Baltimore's Conaways growing into a dynasty

Holding public office runs in the family

September 13, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

They are not yet the Mitchells or Rawlingses - Baltimore political families with at least two generations of politicians - but the Conaways are working on it.

Frank M. Conaway Sr. is a former state delegate who has been Baltimore Circuit Court clerk since 1998 and plans to run as an independent in the November 2004 general election.

Mary W. Conaway has been elected six consecutive times as Baltimore Register of Wills, has served on the Democratic State Central Committee and once ran for mayor.

Frank M. Conaway Jr. ran for City Council in 1999.

Now there is Belinda K. Conaway, who on Tuesday won the 7th District City Council Democratic primary over a highly endorsed and well-financed challenger, making her a heavy favorite in the general election next year.

Frank Sr. and Mary are Belinda's parents and Frank Jr. is her brother.

"I believe I already have a solid record of my own working with children, but it's wonderful to carry the Conaway name on," said Belinda Conaway, 35, a guidance counselor at Robert Poole High School in Hampden.

Belinda Conaway was one of three nonincumbent candidates in the City Council primary who won. The other nonincumbent winners among the 14 district races were James B. Kraft of the 1st District in Southeast Baltimore and Mary Pat Clarke, a former City Council president, in North Baltimore's 14th District.

Conaway beat her nearest challenger, Shawn Tarrant, in a five-person field, by 74 votes.

Tarrant had secured nearly every major endorsement, including support from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and state Del. Howard P. Rawlings.

Conaway's camp felt her family name and her message to voters for better schools and better neighborhoods would be enough.

"I think the [Conaway] name did help her. Her mother and father were out there at the polls for her," said Kenneth L. Webster, a former state delegate and political strategist who helped with Conaway's campaign.

But Webster said name alone won't win a race, and, at times, the Conaway camp struggled to keep their campaign on track against a strong challenge from Tarrant.

"It should have been no contest. I felt she was the front-runner all along," Webster said. "The best thing is to run scared and feel like it is a tough race. To me, the name recognition can be superficial. You have to work hard to make it substantive."

Conaway will now face Republican primary winner Owen Hanratty, Green Party candidates Michael Hughes and Vincent S. Tola and independent candidates Gary Tyrone English and Ken Morgan in the November 2004 general election - which is 14 months away because of an election quirk.

In a city that votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, Conaway is seen by political observers as a safe bet next year.

The Mitchell family is led by former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, who has seen several family members follow him into political office, including City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. Rawlings is a powerful figure in Annapolis whose daughter, Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, is a council member.

This was Belinda Conaway's second attempt to follow her parents into elective office. She ran for the 41st District House of Delegates seat last fall, in which the top three vote-getters win seats in the legislature, and finished fourth behind the incumbents.

Conaway was encouraged by that effort and felt she could win the 7th District council race, which had no incumbent. Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh would have been the incumbent for that area but instead ran for City Council president and lost.

Conaway's father was her campaign manager. Frank M. Conaway said winning the district - which stretches from Ashburton to Walbrook to Hampden and includes all of Druid Hill Park - was no fluke.

"The strategy was to take the middle and bottom parts of the district that we knew the elitist in the race would ignore," said Frank M. Conaway, speaking of poor neighborhoods where voter turnout is always low. "You'd only get 10 or 15 votes from each of those precincts, but that starts to add up. You only need to win by one vote."

Belinda Conaway also hired an airplane to fly a campaign banner over the 7th District in the days immediately before the primary and handed out odd campaign paraphernalia with her name on it: fly swatters, brooms and keychains with whistles.

"Those are things people can use every day and it reminded them of my name," she said.

Belinda Conaway, who has been a school guidance counselor for 11 years, said she would quit school work if she wins the general election and make the council her full-time job. She said she has no problem being a new face among a group of veteran council members.

State Del. Jill P. Carter, Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, and Pugh have already offered to help mentor Conaway.

Conaway said despite obstacles in the race she remained positive and is thankful for her supporters.

"In an election that was this close, everything people did large and small helped and I am grateful for the support," Conaway said. "I'm happy to be in a position to help more people."

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