Black judge unseated in Circuit contest

Wright is first since 1932 to lose county bench post

March 08, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's first black Circuit Court judge was defeated in the primary last night, becoming the county's first sitting judge to lose his seat since 1932.

Judge Alexander Wright Jr. finished third on both the Democratic and Republican tickets last night, losing in a primary bid to District Court Judge Robert N. Dugan and Circuit Judge Kathleen Cox, who was recently appointed to the Circuit Court.

All three candidates ran in both parties' primaries.

As a result of yesterday's voting, Cox and Dugan are assured Circuit seats.

The race began a year ago, when Dugan decided to run after being passed over for a Circuit Court judgeship.

Cox and Dugan handily beat Wright, who was appointed to the Circuit Court by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1998.

Dugan attributed his victory to an organization that placed 500 volunteers at polling places throughout the county yesterday.

Wright had said, along with many who worked in the race, that the outcome could hinge on ballot placement -- determined by alphabetical listing of each candidate's name.

It apparently did.

With all but two of 187 precincts counted, Cox garnered 43,573 of the Democratic votes, compared with 35,775 for Dugan and 29,970 for Wright.

On the Republican ballot, Dugan received 26,494 votes, compared with 20,584 for Cox and 13,923 for Wright.

Wright had run with Cox, spending a combined $120,000 in their race against Dugan, who spent $50,000.

Wright was angered yesterday when fliers were distributed at polling places in the county's predominantly African-American neighborhoods on the west side. He said the fliers falsely implied Dugan and Wright were running mates.

Wright, who was the county's first African-American Circuit Court judge with his appointment by Glendening, ran a joint campaign with Cox, who was the second woman named to the 16-member Circuit Court.

Wright and Cox praised each other, appeared together at civic meetings and forums, shared a Web site and a campaign fund during the past year.

Wright, who had served as a District Court judge with Dugan, said he believes that Dugan, who is white, allowed their names to be placed on a joint flier yesterday. Wright said he is furious about it.

"If someone sat on the District Court with you, you thought of him as a friend, and then he did something like this, used your name without authorization, does that sound like someone who you would want as a friend?" he said.

The flier implying that Wright is working with Dugan lists "Friends of Clarence M. Mitchell IV" as the authority. Mitchell was unavailable for comment last night, but Dugan said that the flier was distributed by state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV, with Dugan's consent, to help him win support among African-American voters.

Dugan said that he has long ties to the Mitchell family, having served as an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore with Michael B. Mitchell, Clarence Mitchell IV's uncle. He said he also became friends with Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the renowned civil rights lawyer, when he worked in the city's Legal Aid Bureau in the early 1970s.

Wright said he learned about the flier when he showed up to work the polling places near his Reisterstown neighborhood yesterday morning. He went to seven polling places and found workers distributing the fliers at all seven.

Wright said he asked the campaign workers to stop distributing the fliers, and they told him they were being paid $25 each to distribute the materials.

State election laws prohibit paying campaign workers to distribute literature on Election Day, state election officials said.

But Temple said that no one in the Dugan campaign was paid for Election Day work.

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