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43rd District: A Bit of a Fight

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Dump trucks festooned with campaign signs idled across the street from a recent 43rd District candidate forum. The signs plugged the three incumbents—Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Del. Curt Anderson, and Del. Maggie McIntosh—as well as Mary Washington, the candidate they’ve endorsed for the open delegate seat. The other Democratic candidates’ knee-high lawn signs seemed puny in comparison.

But the effort put forth by the incumbents is indicative of an interesting primary: Joan Carter Conway is facing her first serious challenger in her 12-year tenure in the state Senate, and the retirement of long-time delegate Ann Marie Doory has left a rare open House seat.

The triangular 43rd District is home to neighborhoods ranging from the tony and tree-lined to the blighted and crime-ridden. Conway has represented it since 1997, when John Pica Jr. retired and she was appointed. As Chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Conway has become a powerful figure in the Senate, and an active legislator: She was the lead sponsor of 37 bills in 2010—15 of which passed—and co-sponsored another 69.

But she has courted controversy over the years related to the fact that her husband, Vernon “Tim” Conway, is a city liquor board inspector. The latest dust-up came earlier this year, when Conway stopped a bill that would have allowed consumers to have wine shipped to their homes from coming to a vote in her committee. Though the bill had widespread support in the legislature, she declared that it was “not going anywhere,” according to The Baltimore Sun. Because of her husband’s position, some proponents questioned her motives. But Conway said she was concerned that minors might order wine online, and that it would be difficult for state officials to collect taxes from out-of-state vendors. (Thirteen states have a ban on direct wine sales. Maryland is one of four that makes it a felony.)

Former Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Hector Torres is running against Conway, and is the first challenger she has faced with any name recognition. (In 2006, park ranger David Vane captured just 8 percent of the vote, to Conway’s 92 percent. In 2002, Conway ran unopposed, and in 1998 she beat Independent challenger Nimrod Westcott Jr. by a 7-to-1 margin.) Torres, who is on the city Planning Commission and several nonprofit boards, vows to connect with the community via social media such as Facebook. “As I knock on doors, I find that there’s no engagement,” he says. Conway brushes off the criticism. “I don’t need Facebook,” she says. “My constituents know how to contact me.”

On the House side, four challengers are vying against two incumbents, with one seat up for grabs. Maggie McIntosh, an 18-year House veteran, is likely to stay right where she is. Known for forging partnerships between disparate parties—such as farmers and environmentalists—McIntosh is chair of the Environmental Matters Committee and one of the most powerful people in the General Assembly. If reelected, she says one priority will be to address the city’s aging sewer and water infrastructure.

Incumbent Curt Anderson, a former TV news anchor with a long history in the House, is perhaps best known for his opposition to legalizing slot machines in Maryland. He chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and the bills he sponsors tend to reflect that. If reelected, he vows to try and increase the number of treatment beds for “drug-dependent” people. “I’ve been really working hard on trying to come up with a solution to Baltimore’s violence problem,” he says. “And part of the solution is to decrease the number of people who use drugs.”

Anderson and McIntosh have bestowed their blessings on Mary Washington for the open delegate seat, though she ran against them in 2006, coming in a close fourth. Now associate director of a nonprofit program that connects young people with green jobs, Washington says she wants to increase after-school programs and look into how the school system is funded. “I’d like to move to a formula that is based more on need,” she says. Washington has numerous endorsements, including a number of LGBT organizations. Washington would join McIntosh as one of the few openly gay delegates in the General Assembly.

If anyone has a chance of beating Washington, it’s Kelly Fox. A member of the New Democratic Club and a former mayoral appointee to the Civilian Review Board (under Mayor Martin O’Malley), Fox ran for City Council in the 14th District in 2003, garnering 12 percent of the vote. Fox likes to emphasize his ties to Northeast Baltimore. “I’m not a political opportunist,” he says. “I’ve been here all my life.” (Washington is originally from Philadelphia, Anderson was born in Chicago, and McIntosh is a Kansas native.) He points to job development workshops, fundraisers, and a community center he helped fund as examples of his commitment. He pledges to help small businesses by curbing taxes and giving them easier access to loans.

Rodney Burris, a 28-year-old education consultant, is perhaps the most polished speaker among the candidates, but this is his first run for public office. He decided to run after traveling around the country helping teenagers apply for financial aid. “I really got to see huge disparities between the schools in my city and other places,” he says. Burris would like to raise taxes on alcohol and divert money from building juvenile detention facilities into education and jobs. “My name begins with “B,” he says, “so I’ll be pretty high up on the ballot.”

Leon Hector Sr., a retired master mechanic from Trinidad and Tobago, rounds out the bill. “I’m tired of the incumbents that are in office doing nothing,” he says. He promises tax breaks for businesses and says city workers should be required to live in the city. Hector runs a lively campaign, his first. At one forum, he suggested that prisons be made more uncomfortable. “When they go to jail, send them to a place like in French Guiana,” he said. “I bet they won’t go back.”

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