Mayoral candidate Mary M. Conaway said yesterday that media coverage of the campaign was “racially motivated.”
The issue arose during a press conference in which Conaway was refuting allegations that she had shirked her obligations as the city’s Register of Wills to attend divinity school in Washington, D.C.
The Baltimore Sun published a report on July 17 that questioned whether Conaway could have earned a Masters degree in three years at night school at the same time she was a full-time elected official in the courts.
The Sun’s report quoted the school’s director of recruitment, the Rev. William Aldridge, as saying “it is not possible to do it as only an evening program.” Also included in the article was an opinion from a professor at the seminary that most but not all of Conaway’s degree in theology could have been earned at night school.
At the conference, Conaway maintained that she had attended night school exclusively. She stressed that, as an elected official, “I do not follow a time clock.” She pointed out that she often attended evening community meetings as part of her job. She said she managed to work both in the courts and toward her degree by “bum[ing] the candle at both ends.”
She called the Sun’s report both a “personal attack” and “slanderous.” Conaway asked for a retraction and an apology from the newspaper.
“I also demand that The Sun begin to cover the Mayor’s race,” Conaway continued, “by focusing on the candidates’ positions on the issues, and not on their educational background or their personal finances.”
A letter from Aldridge to Conaway, dated Sunday, July 25, corroborated her assertions of innocence. The letter declared that “the information obtained from me in conversation was manipulated by Mr. Shields [Gerard Shields, the well-regarded Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote the report] in a style that leans to the lowest form of journalism.”
Shields defended the integrity of his reportage. In an interview with the Press, he said that Aldridge had mentioned on at least two occasions that earning a Masters degree could not have been completed fully in night school. In a subsequent call, Shields said, Aldridge voiced a concern that the school would be in the middle of a “sticky situation.” In a third call, Aldridge left him a message that said, according to Shields, “I told the truth.”
“He’s retracting what he said because he obviously got some heat from Mrs. Conaway,” said Shields about Aldridge’s apparent sudden turn-around.
Shields called on Conaway to release her school transcripts to the press. “It is the only way to resolve this issue,” he said. Conaway adamantly refused.
At the end of the press conference, Conaway said she felt that The Sun’s coverage of the Mayoral election was selective and race-based. “The Sun has asked us [candidates] to, and we have stayed away from playing the race card,” Conaway said. “But those who have been investigated have all been black… everyone has a skeleton in their closet, even O’Malley.” She was referring to Councilman Martin O’Malley (D-3), a candidate for Mayor who—unlike other Democratic front runners Lawrence Bell and Cail Stokes—has not been pilloried in the pages of The Sun.
When asked if she knew of any transgressions made by O’Malley, she conceded she did not, but nor was she looking for any.