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Mobtown Beat

Challenge Stage

Veteran hopeful and first-timer vie for Middleton’s 6th District seat

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Sharon Green Middleton

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Mark E. Hughes

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Rhonda Wimbish

As her first four-year term as an elected member of the Baltimore City Council draws to a close, 57-year-old Sharon Green Middleton (D) is looking to keep her 6th District seat. But two Democratic challengers—Mark E. Hughes, a 39-year-old community organizer from Park Lane who lost two prior electoral outings for state delegate, and 49-year-old Rhonda Wimbish, a realtor from Ashburton who has not run for office before—say Middleton has failed to build a track record of accessible advocacy for the district, and they want to replace her.

“My first term has been a way to prove myself, that I am a community person,” Middleton says, contending that she’s succeeded. “I have the support of every single community-association leader in the 6th District,” she boasts, adding that the district—which includes a belt of neighborhoods from Roland Park in the northeast to Windsor Hills in the southwest, with the shank of the Park Heights corridor in the middle—is “very interesting and very diverse, economically and culturally.” Demographic data from the 2010 Census show that, of the district’s population of a little more than 45,000 people, just over four-fifths are African-American, nearly 17 percent are white, and the rest are Asian or Hispanic.

Middleton, whose husband is Glenard Middleton, executive director of the public-employee union AFSCME Local 44, says part of her strategy for keeping open the lines of communication with her constituents is maintaining strong ties with their community associations. “It is imperative that people in the neighborhoods be a part of their community association,” she explains, “and if you are, then you will have a connection to your councilperson. If anybody wants to talk to me, I’ll pick up the phone and call them.”

Wimbish, though, says Middleton repeatedly failed to call her back on the main issue that has compelled her to file as a challenger: 34 houses Wimbish says have been left vacant due to foreclosures in the 6th District’s precincts in Ashburton. “We don’t have a voice in City Hall—our representative is a complete no-show,” Wimbish concludes. With 25 years as a realtor under her belt, Wimbish says she’s spent “the last two years as an advocate, writing letters and making calls” to local leaders, including Middleton, about local manifestations of the national housing-market crisis, but to no avail. “With the exception of Roland Park,” Wimbish says, Middleton “wants people to contact her through their community association.”

Wimbish says she tried unsuccessfully to recruit another candidate to take on Middleton, but, about two months ago, decided she’d do it herself. She lists her priorities, should she be elected, as eliminating estimated water bills, ensuring fairness in property-tax calculations, rotating police officers in an effort to prevent corruption, fighting for jobs in Park Heights, promoting good nutrition, and eradicating rats. Over the past two years, while organizing her advocacy and campaign efforts, Wimbish says she’s let her real estate license and her two real estate companies—Sky’s the Limit Realty LLC and Sky’s the Limit Inc.—go “inactive.”

Hughes worked on Middleton’s successful 2007 campaign—a contention that Middleton confirms—so his candidacy amounts to a defection. “I know her [election] strategy because I worked with her last time,” Hughes explains, contending that “some of the support she has is paper-thin” this time. Asked why he’s running, he says, “Number one, because I just do not feel that we have the proper representation. I always see the councilwoman’s aides, but hardly ever see her. I was expecting more visibility, but didn’t see it.” He contrasts Middleton with two councilmembers from neighboring districts whom he sees as models—Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) and Bill Henry (D-4th District)—and says it is “like night and day.”

Hughes, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and came to Baltimore in 1994 to teach after college, is currently a Spanish instructor at Sojourner-Douglass College. He has put in years as a community organizer, including for the Community Law Center and Greater Homewood, and says he came to politics as a result of his work with community associations. He says his priorities, if elected, would be constituent services, first and foremost, followed by fighting for fairer taxes (he’s concerned that tax breaks for developers aren’t yielding the promised jobs for local residents) and reforming the appointment process for filling vacancies on the City Council.

Hughes first ran for office in 2002, seeking one of the 41st District’s state-delegate posts. He ran on then state Sen. Barbara Hoffman’s ticket, and came in sixth in a 12-way race, with 3,599 votes. In 2006, when he came in seventh out of nine candidates for 40th District delegate, he received about a quarter of his 2,151 votes from 6th District precincts in the Park Heights corridor. This time around, he’ll seek to augment those numbers while “scouring the map looking for areas where I have relationships, and build on that,” he says, adding that he has strong ties all over the district, from Roland Park to Windsor Hills.

In the four-way Democratic primary race for City Council in 2007, Middleton lost five of the district’s 22 precincts—three in the Roland Park and Cross Keys communities, and two in the Windsor Hills/Ashburton part of the district. Together, those precincts returned nearly a quarter of the 7,313 votes cast. Middleton says “there’s been a turnaround” in Roland Park, where she now claims to have strong support, and points to her help in having a cell-phone tower removed in Windsor Hills as evidence of her attention to that part of the district. But it’s in Park Heights, she says, where “most of my concentration is focused,” since it is “a major redevelopment area that’s been overlooked for 30 years.”

Middleton’s list of first-term accomplishments that make her proud is long, and includes oversight of the Health Department’s plan to resolve health disparities in the city; working with the district’s major employer, Sinai Hospital, to create community partnerships; siding with the Roland Park Civic League, which successfully fought a development proposal for Baltimore Country Club; helping to reform liquor-store operations in Park Heights; and working to assure the success of the Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging in Park Heights.

“My opponents say that I am not accessible—that’s interesting,” Middleton says. “I’m just going to keep using my leadership and experience to keep things moving. I consider this position an honor, and I want people to know that.”

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