Curran's ticket leads Democrats in 3rd District

14 candidates running for City Council from northeastern area

August 27, 1999|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

Sylvia Williams can stand outside her campaign headquarters for the 3rd CouncilDistrict seat and smell marijuana smoke floating across the parking lot.

Charles Fitzpatrick walks his neighborhood and sees "For Sale" signs mushrooming across the lawns. Dennis Kresslein has watched sewage wash into Herring Run and wonders why no one at City Hall stops it.

As candidates in a field of 14 Democrats and Republicans seeking three seats from northeast Baltimore, Williams, Fitzpatrick and Kresslein say their experiences reflect the concerns of a stable, middle-class community experiencing the steady encroachment of drug use, crime, and an unresponsive city bureaucracy.

FOR THE RECORD - Two recent articles about Baltimore's 3rd District councilmanic race misidentified Republican candidate Hal Riedl. In a story in Friday's editions, Riedl's name was misspelled. An Aug. 20 story about a candidates' forum referred to Riedl as a corrections officer. He is actually a state corrections case management specialist, a civilian post.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Northeast Baltimore is one of the last stable areas in the city," said Fitzpatrick, a Democrat and a paralegal who, at 25, is the youngest of the candidates. But it is also, he said, "an affluent, middle-class area headed for decline" unless city politicians begin to pay more attention to its neighborhoods.

With two council seats being vacated -- thanks to the mayoral candidacy of Martin O'Malley and the retirement of Rita R. Church -- district representation could undergo a significant change, depending on the success of a ticket that includes a popular white incumbent and two African-American running mates.

An uneasiness about change in the district underlies much of the rhetoric in this year's race. While pleasant neighborhoods laced by Cold Spring Lane, Loch Raven Boulevard and York Road maintain a respectable status citywide, the perception among some that they are on the cusp of decline has fueled intense campaigning.

The most visible candidates make up the three-person ticket led by incumbent Robert Curran. A respected councilman with strong family ties to state and local politics, Curran ran on a similar three-person ticket in 1996 when he was elected along with O'Malley and Joan Carter Conway, who is now a state senator.

The significance of the last election, when Conway became the first African-American elected in the 3rd District, was not lost this year on Curran as he began to search for Democrats to fill the council seats freed by O'Malley and Church, who replaced Conway after the latter became a senator in 1997.

Curran asked two African-Americans to be his running mates: Williams, a longtime community activist of the New Northwood community, and Kenneth Harris, a motivational speaker from the Glen Oaks community.

"We were looking for diversity," said Conway, who interviewed several potential candidates and consulted closely with Curran about creating the ticket.

According to an analysis, the black and white populations are roughly equal.

The boundaries of the district, which encompasses a large share of the city's northeast, define an area of diversity, including Loyola College and Morgan State University, the comfortably middle-class neighborhood around Northwood and the relatively upscale area around Kernwood, north of Guilford. In the southern parts of the district, crime and drug trafficking are everyday realities, but in neighborhoods to the north, near Towson, such problems are relatively rare.

About 33 percent of the households earn less than $30,000 a year. Nearly 45 percent make $50,000 a year or more.

While other Democrats in the race insist the Curran ticket does not pose a particular threat to their candidacies, fund-raising records show that the ticket has overwhelmed the competition financially. Curran, Williams and Harris have raised a total of $52,498 individually, As a ticket, they have raised $13,000. The next highest fund-raiser, according to papers filed at the city's elections board, is Lisa Stancil, a Democrat who has raised $14,684 for her campaign.

The two Republican candidates say the outcome of the Democratic race is predictable.

"Curran has a lot of strength," said Mike Matthei, a retirement planner with T. Rowe Price who is running with Hal Reidle on the lone Republican ticket. "I feel bad for the other Democratic candidates."

Among Democrats, one usually won't hear negative comments about Curran.

"I'm not running against Curran," said Milton Dugger, a Democrat and an insurance agent who has lived in the district for 33 years. "Bob Curran has been helpful to our community."

The fact is, the 3rd has been represented for more than 40 years by members of the Curran family, an unbroken string that has earned the family a reputation as a dynasty. Robert Curran's father, the late J. Joseph Curran Sr., was elected to the seat in 1953. Robert's brother Mike joined the council after their father died in 1977, and served until his retirement 18 years later. Robert was elected to the council in 1995.

The family's record has left Curran open to criticism as the status quo candidate.

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