City Primary: Not Half Bad

September 17, 1994

Tuesday's primary election could have spelled worse trouble for Baltimore City, which lost one Senate seat and four House of Delegates seats in redistricting. But, overall, voters chose wisely. Instead of weakening the city's representation in Annapolis further, they strengthened it.

The city's primary gains are in stark contrast to results in many counties.

While Democratic voters in Baltimore renominated John A. Pica Jr., who chairs the city's Senate delegation, and effectively elected to the Senate Perry Sfikas and Nathaniel McFadden, voters in a Howard County-Prince George's district unceremoniously dumped Sen. Thomas Yeager, Howard-Baltimore County voters retired Sen. Nancy Murphy and Northwest Baltimore County constituents ousted Janice Piccinini.

Even if no further upsets were to occur in the general election, these outcomes -- along with sweeping changes in delegate nominees -- are likely, at least temporarily, to undermine the power potential of some counties at a time when new political dynamics are being tested in Annapolis.

The House delegation from Baltimore County, in particular, seems destined for a period of learning and adjustment. It lost several long-time members who may have had their weaknesses but knew the ways of Annapolis. Meanwhile, five of Baltimore County's districts now include city neighborhoods and most of them are likely to be represented by politicians with bases in the city.

For Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke this situation presents an opportunity, if he knows how to maximize it. Mr. Sfikas is a councilman who understands the grass-roots view of local needs. So is Timothy Murphy, who won a Democratic nomination for the House. And Mr. McFadden is a former councilman. Although new to Annapolis, each has previous government experience that ought to enable them to hit the ground running.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Democratic primary was the voters' decision to nominate Nathaniel T. Oaks, who was convicted in 1988 of stealing campaign funds, to a 41st District seat. In contrast, voters in the neighboring 40th District showed sophistication by rejecting attempts by Robert L. Clay, a wealthy contractor from Laurel, to buy a seat through lavish spending.

The primary showed once again how difficult it is for a newcomer to triumph if not affiliated with a major organization. Clarence Mitchell IV did, in the 44th District delegates' race, because of his family name. The strong performances of losing candidates Joan Carter Conway (43rd) and Verna Jones (44th) suggest they may have a political future, if they persevere.

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