GOP has strong bid in 6th, for a change Struggle for seats on City Council gets downright physical

Campaign 1995

November 02, 1995|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

On Election Day, Republican Joseph Brown Jr. hopes to bust up a half-century of Democratic control on the Baltimore City Council.

With support from statewide Republicans and more money to spend in the last week of the campaign than any of his bTC opponents, Mr. Brown's dive into Baltimore politics has created a ruckus in the 6th District, which covers South and Southwest Baltimore.

Since no Republican has served on the City Council for 53 years, the general election is usually a sleepy time in Baltimore, where political jostling is reserved for Democrats fighting among themselves before the primary election in September.

But there's been no political serenity in the 6th District since Mr. Brown, a 37-year-old salesman of insurance and mutual funds, won a Republican nomination for one of three council seats.

Instead, there's been a barroom fight that left another Republican's hand in a splint, an assault charge, a liquor board complaint and a threat of a lawsuit. A surreptitiously made tape recording has a white Democratic nominee saying he does not want Mr. Brown to win because he's black.

Mr. Brown, a newcomer to Baltimore politics, is appealing to frustrated business owners who want better city services in tough neighborhoods and to residents who like his push for tax-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools.

As someone who has no connections to any political machine -- since all are controlled by Democrats anyway -- Mr. Brown is attractive to voters as an untainted, truly independent candidate.

And he stands out with his well-spoken, well-educated manner in a district where proper use of the English language has never been a prerequisite for office.

"I think Joe Brown represents the future of the Republican Party in Baltimore City," said Christopher West, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.

"He is young, vigorous; he is principled; he is intelligent. He relates well to people," said Mr. West, who is excited by the idea that Mr. Brown may have a chance to break the Democratic lock on Baltimore politics.

Two other Republicans are running for a 6th District council seat: Wayne L. Sherman and Anthony Forlenza.

The council race has taken on racial overtones as white Democrats worry that Mr. Brown could join two other African-Americans in representing a district historically controlled by white politicians.

After the primary, the only white Democratic nominee -- Edward Reisinger -- tried unsuccessfully to oust a white Republican -- Mr. Sherman -- from the race, fearing Mr. Sherman would take votes away from him.

Mr. Reisinger came in third during the primary, leaving him the most vulnerable Democrat in the race.

A tape recording -- surreptitiously made by Mr. Sherman -- has Mr. Reisinger asking Mr. Sherman to drop out to give Mr. Reisinger the edge over Mr. Brown.

"It's time to circle the wagons around the one white person who has a chance to win," Mr. Reisinger said on the tape, referring to himself. He also warned Mr. Sherman not to support Mr. Brown.

"You help this guy Brown out and he gets elected, then we've got three blacks," said Mr. Reisinger on the tape. The two other blacks Mr. Reisinger referred to are Democratic incumbents Norman A. Handy Sr. and Melvin L. Stukes.

It is illegal in Maryland to tape-record another person without his knowledge. But Mr. Sherman said it didn't bother him because "it's the truth."

Mr. Reisinger admitted he asked Mr. Sherman to drop out of the race, but said he doesn't recall his other comments on the tape.

He also said he does not feel threatened by either Mr. Sherman or Mr. Brown, but would prefer to have the energetic Mr. Sherman out of his way on Election Day.

"Wayne is like a pebble in a shoe," said Mr. Reisinger. "He's been out there talking negative about me. He's like the Energizer bunny."

Mr. Sherman also had a similar conversation -- also illegally taped -- with Mr. Reisinger's campaign manager, Perry Hairsine, who owns the Purple Goose Saloon in Morrell Park.

Later, Mr. Sherman said, he was drinking in the Purple Goose when Mr. Hairsine knocked his beer mug out of his hand. A hospital report shows Mr. Sherman was treated for a contusion to the left wrist. He wore a splint on his arm for two weeks.

Mr. Hairsine did not return a reporter's calls.

Mr. Sherman's lawyer has threatened to sue the bar for damages, and a trial on an assault charge filed against Mr. Hairsine is scheduled for Nov. 13 in District Court.

The race has also created racial and political tensions among community and political leaders, who say they are afraid to support Mr. Brown for fear of repercussion from elected officials who may stop responding to their constituent complaints.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Mr. Brown. "There are whites who won't vote for me because I'm black. There are blacks who won't vote for me because I'm a Republican."

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