Newcomers could spell end to 2nd District coalition voting Independent candidates given good odds to win CITY PRIMARY ELECTION/ SECOND COUNCIL DISTICT

September 08, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

For years, the ability to appeal to residents in vastly different communities has been a requirement for candidates wooing voters in the 2nd District.

There are the stately stone homes of Guilford; the wide row houses of integrated, middle-class Charles Village; the elegant town houses of Bolton Hill, and the down-at-the-heels streets of majority-white Remington or majority-black Barclay-Greenmount. In Mount Vernon, gay nightclubs do a thriving business; off North Avenue, a Korean business community is developing around an indoor shopping mall.

"It's not only unbecoming, it's unwise to campaign here from a parochial point of view," says City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who got her start in Baltimore politics by running on a black-white coalition ticket in 1975.

But tensions between the two City Council incumbents seeking re-election -- Anthony J. Ambridge, who is white, and Carl Stokes, who is black -- could spell the end of the coalition formula that has dominated 2nd District politics since the late 1960s.

Mr. Ambridge, a two-term incumbent, has accused Mr. Stokes of campaigning differently before different audiences. Mr. Stokes has praised Mr. Ambridge in talks before audiences in mostly white Bolton Hill, but at times has ignored him while campaigning in black neighborhoods east of Greenmount Avenue, urging voters to support black candidates instead.

Mr. Stokes downplays the disagreement and says that he and Mr. Ambridge will be supporting each other on Election Day. But Mr. Stokes, who is seeking re-election for the first time, does not deny that his tactics change depending on his audience. He says Mr. Ambridge is no innocent, though, having done the same thing when they ran together four years ago.

zTC "We'll live through this, too," says Mr. Stokes.

In fact, the district's dominant political club, New Democratic Coalition-2, has endorsed both Mr. Ambridge and Mr. Stokes, as well as longtime community activist Paula Johnson Branch of Berea.

But this year, who balances what ticket with whom may not matter that much. The City Council contest in the 2nd District has attracted a host of energetic, independent candidates who are campaigning aggressively. Any one of a half dozen newcomers is given a good chance of winning the council seat left open by the decision of incumbent Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean to run for comptroller, or even of knocking off one of the two incumbents, Mr. Ambridge or Mr. Stokes.

Their variety fits the district perfectly: From the eastern part of the 2nd, for example, comes Beatrice Gaddy, who has made a citywide reputation running a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Southeast Baltimore; Oliver's Pamela Carter is hoping the 1,000 new voters she registered will turn out for her on Primary Day; Guilford's Peter Beilenson, a doctor at John Hopkins

Hospital, says he has knocked on some 8,000 doors, often during his lunch hour; from Oakenshawe, businessman Michael Jankowski is pushing issues such as recycling and litter in the streets.

To a candidate from Charles Village, Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, goes the award for the most creative publicity stunt of the campaign season: Early in August, Ms. Shapiro sent out live goldfish in transparent plastic bags, with the message that she was "fishing for your vote."

The district -- a boot-shaped area with Berea in East Baltimore at the toe, Mount Vernon at the heel and Charles Village along the leg -- is not the same one that elected Mr. Ambridge and Mr. Stokes in 1987.

Predominately white Hampden is gone, and so is predominately black Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, both lopped off in the redistricting approved by the council in March. Added to the district were Butchers Hill and McElderry-Decker, near Patterson Park.

The new boundaries had the effect of reducing the percentage of black voters in the area from about 67 percent to 64 percent, raising some concerns that the re districting could cost the area a black council representative.

The loss of black voters due to redistricting might even harm the re-election chances of its chief architect, Mr. Stokes. Mr. Ambridge, on the other hand, said he is the real underdog because the redistricting plan cost him Hampden.

But the changes have not affected the issues much. Concerns about crime, schools and -- except for the tony northern end of the district -- filthy alleys, are what they hear the most about, regardless of where they are campaigning.

"I don't buy the notion that you have to have a different message in Guilford and a different message in Berea," said Dr. Beilenson. "I think most of the issues cross neighborhood boundaries."

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