Mayoral challengers sound off on crime

Challengers to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seized Tuesday on the Fourth of July violence — including the fatal stabbing of an Alabama man and the shooting of a 4-year-old boy around the fireworks display at the Inner Harbor — saying the incidents highlighted persistent problems that foster a culture of violent crime.

"When you fail to invest in education, when you fail to invest in rec centers, you can't be surprised when you see this kind of violence," former city planning director Otis Rolley said.

Rolley's remarks — along with those of state Sen. Catherine Pugh and former City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers — came on the final day for candidates to file to register for the city elections. A campaign spokeswoman for Rawlings-Blake declined to respond to their comments.

In a last-minute surprise, City Councilman Carl Stokes, who had been saying he planned to run for mayor, reversed course and filed to run for re-election to his council seat, representing central and east Baltimore.

"We need to have a unified voice vis-a-vis the present administration, the present direction we're going in," he said. "It's better if there is one voice of opposition."

A little more than two months before the Democratic primary — which all but names the city's leaders in overwhelmingly Democratic Baltimore — crime has taken a back seat to property taxes and education, in sharp contrast to past elections.

Lester Spence, a professor of political science and urban politics at the Johns Hopkins University, said that could change if there are more high-profile incidents.

"I could see this becoming a big issue," Spence said. "The question is whether or how the people running in this race deploy those issues."

Rawlings-Blake, appearing Tuesday morning with Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, vowed swift action to catch those responsible for the two incidents Monday night.

"We're not going to tolerate their cowardly behavior," said Rawlings-Blake. "Our citizens, our visitors deserve better, and will get better, because we're determined to identify these individuals and bring them very swiftly to justice."

Pugh, speaking to supporters Tuesday morning after she filed the paperwork to run for mayor, tied the recent attacks to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has been associated with poor impulse control.

Pugh has urged Rawlings-Blake to force the Housing Authority of Baltimore to pay settlements to victims of lead poisoning. "Our children weren't born with guns and knives in their hands," she said. "This city has turned its back for so many years on young people."

Pugh's supporters waved red-and-black signs and chanted "The status quo must go" as passing motorists — including a truck of municipal workers and a public school system van — honked in support.

Pugh said that she would support a more community-oriented policing approach if she were elected mayor. She provided few specifics.

"Let us be more involved with the community. Let's work with the community on a strategy," she said. "Parents need help for their children. It's a health issue."

Landers, who stepped down as vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors to focus on his campaign, said police alone could not prevent incidents like the violence that marred the city's Independence Day celebration.

"We really need to mount a concerted citywide efforts through churches, through community groups, through gangs, to say this kind of violence is not acceptable," he said.

Landers said it was not clear to him whether the violence was caused by a flaw in the city's policing strategy. "Maybe there need to be changes in the policing strategy, but I don't know what they are," he said.

He said he would reach out to clergy members, community activists and gang leaders. "I would really get all the gang leaders that we could identify and have a meeting with them," he said. "I'd ask them, 'Is this really what you want your city to be? This is not a manly or macho thing, to be shooting toddlers.'"

Rolley said that "crime fighting is beyond just policing."

"The best way to decrease crime in any city is to increase opportunities — educational opportunities, recreational opportunities and economic opportunities."

"There is no greater social program, no better public safety plan than opportunity," he said. "Given an option between a real job and selling drugs, people are going to choose a real job."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.