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Mobtown Beat

Four challengers—and the AFL-CIO—take on Belinda Conaway in Baltimore's 7th District

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Conway


The Conaway dynasty sells well at Baltimore polls. In last fall’s state elections, for instance, three Conaways—Frank Conaway Sr. (D), the clerk of the city’s circuit court; Mary Conaway (D), the city’s register of wills; and Frank Conaway Jr. (D), a 40th District state delegate—easily won re-election, collectively garnering nearly 8,300 votes from Democrats in the 22 precincts that now make up the Baltimore City Council’s newly redrawn 7th District, where incumbent City Councilmember Belinda Conaway is now running for re-election. But Belinda Conaway, who is the daughter of Conaway Sr., sister of Conaway Jr., and stepdaughter of Mary Conaway, has a tough race on her hands.

Fresh from dropping an embarrassing, high-profile lawsuit she filed against a member of the media who found real estate records that indicate she lives in Baltimore County, Belinda Conaway also failed to get a potent union endorsement from the AFL-CIO, which almost always backs incumbents.

The lawsuit, which she filed in May and dropped on Aug. 1, accused the Examiner newspapers, owner Philip Anschutz, and Baltimore blogger Adam Meister of libel, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and asked for $21 million in damages. She brought it after Meister wrote an online column in March that used public records to show Conaway receives a homestead-tax credit in Baltimore County, where she signed affidavits claiming her principal residence is a Randallstown home she co-owns with her husband. Conaway says she lives with her family at 3210 Liberty Heights Ave., in a house where her father and brother also claim to reside.

Conaway is sensitive about the lawsuit and the question of where she lives. “I’m really not going to address any questions about that,” she says, after saying she does, in fact, live in the city and that she did, in fact, benefit from the homestead-tax credit at the Randallstown house. Asked whether she plans to return the homestead-tax money, she says she will “if my husband and I are not entitled to it.” When asked how that is to be determined, she clams up: “I don’t have anything else to say about that. I’m not going to be baited into a conversation about this.”

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Two of her Democratic opponents in the 7th District race say the episode raises key concerns about Conaway’s character and her ties to the communities she represents.

“She filed a ridiculous and bogus lawsuit to tie up the courts,” says 32-year-old Nick Mosby (right), an electrical engineer for Verizon who lives with his family in the home they own in Reservoir Hill, “and now she’s admitting to not reading false or inaccurate documents that she signed on several occasions—documents that gave her tax credits, which she benefited from for quite some time. The sitting delegate, the sitting councilwoman, and the sitting clerk of the court do not all live and reside in that house [on Liberty Heights Avenue]—nobody actually believes that. Ultimately, her bringing that lawsuit was the reason I jumped in the race.”

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Henry W. Brim, Jr. (left), a 32-year-old resource management specialist for Verizon Wireless who lives in the Coppin Heights area, says, “I see why [Conaway] dropped [the lawsuit]—because she doesn’t live in the city. People know this. I think she did, years ago, but she doesn’t live here now. It raises questions about her integrity and her leadership, signing documents that she says she didn’t read. I like her as a person, and I think she cares, but she needs to live here to really do the job.”

Two other Democratic challengers—Allen Hicks of Hampden and Timothy Mercer of Ashburton—could not be reached for this article.

How the district’s voters view lingering questions about Conaway’s residency remains to be seen, but the AFL-CIO’s decision to back Mosby instead of her has logistical ramifications. The AFL-CIO has the wherewithal to send out union members to plug its candidates among voters on Election Day—a critical function, especially for challengers like Mosby, who often lack the resources to mount such labor-intensive efforts.

Mosby is understandably proud of the AFL-CIO endorsement, which is the only one in this year’s city elections to go to a non-incumbent. “The fact that they’ve decided not to go with the incumbent means they have to help me,” Mosby says. “They back winners, so they can’t have Conaway win.”

In 2007, Mosby ran for City Council in the 11th District, which then included Reservoir Hill. In that outing, he came in fourth in a nine-way contest that went to William Cole. Nearly a third of Mosby’s 600 or so votes in that race came from Reservoir Hill, but to compete in the 7th District, which stretches from Hampden/Woodberry south to Gilmor Homes, and from the Jones Falls Expressway at North Avenue west to Walbrook Junction, Mosby will need traction in many more precincts. The district’s 44,337 residents, according to 2010 Census data, are more than four-fifths black and a little over 15 percent white.

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Most of the new 7th District is “all new territory for me,” Mosby says, “and I’m basically fighting a machine, a really strong name.” He emphasizes the magnitude of effort he and the other three Democrats challenging Conaway—Brim, Hicks (right), and Mercer—need to muster for one of them to win, but says “it’s exciting. There’s so much potential in this city—that’s why I’m so excited, to help drive policy that’s going to truly change the city.”

Mosby says he’s raised about $10,000 so far to underwrite his campaign (according to campaign finance data, it’s actually just under $9,000), and expects to raise and spend a total of about $30,000 by the Sept. 13 primary election—enough for a variety of signage and two mailings to the district’s voters. He points out that Belinda Conaway’s campaign committee has never been a big spender. Online records show that since it was formed in 2007, Friends of Belinda K. Conaway has reported raising about $7,500 and spending a little over $10,000, $4,000 of it repaying a loan from Conaway for Mayor, one of Frank Conaway Sr.’s campaign committees.

Mosby grew up in Baltimore City and, after graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, finished his education at Tuskegee University in Alabama—an experience that he says “expanded my horizons” and made him realize how “when you grow up Baltimore City, a lot of things become normalized in your mind. But when you leave and come back, and are struck at how bad things are, you realize it doesn’t have to be this way.” His platform, he says, is the same as it was when he ran in 2007: “a more efficient, accountable, and transparent government” that leverages its budget “to maximize the city’s potential and drive a more efficient product” that enhances investments in children and in retaining city residents that might otherwise transplant elsewhere.

Brim, who is blind, says he’s been “an avid community activist since I was 15 years old, and even though I lost my sight, I have a vision for Baltimore. I want to help people who have bigger issues than mine,” especially the poor and homeless. In addition to his day job with Verizon Wireless, he runs a side business as a motivational speaker, appearing before audiences of at-risk youngsters and ex-offenders returning from prison.

In the Nov. 8 general election, the Democratic primary victor will face Republican Michael John Bradley, who, like Mosby, lives in Reservoir Hill. Bradley could not be reached for this article.

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