Council race lacks leader

7 major-party hopefuls vie in Balto. Co. 4th District

1st black member goal for some

Democrats Collins, Oliver get bulk of endorsements

August 06, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

As the predominantly African-American communities on Baltimore County's west side seek to elect their first County Council member in a reconfigured district, competing endorsements and shifting allegiances have left the race wide open with little more than a month left until the primary.

Six Democrats and one Republican are competing for the new council seat, but candidates Clifford J. Collins III and Kenneth N. Oliver have been the objects of most of the jockeying, as political clubs, labor unions, community leaders and the area's delegates and senators attempt to influence the race.

The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so the winner of that party's Sept. 10 primary will have a major edge in the general election.

A potentially important wild card in the race is Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. The popular minister of Rising Sun First Baptist Church from Randallstown has been the biggest vote-getter in the 10th Legislative District, which largely overlaps the new 4th Council District.

Virtually every other established political player in the area has lined up behind one candidate or another, but Burns said last week that he hasn't made up his mind whom he'll back. He said it will be a week or more before he announces his choice.

"He would have a lot of sway," said Penny McCrimmon, a Democratic candidate in the district.

Collins, a Democrat and former NAACP official, won the endorsement last week of the Baltimore County lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"We picked a guy we think is going to work hard for the community," said Cole Weston, FOP president. "We think the community has recognized that."

Political observers in the district say Collins has been working hard to make up for his late entry in the race by going door to door, handing out literature at supermarkets, raising funds and building a volunteer network.

Ella White Campbell, a prominent community activist in the area who serves as his treasurer, boasts that Collins has won the support of nearly all of the community association leaders in the district, though the other candidates dispute that assertion.

Oliver, who is the former chairman of the county planning board, has substantial backing of his own, last week winning endorsements from the AFL/CIO and the Fourth District Democratic Club.

He also has won the endorsement of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, the firefighters union and County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Oliver was introduced a year ago by African-American leaders in the area - including Campbell - as the "consensus candidate" in the district.

He was selected and backed by the group, headed by state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, in hopes that an early coalition of support for him would dissuade others from entering the race. A split field, they said at the time, could hinder their goal of electing the county's first-ever black council member.

While Campbell and others said this spring that they had grown disillusioned with what they called a lackluster campaign, Kelley reiterated her support for him this summer.

Oliver said he's been walking the neighborhoods and waving to cars in the morning.

"We're picking up the pace on a weekly base," he said.

Both Collins and Oliver are African-American and live about a block apart on the same street in Randallstown.

Noel Levy, a candidate from Owings Mills who is white, is vice chairman of Citizens for Property Rights, a group that opposed an unpopular condemnation and revitalization plan that would have affected several businesses on Liberty Road.

Levy's work with that group has helped him secure several strategic locations for his large blue-and-white signs along heavily traveled Liberty Road.

McCrimmon, who is African-American, is a longtime community and Democratic Party activist. She has won favorable reviews at several candidate forums throughout the district and said she has also had success in fund raising and lining up yard sign locations.

Another candidate, Charles E. Arthur, a county Democratic central committee member who is black, has garnered attention in the race through strong criticism of the county's treatment of the community.

Two lesser-known candidates are also in the race: Democrat Leo J. O'Brien, an Owings Mills real estate agent and schools activist, and Republican Gail M. Thies, a substitute teacher who has been involved in a number of campaigns, mostly in New York. Both are white.

The candidates are largely addressing the same issues: overcrowded and under-performing schools, the large number of group homes in the district and the pace and quality of development.

In a race with no incumbent, name recognition will play a large role.

"It's going to be money and exposure that's going to make the difference. Who has the most money and the most people out on the street is going to win it," McCrimmon said, adding, "I'm going to look real good."

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