For decades, West Baltimore's Fourth District was famous for its factional politics and dogfights that produced hordes of candidates tearing one another apart during election campaigns.
All that now seems to be just a memory. The politically active black middle-class is moving out of the city, the godfathers are gone: Sen. Verda F. Welcome is dead, Sen. Troy Brailey was retired by voters and the aging William L. "Little Willie" Adams is more interested in lucrative business deals than sponsoring candidates. As political clubs have withered, so has election fever. Where 17 contenders were running for the Fourth District's three council seats in 1987, only six are now. There are few nervous moments for the incumbents.
A couple of extra candidates are in the race in the neighboring Fifth District, but the story is the much the same. As the Jewish population gravitates toward Owings Mills in Baltimore County, stalwarts retire, old political clubs disappear and political interest in city candidates ceases. In a departure from the past, Councilwoman Rikki Spector does not even have a Jewish primary candidate running against her in this year's election.
Her two black teammates, Vera P. Hall and Iris G. Reeves, seem equally secure. Although four black candidates are challenging the incumbents, only one of them seems to have the name recognition needed. But Isaiah C. Fletcher Sr., a former Republican, does not have resources. And as former executive director of the Park Heights Community Corp., he is embroiled in nasty charges and counter-charges which led to that organization being ordered closed by the city in January.
Another challenger, Michael E. Johnson, is making his second try for the council. Although he has won praise for his community work, he has so far been unable to get his campaign off the ground. Two other candidates, Harold W. McFadden and V. Lee Brady, are likely to get some support because of prior political activity.
In the Fourth District, the three incumbents, Agnes Welch, Lawrence Bell and Sheila Dixon, face three opponents with scant following. The most intriguing challenger in this virtually all-black district is George Wiles, a white Woodberry resident who campaigns under the slogan, "It's time for a change."
If turnout is light in these districts on Sept. 12, it is unlikely to hurt the incumbents. However, small numbers might have a decisive impact on the closely contested city comptroller's race.