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No one has filed to challenge Mary Pat Clarke's Council seat

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Mary Pat Clarke


City Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) may be perspiring with the rest of us this summer, but she isn’t sweating the September primary. She has approximately $19,000 in her campaign kitty—mostly from previous races—and precisely zero opposition. (The only other incumbent councilmember with no primary challengers is William Cole [D-11th District].)

If anyone was willing to take her on, Clarke would make a formidable opponent. A diminutive 70-year-old prone to passionate oratory during Council meetings—she used to teach courses in public speaking—Clarke is among the most well-known public figures in the city. Along with the advantage of her incumbency in the 14th, which she has represented since 2004, she has deep roots citywide, stemming from her tenure as Baltimore’s first female City Council president, a post she held from 1987 to 1995. (From 1975-’83, she represented what was then the 2nd District.) In 1995, she made an unsuccessful run for mayor against Kurt Schmoke, where she pulled in nearly 56,000 votes to his 96,000.

But in what may come as a relief to other local pols, Clarke has no plans to run for higher office in the future. “There’s a new generation coming along,” she says. “It’s their turn and I need to lend my support there.” (She has endorsed Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for mayor.) “But mainly to work with my family, which is the 14th District.”

That “family” is composed of some 46,000 residents, in an area extending from Belair to Falls Road and from Coldspring Lane/Argonne Drive to 25th/29th streets. Its neighborhoods range from the tony Tuscany-Canterbury—where Clarke lives—to Coldstream Homestead Montebello, which bears one of the city’s highest murder rates. The recent redistricting triggered by the 2010 census caused the 14th to lose two precincts in Pen Lucy, which is lower-income and predominantly African-American, and to gain a whiter, wealthier precinct in the Wyman Park/Hampden/Stone Hill area. But Clarke says the changes will have no effect on her legislative priorities. “I find that from one end of my district to the other, people’s concerns are mainly the same,” she says. “They want safe, clean neighborhoods, they want their family to be able to support themselves, they want decent schools, and they want decent alternatives for their children.”

Clarke, who chairs the Education Committee, cites increasing youth opportunities and jobs as her top priorities. One of her proudest accomplishments of late is her sponsorship of a bill that has yet to pass. Introduced in May 2010, it would require that major retailers in the city—those grossing more than $10 million annually or that are part of a chain that does—pay their employees the city’s living wage. (In 1994, as City Council president, Clarke sponsored what became the nation’s first living-wage law; it applies to workers paid through publicly supported funds.) Clarke introduced the retailer bill in response to a development proposal in Remington that includes a Walmart. It remains in committee, one vote short of passage to the full Council floor, but Clarke is hopeful it will move forward soon.

Other recent bills of Clarke’s include a series of bicycle-friendly ordinances, ranging from one that requires more bike parking to another that established a cyclist’s “bill of rights.” She’s worked on several amendments restoring or providing benefits to police and firefighters and their spouses. (And the city’s police union showed its gratitude late last year, donating $500 to her campaign.)

Primaries seem to become easier for Clarke with each passing term. In 2003, she had three Democratic opponents. (She got nearly seven times as many votes as her closest competitor in that race.) In 2007, she faced just one opponent in the primary, Thomas Conradt. (He got just over 200 votes, to her thousands.) And this year, she’s all alone. Assuming she takes the primary this year (theoretically a write-in candidate could mount a challenge), Clarke faces Green Party candidate Douglas Armstrong in the general election.

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