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Mobtown Beat

Warren Branch faces his first re-election campaign for 13th District City Council

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Warren Branch

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Shannon Sneed

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Gamaliel Harris Jr

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Kimberly Armstrong

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Antonio Glover

City Councilmember Warren Branch faces four challengers for his 13th District City Council seat, which he’s held for one term. All of his challengers say they just don’t see him around much at community meetings. For his part Branch says anyone can win. But not everyone in the race has been making it to the debates or “forums,” and two have baggage—arrest records, business irregularities—that could handicap their efforts to appeal to voters in the east-side neighborhoods dominated by Johns Hopkins hospital and its ambitious redevelopment plans.

The rap on Branch from some observers is that he says little, even during council meetings, and does even less in the way of actual legislating. “I noticed a lot of council people put in legislation that is not going to go anywhere,” Branch says, adding that when he drops a bill into the hopper, it’s because his constituents have requested it.

Asked to name his proudest legislative achievements, Branch mentions two: a city ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in some newly constructed homes and “a bill for sex offenders,” which Branch says people in his district demanded after seeing a sex offender trying to lure kids from a schoolyard.

The sprinkler bill, number 10-0437, names Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) as its lead sponsor. Branch says he came up with the idea and put it through her committee. The sex offender bill—in fact, a proposed ordinance and a resolution—called for prohibiting registered offenders from living within 2,000 feet of “a school, day care center, or location where children congregate,” effectively banning them from the city (“Exiles on Main Street,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 10, 2008). Branch’s ordinance never got out of committee. His resolution passed but the requested state-level legislation has yet to materialize.

Branch says his proudest nonlegislative achievement as a councilmember is “working with developers to contribute funds to both Fort Worthington and to Tench Tilghman [schools]. They are giving $15,000 a year for next three years.”

Branch has raised around $20,000 in campaign funds this year and spent around $24,000.

He courted controversy when he fought, and voted against, the city’s proposed bottle tax on soft drinks. He says the Coca Cola plant in his district employs 100 people, 50 of whom live within walking distance of the building. He says fighting that 2-cent tax was about saving those 50 jobs: “I think we have an obligation to try to preserve employment.”

Branch also touts the 300 or so new houses that have gone up in the district since his 2007 election, including 50 built by Habitat for Humanity and sold at zero percent interest to people who now pay about $500 per month in mortgages. Branch promises to work with Habitat for Humanity to get 47 more houses built. “When I hear people complain about the district, I say it’s not perfection but progress,” Branch says. “I believe what Confucius said—in order for a man take a journey of 1,000 miles he must take the first step.”

Shannon Sneed’s first step was buying a house and moving into the 13th District a few years ago with her husband. The former producer for TV station WJZ says she’s lived all over town, but chose the Ellwood Park neighborhood and immediately got involved. “We organized to get trees on our block,” she says, adding that the 2900 and 3000 blocks of Fayette Street had become “a cul de sac where everything illegal happened,” so getting the neighbors together was a priority. “So we moved the drugs out, we moved the prostitution out . . . we want to green it, get benches.”

Sneed, 30, says she wants to extend that spirit of neighborliness throughout the district to attract merchants with fresh produce and other goods and services the residents need. She says Branch’s big mistake has been “not being an advocate of the people. Not being around the people. Then you know what’s going on, you know what to fight for.” Campaign finance reports show she’s raised about $7,200 for her campaign so far.

If elected Sneed says she’ll work to get better enforcement of the existing codes and laws in the 13th District, and focus on the city’s minority contracting ordinances to get people jobs. Her second priority will be quality of life issues, she says, including an education campaign for residents. Third, she says she would propose a bill to “partner with our youth. Getting our youth involved in some of these projects in our neighborhoods will get their brains working. A lot of them want to be part of the change.”

Sneed, who says she supports Otis Rolley for mayor, agrees that high property taxes are a problem, but thinks the first priority should be improving services and attracting new residents, “then come up with a plan over time to cut” taxes. She says she’d consider a commuter tax like the one Washington, D.C., has. She also likes D.C.’s tiered property-tax system, which charges higher rates to speculators who let buildings sit empty.

Sneed hopes to bring a farmers market to the Northeast Market on Monument Street, and promises not to stay in office long. “This is not going to be a career for me,” Sneed says. “I want to make sure a person with some new ideas comes in, and not 20 years later.”

Antonio Glover’s big idea—he mentions it every chance he gets—is “the rule of reciprocity.”

It means that companies doing business with the city ought to give back to city programs and hire city residents.

Warren Branch’s big mistakes, says Glover, were his lack of support for the living wage bill and fighting the proposed bottle tax. The revenue from the tax was slated to save the jobs of city sanitation workers—like Glover, 34*, a lead worker and mechanical street-sweeper operator at the Bureau of Solid Waste. “That was aimed at us,” Glover says. “It showed me he didn’t care about the folks at Solid Waste . . . and one of the reasons why is because he’s bought by the establishment.”

