Baltimore City Council member Martin O'Malley's runaway victory in this week's Democratic mayoral primary owed much to a campaign that won broad support across racial lines for pledging to show no tolerance for the crime that was driving residents from the city.
In Tuesday's primary, O'Malley, who is white, captured 53 percent of the vote against a field of 17 Democratic candidates, including the two black front-runners, Carl Stokes and Lawrence A. Bell III. The results showed that even if O'Malley got the nod of every white voter, he still would have collected 13 percent of the African American vote, according to one analysis.
"I want to be able to walk the streets before it gets dark," said Vedette Hull, a black resident of west Baltimore who voted for O'Malley. "And I want folks to move back into Baltimore."
In his concession speech, Stokes acknowledged the wide appeal, calling upon his supporters to help O'Malley rebuild the city. "I'm very proud of the African American voters in our city," he said.
O'Malley, who at 36 would be the youngest mayor in city history, has the kind of family ties and reputation in the business community that could help Baltimore improve its standing in Annapolis after years of seeing the state take over important city operations, some state leaders said.
O'Malley's father, Thomas, ran for state's attorney in Montgomery County last year, and his wife is the daughter of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. He was a city prosecutor before becoming a City Council member and proved a prolific fund-raiser among Baltimore's business community.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) spoke briefly with O'Malley at his victory celebration Tuesday night. He has been an outspoken critic of past plans formulated in Annapolis to bail out Baltimore, saying his wealthier county deserves more.
Duncan said O'Malley has the opportunity to make great gains in Annapolis, judging from the support he received from state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore) and Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), chairmen of two key fiscal committees in Annapolis.
"He's going to need the support from a lot of us around the state," Duncan said. "The city's decline is continuing. He ran on a very simple message: turning the city around. We're all very hopeful the city unites behind him and improves."
The day after the primary election, O'Malley seemed to be out to prove he had the stamina for the job. He stood at a Baltimore intersection for two hours starting at 7 a.m., waving to passersby and flanked by signs thanking voters. Then it was off to a couple of radio and television interviews, with slim chance for rest in between.
Marilyn Harris, O'Malley's communications director, said he's focusing on pulling together the Democratic Party for the general election on Nov. 2, when he will take on Republican primary winner and developer David F. Tufaro. Baltimore's Democrats outnumber Republicans about 9 to 1, so traditionally, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to become the next mayor. The incumbent, Kurt L. Schmoke (D), decided not to run again.
O'Malley campaigned on a pledge that he would make the city's streets safe again by cracking down on open-air drug markets and adopting a "zero tolerance" approach to all crime, even minor infractions. His stance was reminiscent of the one that helped Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) win New York's mayoral contest.
If he wins, Harris said, one of O'Malley's other top priorities would be "bringing more money into Baltimore City" to improve schools.
It was the endorsements of prominent African American leaders such as Rawlings that helped O'Malley shake criticism that he was an opportunist, someone hoping to take advantage of a vote split between African American candidates.
Bell, in particular, appealed to black voters, who make up 60 percent of the electorate, urging them to support "a man who looks like you do."
On Tuesday, Bell called on former D.C. mayor Marion Barry and his wife, Cora, to campaign with him. Cora Masters Barry would not say whether she and her husband were paid for consulting work or what advice they gave Bell.
"Like I told you, we advised the boy, tried to help the boy, did the best we could, tried to give him some advice. But it was too little, too late," she said.
But black leaders said yesterday that O'Malley's election offers a chance to change that. His nomination, they said, shows that black voters are as pragmatic as whites and will elect experienced candidates who speak to their issues, regardless of race.
"There are blacks in Baltimore who thought he was the right choice because he has entree to the business community and to Annapolis," said Roscoe Nix, former president of Montgomery County's NAACP chapter. "State lawmakers would be foolish not to do everything [they] could to help him bring unity to the city."
Staff writers Vanessa Williams and Scott Wilson contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Martin O'Malley clasps a supporter's hand as Del. Howard P. Rawlings addresses crowd.
CAPTION: Mayoral hopeful Martin O'Malley, with Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), greets commuters in Baltimore.