Shut out six decades, GOP still knocking

Brown, Santoni mount strong bids for council

October 21, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Daniel Ellison's days as a footnote to Baltimore political history could be numbered.

Ellison was the last Republican elected to the City Council -- in 1939. Three years after winning a fifth term representing the 4th District, he left the council to mount a successful campaign for Congress.

In the 14 elections since, not one Republican council member has been elected in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

But this year, two GOP candidates are running well-financed, well-organized campaigns in an effort to end that six-decade record of futility in the Nov. 2 general election.

Joseph Brown Jr., an assistant bank manager, is seeking one of three seats from Southwest Baltimore's 6th District. Robert N. Santoni Sr., head of a family founded grocery, wants to represent Southeast Baltimore's 1st District.

Both are trying to tap into what they see as voters' sentiment for change. Each is stressing his business acumen in races against six Democratic incumbents, only one of whom has a business background.

"I'm a businessman," said Santoni, president of Santoni's Market in East Baltimore, which was begun by his father 70 years ago. "I can work with government and business to get things done."

Brown said, "I'm able to create more partnerships, to get into doors my opponents may not be able to get into."

According to campaign finance reports filed in September, the two Republicans had raised about $20,000 each for their campaigns -- roughly equal to the amount raised by each of the three Democrats in the 6th District but $10,000 to $20,000 less than the Democrats in the 1st.

But two weeks before the election, both GOP contenders are facing questions about their candidacies: Brown, about his recent hiring of political strategist Julius Henson; Santoni, about $200,000 in state tax liens filed against his business for unpaid sales and withholding taxes.

On the surface, the 6th District race is a replay of the 1995 general election. In his first bid for elected office, Brown finished with 2,189 votes, far behind incumbents Norman A. Handy Sr. with 5,456, Edward L. Reisinger with 5,534, and Melvin L. Stukes with 6,214.

Anthony F. Forlenza, who finished last four years ago with 1,030 votes, and newcomer Joe Tebo Jr. are also on the Republican ballot.

A different year

Brown, 41, vows that this year will be different, in part because the $19,341 he had raised as of the last campaign finance reporting period was roughly twice what he raised four years ago and in part because he has had more volunteers and is better known because he has run before.

"Everything has come together," he said. "People want change, and I'm one of those agents of change."

One change is the campaign's hiring of Henson, who, as an operative of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III in this year's mayoral primary, orchestrated the disruption of a City Hall endorsement rally of eventual Democratic nominee Martin O'Malley.

Henson -- who has run successful campaigns for a wide range of candidates, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and 3rd District council nominee Lisa Stancil -- is concentrating on the distribution of literature and getting voters to the polls.

Brown said he had no qualms about hiring Henson and that he will take responsibility for the conduct of his campaign.

Reisinger, who is running on a ticket with Handy and Stukes, called Brown's hiring of Henson "a negative, especially with what happened with the Bell campaign."

On the issues, Brown and the Democrats are split over school vouchers. Brown supports them, saying, "If you look at the school system, I think we're doing a serious injustice to our children." Handy acknowledges problems with the system but calls vouchers a "Band-Aid. The problem is to fix the school system."

Handy has problems of his own with overdue campaign finance reports. He owes $810 in fines for late reports for 1997, last year and this year, election officials say, money that must be paid before he could be sworn in if he won another term. Handy said he takes "full responsibility" for the tardiness.

With registration in the 6th District mirroring the citywide 9-to-1 Democratic advantage, Brown would need substantial crossover votes to have a chance of gaining one of the three seats.

Mary Lou Kline, a Democratic community activist who supported Brown in 1995, is backing the Handy-Reisinger-Stukes ticket this time. She said her change of heart stems in part from an election to chair the Washington Village arm of the federally funded empowerment zone urban revitalization effort, in which Brown ousted her from office.

"All Joe wanted that [position] for is so he can put it on his resume," she said.

Another Democratic activist, Christopher Bruns, is backing Brown.

"He's a fairly moderate Republican," said Bruns. "I think it would be good if there were some real opposition in the council, instead of a bunch of people who are comfortable and getting re-elected all the time."

The Santoni effort

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