3rd District echoes with cries of 'it's time for a change' Strong field of 11 enters Northeast's redrawn territory CITY PRIMARY ELECTION/THIRD COUNTIL DISTRICT

September 08, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert

While campaigning in the predominantly black middle-class neighborhood of Ramblewood in the 3rd District, Maegertha "Mary" Whitaker tells voters that redistricting has altered the political landscape of Northeast Baltimore.

"The district is now 62 percent black and it is time for a change in local leadership, time the district has black representation," Ms. Whitaker says as she goes door-to-door seeking votes for her bid to win a council seat.

One Ramblewood resident, Les Allen, a 29-year-old black professional, readily agreed with Ms. Whitaker's assertion that black representation is long overdue.

"I would much rather have a council member who has the same cultural background and mind-set as I do rather than someone who really doesn't understand my heritage or my problems but just says things they think will please me," said Mr. Allen.

But Linda Norton, a post office supervisor who is black, said she wouldn't be voting purely based on race but "for who I think are the three best candidates."

On a different week in the same Ramblewood neighborhood, Kevin O'Keeffe, a young white attorney and former aide to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, tells voters that he, too, represents change.

"We need new leadership with new ideas and more creative approaches to the problems facing the district and the city," Mr. O'Keeffe said.

The new councilmanic redistricting plan changed the racial composition of the 3rd District from 56 percent white to more than 60 percent black.

Just as importantly, redistricting carved out the areas of the district that were the political bedrock of the white political clubs. For decades, these clubs dominated politics in the 3rd.

At least one seat is up for grabs as one of the three white incumbent council members, Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, decided to run for city comptroller rather than seek re-election to the council.

These factors drew out a strong field of challengers both black and white who never before had much of an opportunity to win a council seat in the district.

Although the racial balance of the 3rd changed, it still remains a predominantly middle-class district. Many 3rd District residents say they are concerned about the quality of the schools, property taxes and crime.

"For this city to survive, we need to attract more middle-class families back to our neighborhoods and keep those who are still here from leaving," said Belle Kachadourian, a retiree who, with

her husband, Ara, have lived in Ramblewood for 40 years. "Until then, our schools, our communities won't improve."

The two remaining incumbents, Martin E. "Mike " Curran, a 14-year veteran, and Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, who has served the district for five years, contend that they should be re-elected because they have been effective leaders.

"We have taken the initiative on legislation that deals with issues like quality education and recycling, plus Mike [Curran] and I have led the push for property tax relief every year," Mr. Cunningham said.

"We've served this district effectively both in our constituent service and in bringing new ideas to the council," Mr. Curran said, adding: "Otherwise, we've wouldn't have been re-elected in the past."

Hoping to win black support, Mr. Curran and Mr. Cunningham asked Ms. Whitaker to join their ticket, but her political club rejected the proposal. Afterward, the incumbents predicted that they would be re-elected and said they would stand back and watch the 11 challengers slug it out for the third seat.

Of the 11 challengers, eight are black, the largest field of black candidates to ever run in the district.

Ms. Whitaker, a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. employee, and George E. Brent, an aide to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, appear to be the strongest of the black challengers.

Out on the stump, Mr. Brent touts his experience in doing constituent work for Ms. Clarke and his knowledge of how city government works.

Mr. Brent, a resident of the 2nd District before redistricting, is expected also to benefit from Ms. Clarke's popularity in the black community. She has been spending a great deal of time campaigning door-to-door with Mr. Brent.

Ms. Whitaker has the sole endorsement of the 43/44 Democratic Club, the most influential black political organization in the district.

Ms. Whitaker has been endorsed by all the state legislative leaders in both the 43rd and 44th Legislative districts. The 3rd Councilmanic District covers parts of both legislative districts.

"It's time that the 3rd be represented by a black and Mary [Whitaker] is the most electable candidate among those running," said state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., who is white and represents the 43rd.

With eight black candidates running, it is likely that the black vote will be splintered, making it difficult for a black to win without biracial support, Mr. Pica said. For that very reason, the 43/44 club decided against endorsing a council ticket of three blacks even though two of them -- Linda C. Janey and Nina Harper -- are also club members.

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