One savvy young newcomer has collected the big endorsements and money for an open Council seat
Published: August 10, 2011
Six candidates are vying to carry the Democratic flag into the general election to replace retiring 2nd District City Councilmember Nicholas D’Adamo Jr. They are Sharita Daniels Obiora, Emmett Guyton, Cynthia A. Gross, Anthony Hamilton, Jamaal D. Simpson, and Brandon Scott.
So far, Scott looks like the one to beat.
Scott, 27, has spent the past year on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s staff as a recreation neighborhood specialist. Before that, he was a community outreach liaison for Rawlings-Blake, both as City Council president and as mayor. He claims to have 150 part-time campaign volunteers and, as of July 25, a $20,000 campaign fund—with the hope of another $20,000 coming. He has the mayor’s endorsement and that of D’Adamo who says Scott “reminds me of myself at his age.”
During a July 25 candidate’s forum sponsored by The Baltimore Guide, Scott answered audience queries with specifics, demonstrating knowledge of City Hall’s inner workings that his rivals could not match. “This is an easy one for me, ’cause I just did this yesterday,” Scott said, in answer to a question about what he would do if a constituent called about a $5,000 water bill. “I’d call [Public Works] and say hey, we got another one. Because we’re moving to a new reader system. So I’d assure this person that this is not unusual and not to worry.”
Scott is working hard to not come off as cocky. He says he learned public service from his father, Alvin, who brought young Brandon to neighbors’ homes to deliver food or mow their lawns. Scott grew up in Park Heights and kept an eye on the street life he did not participate in during his years as a track star at MERVO High School. He knew people in the drug game, including members of the infamous Rice Organization that federal law enforcers prosecuted in the mid 2000s. But they steered clear of him, Scott says—they actually wanted a young man from the neighborhood to succeed, so they tried to keep him out of illegal activities.
Scott went to St. Mary’s College and came back to Baltimore, he says, with only public service in mind. “All I ever wanted to do in my entire life,” he tells the crowd at the candidate’s forum, “was be a city councilman in Baltimore.”
Scott endorses a gradual tax-cut plan, in contrast to rivals who seek deeper and more immediate property-tax relief.
Two Blackberries buzz at once amid several laptop computers set up in the sun room of Scott’s campaign manager’s spacious stucco colonial. He pulls up web pages from other cities showing things like 911 calls—putting them online in Baltimore, he says, will help people learn to accept long waits for less important calls, while allowing them to report petty thefts and burglaries over the phone or online, freeing up officers for more serious cases. Scott says he got the idea from doing research, and uses the time his own car was vandalized as an example. He had his district post officer’s cell phone number on his own phone, but he dialed 911 instead, he says, to see what the wait would be for an ordinary schmoe. Two hours later the guy shows up and says, “You? Why didn’t you just call my cell?”
Scott says he plans to use technology to increase efficiency throughout city government—and beyond. Asked to contrast himself with the retiring incumbent, Scott says D’Adamo would come to a meeting and respond to complaints. “I could go into the 311 system and know what the complaints have been” before the meeting, and then prepare to answer them and give the community association more information about that ahead of the meeting.
Cynthia Gross, a 36-year schoolteacher, ran in the 13th District in 2007 (garnering 224 votes). Gross says she’s running because she did not see D’Adamo enough during his terms in office and because she “didn’t know anyone out there” in the race. She says she plans to spend no more than $300 on her campaign. “I’m strictly using my own funds,” she says. “I’m not raising anything. Don’t want to be attached to some interest group.”
Gross, 61, says she hopes her political base includes the thousands she’s taught during her career: “I am vested in the city—I want this to continue to be a great city like the city I grew up in and am raising my children in.”
Like Gross, Anthony Hamilton is also a schoolteacher and administrator who says he would try as a councilmember to bring a new level of accountability to the school administration. “Many times our local officials are held accountable for things they have no control over,” he says. He hopes better schools will help attract tax-paying citizens back into the city, and says that, although he is for tax cuts, he is more interested in maintaining city services.
