Vote on Sept. 13
Primary election endorsements
Published: September 7, 2011
Baltimore City politics have been so thoroughly Democrat-dominated for so long that it seems some of the Democrats are morphing into quasi-Republicans, as if to fill/stake out territory in the void left by the lack of interparty opposition. Or there’s some sort of brain parasite on the loose in City Hall. That is the only explanation I can find for the single-minded emphasis on tax cuts that has gripped so many candidates in this fall’s elections. The craze for vowing to cut the property-tax rate across the board seems nonsensical in a city facing the sort of fiscal crisis that Baltimore is, even with all the accompanying (and often less specific) plans to find new taxes and fees elsewhere. A reasonably well-funded city with (eventually, one hopes) lower crime and better schools seems far more likely to attract new residents and new business at any price than a cash-strapped city that struggles to even patch its endemic problems. Nevertheless, I haven’t used tax-cut proposals as a negative litmus test for this year’s City Paper primary-election endorsements.
This is the part wherein I tell you who City Paper thinks you should vote for, a presumptuous move at best. That is especially true in terms of the City Council races. I can give you an overview based on more than a decade’s worth of election coverage, but unless you live on my block, you know your own street better than I do. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know what, if anything, your current City Council representative has done to make living there better. If a challenger has campaigned well enough to make his or her case known to you and impressed you enough that you think he or she might make a better stab at improving your street and this city, then that says something. But if you’re looking for suggestions, especially from a citywide perspective, City Paper has a few. (These recommendations cover only competitive races for the Sept. 13 primary election; individual Republican and third-party candidates will be covered before the general election in November.)
Democratic primary: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
I am as surprised as you are.
In fact, most Baltimoreans I know seem pleasantly surprised by the mayor, who was something of an unknown quantity despite years in public life. She handled some immediate crises (i.e., twin blizzards) fairly well, and tackled a tough budget situation and wrestled it to the ground, at least for now. She has kept the city out of the ditch, and that, in these times, is no small achievement. In writing this endorsement, however, I have wrestled nearly endlessly with whether it’s enough.
There’s a lot to be said for promoting from within. You tend to get people who know the drill. Of course, one of the potential pitfalls is that bad habits and malaise can carry over along with institutional knowledge and best practices. An appointed mayor is under less pressure to promote a platform, a vision for the city for voters to sign off on, than are other candidates. Rawlings-Blake’s appointment has run its course, and she has done little to articulate to the voters who could extend her term where she thinks the city should go from here, or how she will get it there.
If the options for a visionary new broom seemed more convincing, I would be happy to be convinced. Otis Rolley’s ambitious, energetic campaign and detailed plans for nearly every issue are appealing in many ways, but some of the details give me pause. It would be great if Rolley could, as he proposes, build 50 new schools in 10 years; it would be great if he could build even five. But he has not explained how this could happen, especially with the 50 percent property-tax cut he proposes. Jody Landers, a veteran public servant and businessman, has stumped for many of the same issues as Rolley (e.g., making possession of small amounts of marijuana a commensurately minor crime), though he can lack the sort of detail that makes such proposals convincing. State Sen. Catherine Pugh, too, is full of fresh ideas, though she lacks executive experience.
A vote for Rawlings-Blake now, in terms of Baltimore realpolitik, is a vote for not just four, but possibly eight years of the same. A city run relatively well by a seemingly levelheaded executive is nothing to be too upset about. But it’s worth acknowledging that a vote for SRB now also risks endorsing her evident lack of vision and public leadership, and that is upsetting. If the crowded field spurs a breakout rather than a chopping-up of voting blocs, maybe we’ll all be surprised, perhaps even pleasantly so in the long run. But for now, a safe bet may be the best bet.
Republican primary: Vicki Ann Harding
Harding has gotten in her share of zingers and laugh lines in candidate forums, and any Republican running in Baltimore City needs a sense of humor.
Incumbent Joan Pratt (D) is running unopposed.
City Council President
Democratic primary: Bernard C. “Jack” Young
The incumbent, a veteran city pol, is not running unopposed, but he is unopposed in any serious way.
Republican primary: Armand F. Girard
Democratic primary: James Kraft
Two-term incumbent Kraft is not one of the firebrands of the council, rhetorically or politically. That said, he can point to his share of good works and a fairly steady stream of thoughtful legislation, particularly in terms of the environment, an especially crucial issue in his waterside district. He is also one of seemingly few city pols who haven’t been overtaken by tax-cut trendiness. In short, he has continued to acquit himself well enough that his estimable challengers—Jason Kahler and Helene Luce—have little to throw at him that sticks, much less stings.
Democratic primary: Brandon Scott
Brandon Scott is such a perfect candidate for retiring incumbent Nicholas D’Adamo’s seat that it’s almost unnerving. At 27, he’s already a veteran aide to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and has a firm grip on both the workings of City Hall and the mechanics of the stump. Fellow candidates who warn that he’s already too much of an insider may have a point, but if he doesn’t have to spend the first few years of his term learning how things work, voters can hold him to much higher expectations when he comes up for re-election in 2015.
Democratic primary: Robert Curran
Three-term incumbent Robert Curran wasn’t going to run this time around—he told City Paper as much in 2007. Backing up on his plan to leave the council is just one of a number of inconsistencies and minor gaffes in his deficit column. But no one can deny his energy as a legislator (including more or less rewriting the city’s animal-welfare code this year) or the overall improvements along the Harford Road core of his district in recent years. As much as we’d like to encourage civic-minded challenger George VanHook Sr., Curran squeaks out the endorsement.
