Council vacancy sparks concerns

Questions raised about who will name Gaddy's successor

October 06, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Homeless advocate Bea Gaddy's chair in the City Council chamber is draped in black as a solemn, mournful tribute, but the uncomfortable debate about who should take her place in that seat already has begun.

Gaddy communicated her political wishes more than a week before her death to a family friend, said eldest daughter Sandra E. Briggs. Some community leaders are pushing for one of Gaddy's three daughters to go for the 2nd District seat, and Briggs hinted yesterday that she might do so.

A family news conference is expected sometime after Gaddy's funeral Tuesday, possibly on Wednesday.

Briggs and several community leaders say they are concerned that the choice of a successor may be controlled by the Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO), the well-established East Baltimore political operation led by state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden.

Gaddy, who died Wednesday at 68, was the only non-EDO member elected to the council in 1999 from her 2nd District, which comprises the middle of Baltimore, from Bolton Hill on the west to Edison Highway on the east.

If tradition holds, the City Council would elect a replacement based on the recommendation of the other two council representatives from the district, Paula Johnson Branch and Bernard C. "Jack" Young - both EDO members. The new member would serve the remainder of Gaddy's term, which runs until 2004.

"EDO will definitely make this decision," said one political observer who lives in the district. "It's a very tight-knit organization that tends to elevate its own. They are actually one of the few political organizations in this city that groom potential leaders, and I think that in this case they probably have someone already in mind."

That concerns the Gaddy family and other activists who have tried in the past to challenge the EDO's grip on public office in East Baltimore. Gaddy, by strength of her well-known charity work, was victorious over the organization, defeating EDO candidate Alphonso Barney in the 1999 council race.

In a statement released yesterday, four community leaders said: "We are concerned that the Eastside Democratic Organization, headed by state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, will try to ramrod its choice down the throats of the people when they voted for Bea Gaddy in 1999 over the organization's choice, Alphonso Barney."

Several EDO names surfaced this week as potential successors. McFadden did not return telephone calls about the activists' statement yesterday, but he made clear in an earlier interview that the EDO wants to get behind one candidate.

"It's open to anyone who lives in the 2nd councilmanic district, but after all the funeral services are over, we're going to sit down as we always do, the political organization, and have a discussion about the direction we would like to go," said McFadden.

"It'll be ultimately left up to the two councilpersons [Branch and Young], but as an organization that's been in existence for over 30 years, and we feel that we have a pretty good record, I think the organization will come to a consensus," he said. "But again, that's all after the grieving process."

The community leaders who issued the statement - three of whom have made failed bids for office against EDO candidates in the past few years - urged that one of Gaddy's five children, Cynthia Campbell, be named to the council seat. But Campbell is serving in the Army and is not considered a likely candidate.

Briggs, 44, has spent her life working on her mother's causes and may be interested in the seat, but is waiting until next week to make any statement. Sources said Gaddy might also have wanted longtime friend and former 2nd District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge as a possible successor, but he said he has no interest in the seat.

The two EDO names that have come up frequently are Barney, the candidate who ran a distant fourth in 1999, and Vernon E. Crider, who wanted to take a 2nd District council seat the last time there was a midterm vacancy, when Ambridge was replaced by Young.

Non-EDO names that have been mentioned include Anthony W. McCarthy, 34, associate publisher of the Baltimore Times and the former chief of staff for City Council President Sheila Dixon. McCarthy declined to comment.

The influence of McFadden's organization in the selection process will likely be a concern to residents who have argued that the district's west side should be better represented, and to community activists not aligned with the EDO.

Ambridge, not a member of the EDO, said he was confident Young and Branch would be open to all candidates, including those from outside of East Baltimore. "They should consider the geography of the district, as well as racial composition," he said.

The public debate is likely to begin in earnest after Gaddy's funeral. Young said that's how it should be.

"It was kind of tough because I had somebody call me to ask about the vacancy, and I'll be honest with you, I wasn't nice, because I thought the call was inappropriate," Young said. "This happened the day the woman passed. ... That was the furthest thing from my mind."

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