Before a raucous crowd at a candidates debate, Mayor Martin O'Malley went on the attack in his battle for re-election last night, rolling up his sleeves, pointing a finger at his opponents and declaring they were disrespecting the people of Baltimore by belittling the city's progress.
"People of Baltimore - don't be distracted by those who would dis your accomplishments," O'Malley shouted to about 700 people who packed the sweltering Western High School auditorium. Many screamed, whistled or booed, and some chanted "Four more years!" or "Bundley, Bundley, Bundley!"
The mayor, who is seeking nomination to a second term in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary, gestured toward the end of a table on the stage where Andrey Bundley, his most prominent opponent, sat calmly, hands folded in front of him, in a black double-breasted suit, his jacket still on despite the heat.
O'Malley's aggressive attack on Bundley marked a change in tactics by the incumbent, who stood calmly and did not respond when he was criticized by Bundley during their previous meeting Aug. 15 at Coppin State College. Bundley, principal of the city's Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy, claimed in that forum that O'Malley was using bogus statistics to claim a reduction in crime.
Last night's debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was the second of three in which the mayor has agreed to participate before the election. The last is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 4 at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street. It will be broadcast live by WEAA-FM (88.9), and repeated from noon to 2 p.m. the next day on WYPR-FM (88.1).
The event last night was loud from the outset, with the mayor's campaign busing in supporters wearing green-and-white "O'Malley" T-shirts who - along with many other supporters and city workers who arrived on their own - cheered loudly when the mayor stepped onto the stage, raising a fist.
With large, whirring fans blowing at the stage, the amplification equipment at times malfunctioning, Bundley and O'Malley supporters chanted, trying to drown out each other. Amid the din, A. Robert Kaufman, a socialist and perennial candidate also seeking the Democratic nomination, hung a "US Out of Iraq" sign in front of him at the table.
Also at the table were Democrats Marvin Ray Jones and Charles U. Smith; independent hopefuls Larry D. Jefferson and Roger Lee Loughry; and Elbert R. Henderson, a Republican.
Bundley, 42, who is making his first run for office, started out last night on a calm note, portraying himself as a family man who is sensitive to the conditions of the average person because he came up from poverty.
But after O'Malley launched his attack, Bundley stood and took off his coat, as O'Malley had before the event began.
"Nine hundred and seventy-seven of our babies have been locked up between the ages of 7 and 17 in the month of July! We are equating making Baltimore safer with locking up our babies," Bundley said of arrests of juveniles in the city. "Something is wrong."
Bundley said he would not send police officers to the city's open air drug markets, but instead dispatch job-training experts, addiction counselors and mentors for young people.
Bundley then turned on the mayor and asserted that O'Malley's Baltimore Rising program, which lines up adult mentors with young people who need guidance, is a farce.
"The Baltimore Rising program is not working," Bundley said. "I sat in the back" during one mentoring meeting, Bundley said. "The mentor did not show up! ... I saw it with my own eyes! That is the truth."
O'Malley did not take the criticism lightly. Several times, moderator Anthony McCarthy had to tell the mayor to stop talking because he had run out of time. O'Malley pumped his arms, then smiled and made his fingers measure an inch in the air, as if he were begging for a little more time to make his case.
"There are a few people in this competition who would like to belittle the tremendous amount of work that is going on to reach out to the young people of this city," O'Malley said. "We have over 1,000 young people being mentored. Is it enough? Clearly it's not enough. ... But we are very proud that 5,500 of our kids were employed in summer jobs."
He blasted earlier accusations by other another opponent that he had closed recreation centers during his four-year term.
"Don't believe those who are telling you that we are closing rec centers. We're not closing rec centers. We're about to open a new rec center," O'Malley said. "We're doing more for our young people than we've ever done before."
The mayor said his opponents were insulting the people of Baltimore when they claimed that schoolchildren were faring worse, that crime was not going down in the city and that more addicts weren't getting treatment.
"Let me say thank you to the people of Baltimore, the people who have never surrendered even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds," O'Malley said. "I want to thank the first- and second-graders in the city who scored above the national average in reading and math for the first time in 30 years. I want to thank the neighbors and the police of Baltimore who have given far too many of their lives to help us achieve nation-leading reductions in violent crime."
To help spur the city's economy, Bundley said, he would require businesses doing work in the city to provide job training for local residents. "Those who would do business in Baltimore, once I become mayor of this city, you must have a social investment in this city. If you do not invest in this city, you cannot do business in this city."