Mayor set to announce re-election bid today
O'Malley is expected to run on his record, political experts say
By A Sun Staff Writer

June 23, 2003

Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to officially announce his re-election campaign at 1 p.m. today at the drug treatment center Gaudenzia Baltimore at Park Heights, and the anticipation is spurring speculation on how the next 11 weeks will unfold.

The campaign's tone this year should prove vastly more subdued then the tempestuous struggle to claim former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's vacated seat in 1999, political experts predict.

Four years ago, O'Malley and two other well-known candidates - Carl Stokes and Lawrence A. Bell III - battled for the mayor's seat, causing constant debate among the three. O'Malley won by drumming on crime-fighting, a theme that strongly resonated with voters.

In this year's campaign, O'Malley can afford to remain above the types of fights he picked in 1999. He may not even need to debate the challengers, who, for now, have little money and spotty name recognition, experts said. "The challengers will have to bring the battle to O'Malley," said Arthur W. Murphy, a political consultant with Politicom Creative. "If someone is not polling well, if someone is not raising any money, why should he bother?"

O'Malley is being challenged in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary by Stokes; attorney Anton J.S. Keating; A. Robert Kaufman, a perennial candidate; Charles U. Smith, a former candidate for Congress; and Andrey Bundley, principal of Walbrook Academy, who has started a grass-roots campaign.

O'Malley has several factors working in his favor. He has more than $2 million in his campaign coffers, enough to flood the airwaves with television and radio advertisements all summer. He enjoys the promise of press from the performance of his everyday mayoral duties. And he is expected to garner the political backing of some of the city's most influential black political leaders.

"There is no reason for the mayor to talk about anything other than what he has done in office for the past four years," said Cheryl Benton, a political consultant and campaign strategist for City Council President Sheila Dixon's re-election campaign. "I wouldn't even acknowledge the other candidates were in the field."

Many expect O'Malley to do just that: run on his record. O'Malley's campaign spokeswoman Kimberlin Love said the mayor preferred to wait to discuss his strategies until after he officially announces his candidacy.

Other experts say the mayor, an excellent public speaker, would enjoy a debate.

"He would probably relish a debate," said Gene Raynor, former campaign manager for state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. "... He's charismatic, no doubt about it."

O'Malley would be forced into a debate only if higher profile candidates like city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway enter the race, decisions both are pondering, experts said.

"If Conway jumped in with a good war chest, the mayor would sweat bullets," Murphy said. "If either Pratt or Conway enter the race, the whole climate changes."

O'Malley also enjoys the benefits of being able to campaign with incumbent council members well known in their districts. He has endorsed Dixon and is expected to run on a ticket with her.

Dixon "tells black voters that it's OK to vote for the white candidate," Murphy said. In 1999, the black vote was split among O'Malley, Stokes and Bell.

Stokes said he intends to also run on a ticket with other citywide candidates for comptroller and council president. He said he hopes to raise $750,000 despite his campaign fund being $23,000 in debt in January. He said he has paid off the debt.

His campaign will focus on attacking O'Malley's record, especially crime reduction. O'Malley announced last week that the city had reduced crime by 26 percent since he took office in 1999. But Stokes claims the statistics are exaggerated.

"We're going to harp on the fact that he did not come through on the one promise that he made," Stokes said. Bundley said he too would use crime against O'Malley.

Bundley said the focus of his campaign will not be entirely anti-O'Malley. He said he is going to focus on education.

Bundley has signed on political adviser Julius Henson. And while he has raised little money, he believes his Baltimore roots will help him gain name recognition. "I hope he does debate me, but I don't think he will," Bundley said.

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