had 50 contributors, compared with many hundreds for Dixon and Pugh. There has been turnover, too, with his campaign manager and fund-raiser leaving about the time he decided to run for council president instead of mayor.

To help pay off local businessman Raymond Haysbert Aug. 5 for a $31,500 debt left over from Stokes' 1999 mayoral campaign, Stokes lent his current campaign $38,500, making him his own biggest contributor.

"It's an investment in myself and in the city," said Stokes. "I think I'm going to win."

R. Anthony Mills, a business development consultant who lives in Park Heights, gave $100 to Pugh because he likes her promise to give Baltimore businesses preference on city contracts. "The best way to support African-American businesses in this city is to do business with them," he said.

Mary Ann Cricchio, owner of Little Italy's Da Mimmo restaurant, made an in-kind contribution to Dixon's campaign - $902.79 worth of chicken cacciatore, tortellini Pavarotti, and orange roughy, fed to supporters at a luncheon this month.

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"I think she will make an excellent mayor and that is what we're really voting on this election when we vote for the president of the City Council," Cricchio said.

For the record

An article Friday incorrectly stated that Manekin LLC, a development firm, contributed exclusively to City Council President Sheila Dixon's campaign in the most recent reporting period. In fact, the firm also gave $500 to Catherine Pugh's campaign on June 18.The Sun regrets the errors.


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