Baltimore Press

Candidates’ Vision Lost in Laughter

Another in a string of mayoral forums was held last night, a troubled debate that was spon­sored by the League of Women Voters. About half of the may- oral field—17 candidates— crowded onto the stage at Johns Hopkins University’s Shriver Hall.

The forum structure, similar to most that have transpired in recent weeks, gave each candi­date two minutes to offer solu­tions for such hot-button prob­lems as race relations, the school system, and restructuring city government.
Several audience members complained that these forums shed little light on the candi­dates’ actual ideas. Instead, said critics, they merely highlight speed talking abilities, and they reduce the campaign to sound bites. Those managing the forum seemed to allow the can­didates to veer away from the questions and use their allotted time to promote themselves. The large number of candi­dates, it was noted, negated any strong discussion of the issues.

The night had started on an odd footing. A self-described “uniquely unqualified” candi­date, Richard A. Durrah pro­moted his negative campaign- this way: a vote for him is a vote for disgust in the selection of candidates, he said. “I don’t seek votes,” he said, “nor do I expect to win.”

Then there was Rodger L. Laughrey, outfitted in a T-shirt and jeans. His stated qualifica­tion for running the city is his career as a house husband. He left just as the final question, about race relations, was being asked.

Candidate Terry Thometz, a cabinet maker, promised to “hit the panic button and end the denial” about the state of the school system. She advocates closing the schools for six months and reexamining the city’s priorities. She questioned the wisdom of keep­ing “sexually blooming” children in school for eight hours a day. Richard Riha advocated after-school activities for children as a solution to the city’s woes.

Many candidates, including a blind Episcopal minister and a deaf busi­nessman, were targeted for muffled taunts and laughter from the audience, many of whom were waving neon green signs reading “parks.”

A number of stalwart political junkies left before the evening ended, even though it was concluded nearly an hour early. Moderator Anthony McCarthy cited the disappearing audience for the early closing. Only about thirty people remained for the candidates’ closing remarks. About 150 people had been in attendance at the beginning.

The mocking atmosphere often seemed to unfairly mute responses from the candidates. As the night wore on, the candidates became more congratulatory to each other’s ideas, and more confrontational toward the audience.

Both former college professor Gene L. Michaels and current teacher Charles A. Dugger offered glimpses into the dilemma of the current school system and stressed the necessity of reform.

Even candidate Phillip Brown’s impassioned speech about his mur­dered daughter, which had won over the audience at last month’s forum hosted by the second district’s New Democratic Club, failed to rouse the audience.

Councilman Martin O’Malley received the most of the evening’s applause. His proposal to trim the high level of special education stu­dents in the school system was warm­ly received, as was his zero-tolerance stance. Register of Wills Mary Conaway’s statement early in the evening that “the Mayor needs to do her job by holding department heads responsible,” was also heartily enjoyed by the largely African American audi­ence.

Carl Stokes offered the only inter­candidate fireworks of the evening. He labeled front-runner Lawrence A. Bell as a “defeatist” because Bell accepted the mayor’s marginal role in the state takeover of the public school system.

The following were the candidates at last night’s forum: Terry Thometz, Stokes, Riha, O’Malley, Michaels, Laughrey, A. Robert Kaufinan, Dugger, Jessica J. Davis, John W. Hahn, Durrah, Arthur W. Cuffie Jr, Conaway, David F. Tufaro, Roberto Marsilli, Brown and Bell.

Michele Rosenburg,the Press’ edu­cation writer, noted the following sta­tistics about the candidates: there were four bald heads, one pair of ten­nis shoes, one pair of sandals, eight pairs of eyeglasses, twelve men in suits, one t-shirt, one white shirt, one bright green jacket, and three beards.

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