In 41st, voters value clout over skin color

Senate race between Hoffman, Gladden is tight

Election 2002

August 29, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

To Johnny Clinton, the campaign for Senate in West Baltimore's racially charged 41st District contest isn't about black or white - it's green.

Although many African-American political leaders are calling on voters to support a black candidate in a district that is 70 percent black, Clinton said he and others who frequent his politically plugged-in Park Heights Barber Shop want a senator who will bring their community the kind of money it needs.

Clinton's view appears to be increasingly popular as the Sept. 10 primary election draws near. Some political observers suggest that Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the influential chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, has an edge over the two African-American candidates, Del. Lisa A. Gladden and former Del. Frank D. Boston Jr.

"Barbara Hoffman has brought a great deal of money to this community," said Clinton between snips of hair.

"The people in this community feel like Lisa Gladden cannot win," he said. "They feel it's not the time for her. They feel that Barbara Hoffman can get the money we need for this community."

The 41st District Senate race could be critical to Baltimore's future. At stake is a choice between Hoffman's power in the General Assembly, which could help ensure that the city gets the financial support it wants from the state, and the selection of a future African-American leader to replace retiring Sen. Clarence W. Blount.

With Blount's retirement, Baltimore will lose one of its two standing committee chairmen in the Senate and an influential voice in the legislature. If Hoffman loses the election, it could take years for the city to regain another chairmanship, which would weaken Baltimore's declining political strength.

Some political leaders are willing to accept that kind of loss if it furthers the career of a promising young legislator.

"I'm a big supporter of Lisa's," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose Ashburton home is in the district. "Senator Blount did a good job in cultivating young leaders."

On the campaign trail, voters seem more interested in what the candidates will do than their skin color. They say they are tired of politicians who talk a good game at election time but fail to visit their neighborhoods and deliver tangible results.

"What's your platform?" Kim Darling, a 36-year-old nurse's assistant, asked Gladden in the rain yesterday morning outside Sinai Hospital. "How available will you be if you're elected?

"I think we're forgotten," Darling said later. "We've got a lot of problems. There's a lot of drugs in this neighborhood. The trash problem is horrendous. Only during election time do they come out and shake your hand."

The candidates are aware of such concerns. And the three share many views about how to address the problems. They all support increased funding for schools, drug treatment and lead paint abatement.

Gladden and Boston take a firm stance in favor of slot machines at Pimlico Race Course, which is in the district. They believe slots are necessary for the community's economic viability.

While Hoffman says she is not opposed to slots, she will not vote for them unless the community agrees with the idea and is adequately compensated for the added traffic and inconveniences gambling might bring.

What primarily separates the three candidates is their personal backgrounds.

Hoffman, 62, works for the Johns Hopkins University as director of international programs and special projects at the Center for Talented Youth.

She is an entrenched political figure who has served in the Senate for two decades. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller appointed her chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee in 1995. She is credited with pushing the landmark Thornton Commission legislation - a plan to pump an extra $1.3 billion a year into Maryland's public schools by 2007 - through the Senate this year.

Hoffman, a lifelong Baltimore resident, said her chairmanship plays a critical role in the success of such legislation.

"It's not that Lisa isn't a good person and a good legislator, but she's a first-term delegate," Hoffman said. "The city would get some things, but not what it deserves."

Gladden had been considered a favorite to succeed Blount until the legislative map drawn by the state Court of Appeals put Hoffman's home in the district. A recent poll by Gonzalez/Arscott Research & Communications Inc. found a close race, with Hoffman leading Gladden 39 percent to 36 percent. Boston trailed with 5 percent.

Schmoke said he believes Gladden can prevail if there is a strong voter turnout and if she generates more excitement for the primary. "If she does that, she'll win," Schmoke said.

In her one term as a delegate, Gladden, 37, impressed many colleagues and has often been referred to as a "rising star."

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