Democratic primary: Bill Henry
In the interest of disclosure, the 4th is my district. And in the interest of this endorsement, I offer the fact that I was the recipient of a little retail politics from challenger Scherod Barnes, who was going door to door in my neighborhood. One on one, Barnes came off as an impressive politician and a smart, reasonable man. He no doubt hopes that incumbent Bill Henry’s 2010 mini-scandal over expense receipts has weakened his support. But Henry’s active legislative docket remains impressive (mostly wonkish stuff that aims to make things work better rather than grandstanding resolutions) and he remains one of the few current councilmembers who do the job full time and maintain a district office with an open-door policy. It seems far from cynical showmanship, and Henry deserves the benefit of any doubt, i.e., your support.
Democratic primary: Scott Carberry
Is anything printed here going to dissuade voters in the 5th from yet again re-electing Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, the “Dean” of the City Council, as they have time and again over the past 34 years? It seems unlikely. Health-care worker Scott Carberry’s platform is highlighted by environmental concern and some shrewd observations regarding reform (e.g., scrutinizing principals, as much as teachers, to help improve city schools). It may not register with all the district’s voters, but it brings him to the top of the pack of this election’s Not Rikkis. (Disclosure: Carberry is the first cousin of City Paper contributor Violet LeVoit.)
Democratic primary: Sharon Green Middleton
In her first term, Middleton has overcome much of the inertia that comes with entering a body such as the City Council, working on constituent services and picking away at the bigger issues here and there. Her challengers accuse her of remote-control representation through community associations; if she is indeed out of touch, then promising challenger Mark Hughes, a former Middleton campaign worker, may have a shot. But the incumbent appears to have earned herself another term.
Democratic primary: Nick Mosby
One more time: Incumbent Belinda Conaway contends that she resides at 3210 Liberty Heights Ave., which is also the address of record for both her father, Clerk of the Circuit Court (and mayoral candidate) Frank Conaway Sr. (D), and her brother, state Del. Frank Conaway Jr. (D-40th District); at the same time, she has evidently signed documents claiming as her primary residence a home she co-owns with her husband in Baltimore County. When local blogger/gadfly Adam Meister posted about her apparently numerous residences, Conaway slapped him with a $21 million libel suit, only to drop it hastily months later. City law does not expressly forbid a member of City Council from living outside his or her district, but Conaway remains unforthcoming with her constituents on the subject, and the reckless suit speaks poorly of her judgment. Her work as a councilmember does not adequately compensate for these concerns.
Nick Mosby says Conaway’s appalling conduct inspired him to join the race, and it’s a good thing he did. A Poly grad and an engineer for Verizon, he is young and bright and energetic, and although his platform is long on hopeful generalities and short on hard-core specifics, he shows promise as a force for positive change in the 7th, which could use some.
Democratic primary: David Maurice Smallwood
People are always saying that they want change. Dayvon Love certainly represents that. Impressive as the 24-year-old Towson University student is—and he is impressive, both in terms of his political savvy and his dedication—state Department of Juvenile Services worker David Maurice Smallwood presents a variety of fairly specific and well-reasoned positions, and his showing in past district contests (second in 2007 to four-term incumbent Helen Holton, who pleaded no contest to a campaign-finance violation in 2010 and paid a $2,500 fine) indicates that he has community support. Smallwood’s seasoning wins out over Love’s upstart quality.
Democratic primary: Michael Eugene Johnson
Voters in the 9th very well may do as they have unhesitatingly done for decades and return a council representative named Welch to office—in this case, incumbent William “Pete” Welch, who was appointed (not without controversy) to serve out the term of his mother, longtime City Councilmember Agnes Welch, after she retired in 2010. But voters in the 9th are not without good alternatives. While teacher Abigail Breiseth has advanced a platform well worth considering, Michael Eugene Johnson brings a wealth of experience in the community as an advocate, agitator, and small-business developer for the city that it would be nice to see put to good use.
Democratic primary: Edward Reisinger
We hesitate to endorse the incumbent, but his most promising challenger, Bill Marker, has staked his platform on a property-tax cut tied to a change in statewide tax policy. Given that this is a matter that would need to go forward at the state level far more than via the City Council, it calls into question why he’s not stumping for a delegate seat, not to mention what he would bring to the council if actually elected. Reisinger takes it by default.
Incumbent William Cole (D) is running unopposed.
Democratic primary: Odette Ramos
We have nothing at all against incumbent and longtime local pol Carl Stokes personally, but his ongoing political race-hopping is troubling. He filed first this year for mayor, before jumping out of that race and refiling for his relatively new appointed 12th District seat right at the deadline in early July, in direct opposition to his aide Robert Stokes (no relation), who had hoped to succeed him (and has since withdrawn from the race). The 12th deserves more focused representation, and political newcomer Odette Ramos represents an excellent opportunity to opt for that. She’s running her campaign like she really wants the job—this job—and she sports a detailed and intriguing platform that indicates she won’t squander the opportunity (e.g., rolling the city’s many derelict houses and vacant lots into receivership through housing court). At the very least, she would not be the same old same-old.
Democratic primary: Shannon Sneed
Incumbent Warren Branch is only finishing his first four years in office, but he hasn’t exhibited initiative or industry enough to warrant many expectations for him in any future term. Challenger Shannon Sneed, however, has made a case for herself as a committed community activist with practical ideas—if she only follows through on her pledge to strengthen enforcement of the laws we have on the books already, that will be an improvement. And her TV-journalist background might bring a much-needed scrutiny to the Hall. As a relative newcomer, she is a bit of a gamble, but she seems like a good bet.
Incumbent Mary Pat Clarke (D) is running unopposed.
> Email Lee Gardner