Council “Dean” Challenged
Rikki Spector faces first competitive election in 5th District since 2003
Published: July 20, 2011
In the 2007 city elections, no one filed to run against City Councilmember Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (D-5th District)—even after she publicly acknowledged that she doesn’t actually live in her Northwest Baltimore district, but in a downtown luxury condominium with her longtime boyfriend, Oscar Brilliant. This time around, though, the 74-year-old Spector faces four Democrats vying to unseat her after 34 years in office, the longest incumbency on the Council.
“There’s no free pass,” Spector says about this year’s race. “It’s very healthy. You’re supposed to be challenged and stand up and earn it again.”
Whether Spector’s status as the unofficial “dean of the council” is actually threatened, though, depends on the challengers’ ability to whittle away at her long-established base without so splitting the votes among themselves that she easily wins. In the 2007 Democratic primary election, nearly 6,400 voters supported the unopposed Spector. Conceivably, if this year’s five-way primary attracts the same number of voters, the Democratic nomination could go to a candidate with just 2,000 votes or less.
The 5th District’s 18 precincts, amassed in the city’s northwest corner, encompass the mostly middle-class neighborhoods along and outside of Northern Parkway, from Roland Park in the east to Grove Park in the west. Census data from 2010 show the district’s nearly 44,000 residents to be just over 50 percent African-American, 43 percent white, and the remainder largely Asian and Hispanic. More than a quarter of Spector’s 2007 votes came from just three precincts—one in Mount Washington, one in Grove Park, and one straddling Cross Country and Cheswolde—so they are likely to be important battlegrounds this year.
All of the challengers are political neophytes. The Democrats on the Sept. 13 primary ballot are Scott Carberry, Luke Durant Jr., Curtis Jones, and Derrick Lennon, and the Republican on the Nov. 8 general election ballot is Ari Winokur. As of press time, none had formed campaign committees with the Maryland Board of Elections. Though their names have not previously graced any ballots, Lennon claims some familiarity with campaigning locally, having helped manage 44th District Democratic state Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell’s 2006 campaign.
Carberry, a Mount Washington resident, said he’d raised $75 as of July 12. It is unclear how much money the other candidates have raised—though Lennon, who is president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association, says he expects his campaign to cost at least $60,000, and Jones, also a Glen resident, predicts he’ll raise between $15,000 and $25,000. In the year leading up to her uncontested 2007 primary, Spector’s campaign spent more than $23,000, so she can be expected to raise and spend much more this time around, given the crowded field.
Carberry, 43, works at Good Samaritan Hospital, overseeing the provision of prescribed, catered diets to patients. A former U.S. Marine who entered the military right after high school, he says the experience took him to locations around the world and taught him valuable interpersonal skills, since augmented, about how to engender teamwork and cooperation to solve problems. Among his key concerns for the district and the city as a whole is having public-school students taught environmental education from a young age and boosting an environmentally friendly manufacturing base for clean jobs. (He is also, in the interest of full disclosure, the first cousin of City Paper contributor Violet LeVoit.)
Attempts to contact Durant for this article failed, since the contact information he filed with the elections board did not include a phone number and the listed e-mail address was invalid. According to press accounts, he’s a well-known Santa Claus during the holiday season and was part owner of his family’s popcorn-and-candy retail business that, until last year, had been a fixture for decades at Mondawmin Mall and elsewhere.
At 26 years old, Jones is the youngest candidate in the race. In an e-mail, he explains that he runs Takeova Youth Mentors Inc., a group “that promotes financial independence and social responsibility in young men and women ages 15 to 21.” In an interview, he explains that the group, along with two other businesses he formed, Take Ova Entertainment LLC and Take Ova Clothing LLC, provides entertainment opportunities for young people, including at Baltimore nightclubs such as Dubai Night Club and its predecessor, the Velvet Rope. He says voters should not be concerned about his 2005 second-degree assault conviction (“I was in the wrong place in the wrong time,” he explains) or his current drunken- and reckless-driving charges, scheduled for trial in late July, in which he was clocked going 98 miles per hour in a Mercedes on Route 97 in Glen Burnie at three in the morning last Thanksgiving (“I was rushing to a family member that was being rushed to the hospital,” he says).
Lennon, 45, is a transportation coordinator at Chimes, a nonprofit that helps developmentally disabled people. He says he’s running because he’s “sick and tired of being sick and tired of what’s going on in our city,” and he wants to “bring about some new ideas”—which won’t happen, he adds, “as long as we keep voting the same people in. Until we change the way we do things, we will continue to get the same results.” Saying he’s troubled by Spector not living in the district because “you can’t identify with the problems unless you live among them,” he contends that “people are ready for new blood. We’re all frustrated.”
Winokur, a 29-year-old Republican candidate who lives in Cheswolde, is an information-technology systems engineer who says he is concerned about the city’s fiscal health and dwindling population.
Spector first gained her seat in 1977, when she was appointed to serve the unexpired term of her husband, Allen Spector, upon his selection as a district-court judge. (Allen Spector, who was removed from the bench and disbarred after a 1980 bribery conviction, died in 1990.) Her name has succeeded on ballots ever since, and she has joked famously that, “I’ve been appointed and elected—I think I should serve by divine right.” She boasts a reputation for accessibility and attention to constituent services, and emphasizes that experience counts, pointing especially to her longtime involvement with the Maryland Association of Counties, where she says she’s established productive relationships with officials around Maryland. She was the City Council’s representative on the city’s Planning Commission for years, and, though she chairs no Council committees, she is a member of two of them: Executive Appointments and Urban Affairs and Aging.
Over the past year, Spector’s entanglements involving the waterfront condominium where she lives—Harborview—have landed her in some hot water. In January, the Baltimore City Ethics Board closed an investigation into Spector’s interactions with city regulators handling dismissed mold citations involving two Harborview units by asking her to stop contacting city agencies on behalf of the condominium’s tenants association. Then, in late June, James W. Ancel Sr.—who, as the owner of one of the moldy units, had filed the ethics complaint against Spector—sued the councilmember and nine other city officials. The lawsuit says Spector and the other officials illegally denied Ancel’s requests for city records about the mold citations and Spector’s role in them.
Spector says she first heard of Ancel’s lawsuit during a July 15* interview for this article. “He [previously] demanded that I give him all my paperwork, my computer—I can’t produce anything that’s not there, I have nothing,” Spector says. She adds that she’s “not surprised” Ancel sued, since “he seems to get lawyers to do what he wants.” Ancel and his attorney, Kathryn Goldman, declined to comment.
* Correction: The initial version of this story mistakenly reported that the interview took place on Aug. 15.
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