Voters pass up ticket strategy to pick soloists

Races: Individuals with strong campaigns outran incumbents and their slates in city primaries.

September 15, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

In the political world, a candidate's election chances are often said to depend on three things: a strong political base, the sweat of his or her brow, and what some refer to as "the Benjamins" - money.

In pursuit of this trio, candidates in Baltimore have traditionally sought to join tickets - to get their name connected with other candidates, running together for various offices. The thinking is that a team of candidates generally gathers more support and carries more influence than an individual running alone.

But that was not the case in last week's Democratic primary - which in the city is tantamount to the final election because any Republican opposition is token - as tickets proved less significant than an individual's persistence in appealing to voters. When the votes were counted, just two of the city's six legislative districts saw a full ticket of legislative candidates win their races, a departure from past elections that have often seen tickets help keep incumbents in office for years and sometimes decades.

In most city districts, political teams, some of which included longtime incumbents, fell to individual candidates with slick, aggressive campaigns.

In the hotly contested 41st District, for example, newcomer Jill P. Carter won more votes than any other delegate candidate in the race, knocking off one-term Del. Wendell F. Phillips. Phillips was part of a ticket with Del. Lisa A. Gladden, who ran for the Senate and defeated incumbent Barbara A. Hoffman.

Carter ran a flashy campaign that featured her green-and-white color theme and a hip-hop song that she played over a loudspeaker from her car as voters went to the polls.

"There were some people who were just good at campaigning," says Sen. Clarence W. Blount, who is retiring after representing the 41st District for 32 years. "The Carter young lady is an example of that."

Kenneth L. Webster, a former delegate and longtime political operative in the city, puts it this way: "It's all about the sweat equity of the candidate. And it's all about the Benjamins."

That's a reference to $100 bills, which carry Benjamin Franklin's picture. Carter raised more than $50,000 in her first run for office.

Usually, the lion's share of campaign money flows to the incumbent legislators. The incumbents often group themselves on one ticket with a senatorial candidate and three delegate candidates.

Because of an established political base, experience and financial support, such teams tend to win election after election.

In the past, political hopefuls rose through the ranks by joining a political organization, running for the party's state central committee and then the City Council or General Assembly, getting his or her name attached to an established ticket of incumbents that had been altered by retirement, a surprise defeat or a political falling-out.

Voters have seen the benefit of supporting such tickets because a team is more likely to work together to meet the needs of the people its members represent.

Court ruling's effect

The assault on the power of tickets was led by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which redrew the state's legislative district map, reducing the number of city districts from 10 to six and forcing incumbents to seek re-election against other incumbents. But the success of individuals on Tuesday could mean that tickets will never have the power they once had in the city.

"The court's decision was the dynamic that changed the outcome," says Mary Pat Clarke, a former City Council president. "You had more incumbents than vacancies.

"It became a la carte politics," she says. "The individual effort is what counts. People are becoming very sophisticated in choosing individuals for office."

In Northeast Baltimore's 43rd District, two incumbent delegates on Sen. Joan Carter Conway's ticket lost in part because of the new legislative map.

Redistricting moved Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the House majority leader, from the 42nd District in North Baltimore into the 43rd District, forcing her to compete against the team of incumbent delegates Ann Marie Doory, Kenneth C. Montague Jr. and Michael V. Dobson.

With more than $120,000 to spend, McIntosh waged a tough campaign against the Conway ticket and captured 3,000 more votes than any other delegate candidate in the district.

In addition, former Del. Curt Anderson challenged the ticket and finished third behind Doory. That ended Dobson's one-term legislative career and Montague's 15-year tenure.

In East Baltimore's 45th District, Del. Hattie N. Harrison, who has represented the district for 30 years, found herself running alone after the political organization she helped found dropped her from its ticket. The Eastside Democratic Organization replaced Harrison with newcomer Vernon E. Crider.

But Harrison won, breaking up the EDO's ticket after campaigning with the theme "Don't throw mama from the train."

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