Glover says that if elected, he’d immediately put in a bill to create and fund more recreation centers. He would also “fund more schools, more jobs and opportunity,” he says.

Asked where the money would come from, Glover responds: reciprocity.

“If the mayor has developers respect the rule of reciprocity,” he says, the developers would be directed to “put money into our rec centers” as well as after-school programs and summer jobs. “The money is there,” Glover insists. “All it takes is a mayor who is strong enough” to negotiate from a position of strength.

He contrasts this vision with recent reality: a city-backed $300 million hotel that is struggling, and a downtown street race slated to attract a hundred thousand, perhaps, oversold as economic development.

Glover says he is unsure how much he’s raised for the campaign. His campaign finance report was not available online several days after the deadline. “We’re a campaign that’s bought by the people and not by the establishment,” Glover, 34, says. “I am a young man with a plan in my hand.”

Gamaliel Harris Jr. also worked as a trash hauler. The 25-year-old Baltimore native and graduate of Patterson High School says the job was in Pennsylvania, and for a private contractor. For the past year he’s worked at Walmart, he says, and also had a second job doing housekeeping at Genesis Care, an eldercare center. “But I dropped that to pursue this,” he adds.

Harris is running for City Council because, he says, “a lot of things were not accomplished” under Branch.

Harris is concerned about crime and the police. “Everybody in the district . . . they say the police is for our protection, but I get more harassed by the police than I do by everyday people,” he says.

If elected, Harris says he would draft bills “that would help more or less with the housing program. More affordable rent. Anything that could help us with our living situation.”

As for campaign funding, Harris has none to speak of: “I pretty much been going out of pocket, because I was working so much,” he says. There is no account on file at the Board of Elections’ web site.

Harris received probation before judgment in a 2006 assault case and was charged in another assault that same year, but that case was put on the inactive docket.

“It was more of an outnumbered situation,” Harris says. Some guys who didn’t like him came up while Harris was escorting some younger kids to a pick-up football game, he says. Harris told the little kids to run, he continues, and ended up in a fight. “They say I beat them up,” Harris says of his assailants. “I got maced and everything . . . then I got in trouble.”

Harris says voters should choose him because “I’m more or less a man of my word, a man of action,” he says. “If I can get city help or not, things will get done.”

An e-mail sent to the campaign of Kimberly Armstrong brings an automated response that reads, in part, “Green Workshops: Saving our earth and protecting our future,” and includes a link to a web page belonging to Diamond Development Consulting LLC, and offering “personal development” workshops for $199 and up.

Armstrong, 42, is a former MTA bus driver whose 16-year-old son was shot to death in 2004. She has published a book and spoken out on Marc Steiner’s radio show, among other forums. According to Armstrong’s blog, in 2008 then City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named Armstrong a “top neighborhood mom.”

Armstrong says she is running against Branch mainly because of his vote in favor of Rawlings-Blake’s budget, which cut services including some for children and youth.

“On the first reader he voted no,” Armstrong says. “I called him up and thanked him. On second he voted for it. His reason was the mayor already had enough votes so he voted with everyone else. So much money cut from early childhood and youth. We can’t use this method of budgeting. Every single year what do they cut first? Education.”

Armstrong also pledges to submit “legislation around family support. Find some resources to really address them . . . help find some wrap-around services or some preventive services” for troubled youth like her late son, Eric.

High water bills would be a third priority, Armstrong says: “The city says we have an ineffective billing method—why raise the rates before you have the billing system administered well?”

Armstrong says she has raised “almost $1,000” for her campaign. (Online campaign finance records show $650 with about $460 on hand.) “I got into this race, I filed on the last day,” Armstrong says.

Armstrong says she makes her living now as a “juvenile and criminal justice advocate and consultant,” adding that “I am for-profit and nonprofit.”

A check of GuideStar’s online database of registered charities finds no listing for United Parents of Incarcerated Children and Youth, the nonprofit to which Armstrong’s automated e-mails urge donations. “It’s part of Fusion Partnerships,” Armstrong says when asked about it. Fusion is a “capacity building” nonprofit that has funded an eclectic array of projects from the Baltimore Free School to Hit and Stay, a documentary co-directed by former City Paper editorial staffer Joe Tropea. Armstrong’s charity is listed in Fusion’s web site under Eric Villines Juvenile Justice Advocacy Program.

Armstrong’s for-profit consultancy, Diamond Development Consulting and Training, was forfeited in 2009, two months after it was registered, according to state tax records, because the check Armstrong used to pay the registration fee bounced.

“So technically my business is not active, but I’m working toward it,” Armstrong says. “I’m a full-time student at Baltimore City Community College.” Armstrong says she is working toward a degree in construction management.

* Correction: The initial version of this story misstated Antonio Glover's age as 32. City Paper regrets the error.

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