City's neglect of low-income complex draws candidate into council race

September 16, 1993|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

The neglect of an Annapolis low-income apartment complex by city officials has drawn a moving company account executive into a race to unseat a two-term city alderman.

James M. Leckinger, 28, said he decided to run for the Annapolis City Council after city officials condemned the Bay Ridge Garden Apartments in Eastport last March after finding about 600 housing code violations.

Mr. Leckinger, who is running an aggressive campaign against 7th Ward incumbent Theresa DeGraff for the nomination that will be decided in Tuesday's Republican primary, said the city should have recognized the problems at the apartment complex and taken action earlier.

Violations found during a review last winter at the 197-unit complex included loose plastic flapping in open windows, corroded electrical wiring, stuck fire doors and faulty plumbing.

"That was the event that set me on edge," Mr. Leckinger said of his decision to run for office.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Richard Staisloff, who is running unopposed for his party's nomination to represent the ward, which wraps around the south shore of Back Creek and along Bay Ridge Avenue to Tyler Avenue.

Alderman Carl Snowden, a Democrat running unopposed in the 5th Ward, noted that Republican primary races rarely are contested in Annapolis. He said Mr. Leckinger's challenge to Ms. DeGraff indicates a splintering in the Republican Party and the vulnerability of the incumbent.

Ms. DeGraff, 35, who was elected to the council in 1985, said she was aware of the problems at Bay Ridge Gardens but that it took time to work with the residents and owners to find a solution to the deteriorating apartments.

She said Mr. Leckinger's criticism of the apartment situation is unfair because he did not work on solving the problems.

It was her job to do something about the apartments, not his, Mr. Leckinger countered.

The property is being bought by Landex Corp., a Rhode Island investment company that specializes in renovating low-income properties. The company plans to spend $12 million to completely overhaul Bay Ridge Gardens.

Ruth Crystal, executive director of the Maryland Low Income Housing Coalition, which helped counsel Bay Ridge Garden tenants, agreed that the city ignored the problems too long. "They hoped it would go away," she said.

Residents had complained for years about faulty and loose electrical wiring, doors that wouldn't lock, holes in the walls, leaking roofs and flooded basement apartments. Although the city repeatedly cited the owners for code violations, it was not until January that a comprehensive inspection of the complex was undertaken.

Mr. Leckinger said it had been apparent for years that there were problems at the complex. He promised to expedite renovations of the apartments if he is elected to the council.

He said he also would improve communication within the ward by publishing a monthly newsletter about council issues and by encouraging the formation of an all-ward community association.

In addition, he stressed the need for fiscal responsibility in the city and said he would push for benefit packages for public-safety workers.

DTC Mr. Leckinger graduated from St. Francis Preparatory School in Spring Grove, Pa., and studied accounting at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He is a corporate account executive with United Van Lines in Annapolis.

He has lived in Annapolis 17 years and in the 700 block of Tyler Ave. since July 1992.

Ms. DeGraff, who lives in the first block of Windwhisper Lane, said she is seeking re-election because she enjoys the job and the satisfaction of seeing things get done. "You see your accomplishments awfully fast," she said

She said she is proud of her work to bring a nature park to her ward and overseeing the dredging of Back Creek. She said she '' has responded to citizens who wanted sidewalks installed, trees planted, benches put at bus stops and turn arrows painted on streets.

"The biggest things are the little things," she said. "I take care of the little things, and the big things take care of themselves."

Ms. DeGraff said that if re-elected, she will continue to focus on the Bay Ridge Gardens renovation and work to annex the Chesapeake Harbour communities, just across the county line on Bembe Beach Road, to the city.

A graduate of Northeast High School, Ms. DeGraff was a linguist in the Army for four years, then a property manager. She later graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in criminology and works in pretrial services at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center.

More than 1,800 voters are registered in the 7th Ward, including 1,032 Democrats, 578 Republicans, and 222 independents.

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