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Why Otis? Why now?

There was no shortage of drama in Charm City last night as two mayoral challengers held a fundraising competition over crab nibbles in plush downtown environs while sleet and snow swirled outside.

The events kicked off what promises to be a contentious political season.

At the Hippodrome Theatre, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was introduced to a crowd of about 200 supporters by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, who described her as “steady as a rock” and even cooed about her honor’s good looks, telling the crowd that some of his colleagues have commented on her splendor while discussing the city’s mojo.

Watch video from both fundraisers

“She is on the front line,” Cummings said. “She’s passionate. She’s brilliant. I will do everything in my power to make sure that we are well led by Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.”

The mayor, dressed in an amethyst-hued silk shantung suit, took the podium and listed some of her leadership accomplishments over the past year, including Snowmagheddon, economic development, education, budget axing in a time of massive shortfalls and public safety.

“We have had several challenges,” she said. “And things require tough decisions. I demand that Baltimore continues to move forward.”

Less than a mile away at the Tremont Grand, challenger Otis Rolley III was also at center stage with the help of comedian Bill Cosby, a Philadelphian. Rolley, the former chief of staff for Mayor Sheila Dixon and the city’s director of planning, told supporters he believes Baltimore needs more energy at the top.

Watch video of Cosby’s response to a Daily Record question

“I have a blueprint for Baltimore,” said Rolley, dressed in a dark suit and power red paisley tie. “I want to create a world-class city and have a six-point plan I plan to release over the next four months, including education, health, neighborhoods and economic development.”

The Cos, made available to the press for 15 minutes by his handlers at Spin, a local PR firm, offered thoughts on urban life and at times seemed out of touch with Baltimore’s unique issues. When asked, “Why Otis? Why now?” he seemed to lose focus before requesting the question be posed again, in a clearer format.

“You know what? I really hate that . . . What does that question mean? As opposed to what? Coca-Cola?”

Cosby then began a rambling dissertation on how he “met” Rolley over the phone, “kind of like a blind date” and asked him why he wanted to be the city’s mayor.

“Are you willing to die for the people?” he said he asked Rolley. “People running for public office say things. Are you willing to put yourself out there? Are you willing to die?”

While Rawlings-Blake’s handlers opened her fundraiser for the media to see the crowd that included Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Rolley’s reps limited access to his event.

The mayor finished the night raising more than $600,000, including 50 donors who shelled out $4,000 each for a VIP reception, her officials said.

Rolley’s camp was cautious releasing details Wednesday. A source said the candidate attracted 20 donors to his $4,000 per plate sit-down dinner.

“Part of the strategic plan is not to release numbers,” said Lisa Harlow, a spokeswoman for the Rolley campaign who declined to address specifics. “We will release how much we made on Jan. 20 when the reports are due” in Annapolis at the state Board of Elections.