At his fund-raising bash last night at Ravens Stadium, Mayor Martin O'Malley's supporters gave him roughly a million reasons, in negotiable currency, to enter this year's governor's race.
But as he ponders the biggest decision of his young political career, the mayor is also getting an earful of reasons not to run.
From philanthropic leaders: If you stay at City Hall, we'll increase our support of the city.
From business executives: If you leave City Hall, there's no one ready to take your place right away.
And from elected officials: Finish the job you started in Baltimore. If you take on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for the Democratic nomination, you'll only do damage to yourself, the party and the city.
"If he runs and loses, he will be perceived as a spoiler," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who endorsed O'Malley's 1999 mayoral run and, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is one of the city's most powerful representatives in Annapolis.
O'Malley, in his latest round of should-I-or-shouldn't-I musings in an interview hours before yesterday's fund-raiser, made clear that he doesn't see himself as a potential spoiler.
"I don't doubt that I can win, but I really love what I'm doing. That's the hardest part. We've gotten a lot done in two years, and you can see the difference," O'Malley said. "But I don't doubt that I can win."
Last night's event didn't appear to dampen that confidence. With roughly 1,700 people paying $250 or $1,000 each, O'Malley raised more than $1 million in one evening, an outsized fund-raiser for a not-quite-candidate for governor in Maryland.
O'Malley was introduced by a potential running mate, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
And the event was packed with political and business leaders with divergent views on whether he'll run.
Everywhere O'Malley goes these days, he gets advice, solicited or not, about running for governor.
Some advisers are citizens on the street, telling him to go for it. Others, like the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, which recently urged O'Malley not to run, are vehement critics with political motives of their own.
Still others are career politicians with a clear agenda, having chosen to back O'Malley's potential Democratic opponent, Townsend.
On Monday, for example, O'Malley paid a visit to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan to try and dissuade him from a public endorsement of Townsend planned for yesterday. Duncan gave the mayor his advice.
'More for him to do'
"I told him that if it were me, I would stay as mayor and finish the job," Duncan said yesterday, shortly after following through with his endorsement of Townsend. "If you look at the agenda he has, there's more for him to do."
Some prominent state lawmakers from Baltimore have given the mayor the same advice and have worked since as early as December to keep O'Malley out of the governor's race. Most legislators from the city, as well as from across the state, are backing Townsend's bid for governor.
An O'Malley candidacy, these lawmakers say, could create a bloody fight within the Democratic Party, giving Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican's leading gubernatorial candidate, a better shot at winning the general election.
Then there's the group of advisers whom some like to call "the city fathers," those business and philanthropic leaders who say they want the mayor to stay because it would be best for Baltimore.
The group is believed to include one of O'Malley's closest advisers, Richard O. Berndt, Cardinal William H. Keeler's attorney and a respected political confidant who was instrumental in O'Malley's 1999 mayoral run.
Berndt attended O'Malley's fund-raiser last night but declined an interview, and several other leading figures declined to speak about their views on whether O'Malley should stay or go.
Message not subtle
But it's clear that at least some are not shy about sharing their opinions with the mayor. And their message isn't subtle.
"I have had a conversation with the mayor and expressed to him that I would hope that he would stay as the mayor and complete what's a great start, and I expressed to him that to whatever extent that I can, whatever influence or resources I can marshal, I will be supportive of him as mayor," said Walter D. "Wally" Pinkard, the chief executive of Colliers Pinkard, a commercial real estate firm.
Pinkard said that increasing his support means that when the mayor asks for help with an initiative, "We're going to say yes, within reason."
That includes lending his name to the mayor's top programs, as he has done by agreeing recently to serve as co-chairman of Baltimore Believe, the new anti-drug initiative.
'Sense of optimism'
He can also help raise money, as he and other business leaders have done for the Baltimore Police Foundation and other local causes, at the mayor's request. "He's going to ask you to support Baltimore, and I'm prepared to do that," he said.
"He has created a sense of optimism and engagement, especially engagement in the business community," added Pinkard, who contributed $1,000 to O'Malley's 1999 mayoral campaign and contributed $1,000 more a year ago. "He has a chance to build on that, and a change in leadership ... just diminishes that momentum which I think we so desperately need at this time."
Deep bench lacking
For some local leaders, the uncomfortable subtext of their pleas for O'Malley to stay is that the city lacks a deep bench of proven political talent to take his place.
They are reticent to discuss this concern openly, in part because no one wants to alienate City Council President Sheila Dixon, who would succeed O'Malley as mayor if he became governor. One assistant to a prominent local business leader said his boss wouldn't agree to an interview touching on Dixon's capabilities.
Pinkard, for his part, flatly said he is not passing judgment on specific politicians. He and some other business leaders say their belief is that any change could disrupt the city's apparent upward climb.
It's unclear what, exactly, will push the ambitious O'Malley into or out of the governor's race. He has said that his decision will be based in part on where he feels he can do the most for the city.
'It's not easy'
The mayor said last night that when he called people to raise money for this fund-raiser, he got "a pretty even mix of opinions" about whether he should stay or go.
"If it were easy, I would have figured it out a while ago. It's not easy," O'Malley said. "It's hard to even think about leaving it. And on the other side of the equation, without a reliable partner in the state, everything that we're trying to do can be stalled or stopped, and that's the other consideration."
Then again, he said, the things the people are saying about why he should stay are also true: "They may be right. I don't know. I might be better off staying here."
Sun staff writers Howard Libit, Ivan Penn and Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.
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