Mayor's record attacked in debate

Last night, for the first time in the Democratic primary campaign, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley debated his challengers, who attacked him on several fronts, including claims that he has exaggerated his administration's success at reducing violent crime.

During a debate sponsored by the NAACP's Baltimore branch, the leading mayoral challenger, Andrey Bundley, Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy principal, termed O'Malley's crime reduction claims "disingenuous," accused the Police Department of overly aggressive tactics and criticized the mayor for his political ambitions.


"You can't have a vision for a place where you do not want to be," said Bundley, questioning whether the mayor would run for governor in three years if re-elected.

"I didn't run for governor. I ran for mayor," O'Malley said later in the debate, adding that he would stay in office as long as he has a passion for it and his wife lets him.


Bundley's attacks on O'Malley resonated with many among the nearly 800 people who crowded the James Weldon Johnson Auditorium at Coppin State College. The debate featured all five of the Democratic candidates running in the Sept. 9 primary.

The mayor did not respond directly to any of the criticisms from Bundley, A. Robert Kaufman, Marvin Ray Jones and Charles U. Smith, concentrating instead on the issues raised by panelists.

O'Malley delivered his standard catalog of achievements: leading the nation in the reduction of violent crime, increasing the number of drug treatment centers in the city, and helping to improve schools.

"There is more that unites us than divides us," O'Malley said. "We are moving forward again together."

At one point, O'Malley was questioned on issues of police brutality, including a recent case of a 10-year-old child whose arm was broken by a police officer.

"We have to police our own police," O'Malley said, adding that his administration has fired more police officers than previous mayors have.

Just before the debate, O'Malley and Bundley supporters crowded along North Avenue waving signs and needling each other. Bundley carried that competitive fire into the room. As he entered the auditorium the crowd broke out in huge applause, barking, hooting and chanting, "Bundley!"

When O'Malley was announced, those same Bundley supporters booed while O'Malley's backers cheered.


While Bundley and Kaufman have been making the rounds for weeks at mayoral forums held by other community and political organizations, O'Malley's absences had exposed him to criticism. He recently agreed to attend three debates.

The mayor is by all accounts the favorite in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary. As an incumbent, he commands more news media attention, and he has $2 million in campaign funds. This week he launched a series of television commercials expected to flood the airwaves in the three weeks before the primary.

Bundley has nearly $23,000 in the bank and is a first-time candidate. Kaufman said he has spent $200 on his campaign.

"The mayor doesn't need it [the debate]," said Arthur W. Murphy, a Baltimore political consultant with Politicom Creative. "Bundley needs it. Bundley has to challenge O'Malley and show that he is better."

That's exactly what Bundley tried to do last night. However, the unexpected appearance of two other Democratic candidates and the one Republican candidate, Elbert R. Henderson, diluted Bundley's harsh criticisms of the mayor.

Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway, who plans to challenge O'Malley as an independent in the November 2004 general election, said the mayor did not need to show up at the debate, but that he should for the "good of the city." Conaway said he believes that O'Malley has not been attending other events with the candidates to avoid saying something controversial.


"Sometimes you can get yourself in trouble, so maybe he's trying to avoid that," Conaway said. He said O'Malley will cruise to victory "as long as he can keep his composure."

O'Malley managed to do that last night. One of the panelists at the debate, Sherrilyn Ifill, raised an issue that struck a chord with the crowd. She said between January and July more than 5,000 juveniles have been arrested in the city. She asked all the candidates to explain how they would address that problem.

O'Malley listed a number of programs that the city has begun to help keep children out of trouble. "The number of arrests are no surprise as we continue to press down on the drug trade," he said.

Drug dealers use children as "mules," said O'Malley. "Homicides are up with young people, but we have reduced the number of kids struck by bullets."

Bundley reproached the mayor for referring to children as statistics. "They are not numbers," Bundley said before stating the names of four young men who he said were former students who had been killed by gunfire.

He said the city needs to spend more on recreation centers. "We move them to the corner, then give them citations for standing there," Bundley said.


As O'Malley gave his closing remarks, Kaufman, who had taunted O'Malley by calling him "Mayor Malarkey," walked off the stage and out of the auditorium. O'Malley paused until Kaufman was out of sight and then said Baltimore's recovery had a long way to go and that the city needed to rise above the "politics of division" and "hate mongering."

Each candidate had two to three minutes to deliver a brief opening statement before debating questions presented by three panelists. At the end, candidates had two minutes to give closing remarks.

The debate was moderated by local attorney Neil Duke, first vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's local branch. The panelists included Ifill, a law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law; Andre Lee, political action chairman of the local NAACP; and Noel Poyo, a representative of the Latino community.

In a separate debate, council president candidates replayed the positions they've taken for weeks.

Council President Sheila Dixon defended her record while Carl Stokes and Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh said they intended to forge an agenda independent of O'Malley's influence.

James H. Jones, a political neophyte, said he would bring renewed vigor to the position.