The Transition

As the General Assembly session gets set to start without him, longtime Del. Jim Campbell picks up where he left off, helping the public

January 06, 2003|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

The day after his defeat in a newly created district where few knew his name, state lawmaker Jim Campbell went to bed.

The chest cold he developed in the last days of the campaign allowed the graying 55-year-old social worker from Baltimore to avoid thinking about his changed place in the world for at least a week.

As disappointed as he was by the election result, deep down he felt liberated. He had attended community meetings in his district almost every night for 24 years, and it was a relief to think he'd have his evenings to himself.

"I can do what I want to do when I want to," he thought.

What he would do next, he hadn't a clue.

Losing his seat in the House of Delegates wasn't the only change Campbell faced. Longer than he has been a lawmaker, he had been a social worker. That job, too, ended abruptly this year when the company he worked for 30 hours a week was sold. Worse, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Tuesdays now were reserved for taking her to chemotherapy.

There was no denying the funk that enveloped Campbell in the first weeks of being a lame duck. Many of his colleagues hoped to avoid the pain by flying to the Caribbean, returning to work at their real jobs full time or asking for a recount.

But Campbell, as soon as he recovered from his cold, started showing up at nightly meetings again. This was what he loved, and he decided it was good for him to stay active and focused. And in his office near the Rotunda shopping center, he worked ever more diligently to resolve outstanding problems.

There was the new, smaller high school he helped get in the old 42nd District, the one he hoped would be more attractive to dropouts on street corners in Hampden than the now closed Northern High School had been. A lower-than-expected ninth-grade enrollment worried him, though. After sitting through another meeting on the school, he wrote a last letter of support to the superintendent.

The Roosevelt Park recreation center renovation still needed approval from city officials or the $200,000 in state bond money Campbell had won for it would expire; he wanted to secure the city's commitment.

The minibus he promised new constituents in Towson, in a bid to attract votes, needed a push. He wanted to model it after the one he got for Hampden.

Constituents still called his office with complaints: Potholes. Frozen water pipes. Campbell came in on a Saturday to help with that one. Most of the problems he handled were more appropriately directed to city council members, not state lawmakers. But Campbell solved them anyway. He invited people to call him; on the 8-by-11 "where to call for help" sheet he handed out, he included his home number.

As usual the first week of December, he convinced city officials to knock off a few hundred dollars from the Hampden Christmas parade permit fee by questioning estimates for police and sanitation. Over the years, parade organizers estimated he'd saved the volunteer group $20,000.

For 20 years Campbell had walked in the parade, zigzagging from curb to curb, greeting people in the neighborhood where he got his start, the only politician who didn't ride in a car. Now he had to decide whether to be in the parade at all. The chairman, Tom Kerr, was pestering him to march as usual.

Campbell was torn. What good would it do?

At a meeting of the Hampden Community Association, he listened to concerns about how a new townhouse development for Clipper Mill Road might affect traffic. There were 40 community groups whose meetings he always attended. Typically he sat in the back and took notes. People would turn around and say "Jim, What do we do, who do we call?" At the next meeting, he would return with the answer or, sometimes, the tools, like a new state loan for small businesses to help revive 36th Street. Cafe Hon was one of the first businesses to win one.

Now when Campbell appeared at meetings or flea markets, Christmas bazaars and Hanukkah festivals, people said things like, "Sorry for your loss." They meant well, he knew, but he was taken aback. He couldn't imagine the death of Jim Campbell, public servant.

Things were definitely not the same. The week he was sick, Campbell misplaced his phone book. He didn't remember numbers as well as he thought he should.

But the more work he did in the community, the better he felt.

Elected officials with the high profile of a Cas Taylor, the Speaker of the Maryland House, might be courted for jobs after their defeat. But at Jim Campbell's level, nobody was lining up with offers. He had never claimed credit for things, to the dismay of his supporters, never hung the awards he won in his office or sat for photos with famous people, and now he had to seek out his own job. He put it off until after Thanksgiving. He had sent out resumes once before, and the response had not been good.

To make matters worse, he lost his keys.

Mary Pat Clarke, his former mentor and for eight years the Baltimore City Council president, advised him to pray to St. Gregory. It worked.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.