“We give businesses many tax breaks that miss the mark,” Hamilton said in answer to one of the questions at the candidates’ forum. “On the flip side, if we improve the quality of life and attract another demographic of tax-paying citizens, business will ultimately follow.”
Hamilton says he’d like to level the playing field for businesses in the city and improve the homeowner incentives for city employees.
“I know, and you know, that we’re tired of the same old same old,” he added. “I’m not endorsed by the mayor or by Councilman D’Adamo. I’m committed, because of my children. We must step up and meet these issues head-on.”
Jamaal Simpson, 27, did not respond to several e-mails and telephone calls from City Paper, and he did not attend the July 25 candidate’s forum. He ran last year to represent the 45th District in the state House of Delegates, garnering 8.4 percent for a fifth-place finish in a field of five. In other interviews he has promised “transparency” and to make himself available, and make decisions “based on what’s best for the community, not what’s best for big business.”
Sharita Daniels Obiora moved to the Frankford neighborhood four years ago with her husband, she says, after falling in love with the first house they saw there.
“I’m tired of Baltimore being number one on the list of everything bad and last on the list of everything good,” she tells the crowd at the candidate’s forum.
A case administrator for the federal Office of Compliance, which oversees workplace issues for federal employees, Obiora says Scott is unlikely to make real change: “If you have someone who is an extension of the current leadership, then you don’t have new leadership,” she says.
Obiora and her neighbors shoveled their street themselves after the big snowstorms of 2010. “Those kinds of things shouldn’t happen,” she says. “It leads to a belief among some neighborhoods that there are some neighborhoods that are first class and others that are second-class citizens.”
Asked about property taxes at the candidates’ forum, Obiora came out for an immediate 10 percent cut. Asked what services might be trimmed to pay for it, she paused for several seconds. “I do believe cuts could be done to some of the festivals,” Obiora said finally. “Some of that money could be better spent on recreation centers and on education.”
She says she’ll raise about $25,000 for her campaign, “which will be more than adequate.”
Obiora says she hopes as city councilmember to help implement a program that would link at-risk youth to mentors who could help train them for jobs and find employment after graduation. She would also try to get low-income people bank accounts. She worked in the juvenile court system for five years and says the experience gives her insight into the needs of the city. She recalls a child who she says was prosecuted a third time, for stealing a candy bar, and told the prosecutor he did it to get locked up—“at least in jail I get three meals a day” Obiora says the boy told the prosecutor before he was shipped out of state.
“Address the underlying problem,” Obiora says, “and there’ll be no more crime.”
Emmett Guyton, a 42-year-old steamfitter, is for lower taxes, better schools, and less crime. But he cites the little things when discussing his candidacy. “High water bills, trash bins on bus stops” are the first issues he raises in a phone interview the first week of August. (He missed the candidate’s forum, he says, because of a family reunion.)
“I bring the experience on analyzing the community, and addressing their needs respectfully,” Guyton says. “I pay close attention to what the community needs, and then I go out and get it. I’ve been going to get the trash bins back, so people don’t get fined for trash blowing on their yard.”
Years ago the city removed trash bins that had stood at bus stops, Guyton says, after communities complained about their overflowing conditions. So now people throw trash in the gutter or leave chicken boxes on people’s front stoops, sometimes leading to fines. Of course, the neighborhood complaints were meant to spur the city’s sanitation department to empty the street cans more frequently—not eliminate them altogether.
Asked how much he plans to raise, Guyton says it’s hard to say: “Some of the money is trickling in, slowly. Lot of the people are more conservative this go-round because of the economy.” He finally says he hopes to raise $15,000.
In 2007 Guyton spent more than $44,000 trying to win the 13th District council seat taken by Warren Branch. His state campaign finance reports indicate that he raised only about $1,600 for the effort. “It’s not a discrepancy,” Guyton says. “I just took a loan out because I was so adamant about running. I have no regrets about it. I’m not in no financial ruins or nothing like that.”
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