Political neighborhood is split on pick for primaries

Urban Chronicle

May 04, 2006|By ERIC SIEGEL

Ask just about anyone in Ashburton about resident Stuart O. Simms, and almost uniformly they'll answer with accolades about his character and accomplishments.

Ask whether Simms' selection as Douglas M. Duncan's running mate in September's Democratic gubernatorial primary against Mayor Martin O'Malley and Prince George's County state Del. Anthony G. Brown will influence their vote, and the response is more mixed.

Some, already favoring or leaning toward the Montgomery County executive, say Simms' presence on Duncan's ticket helps reaffirm their choice. Some have yet to make up their minds. And some say they are backing the mayor, regardless.

"Stu's a great guy," said Shawn Tarrant, president of the Ashburton Area Association. "Most of my neighbors are proud Duncan picked someone from the community. However, my choice for governor is Martin O'Malley."

"Martin's numbers in Ashburton are strong, and I think they'll continue to be strong," added Tarrant. He said his enthusiasm for the mayor stems in part from the effectiveness of the Office of Neighborhoods, which has helped with such small but nitty-gritty neighborhood quality-of-life issues as getting fire hydrants painted.

Although Simms' selection had been known since last week, Duncan waited until yesterday to formally introduce the former city state's attorney and former secretary of two large state agencies, Public Safety and Juvenile Services (known then as Juvenile Justice). Like O'Malley's choice of Brown, Simms, who is black, brings racial and geographic balance to the ticket.

If Duncan is to dent O'Malley's formidable Baltimore-area base, there may be no better place for him to start than in this upscale, African-American neighborhood in Northwest of mostly single-family brick, wood and stone homes with azalea bushes and red maple trees providing bursts of white and red against the green of lush lawns, neatly trimmed shrubs and towering pines.

Besides being home to Simms, it is the home of Kurt L. Schmoke, the former three-term mayor who has endorsed Duncan and whose block is marked by a small red sign designating it as "Kurt L. Schmoke Way."

In his first run for mayor in 1999, O'Malley got just 33 percent of the Democratic primary vote in the precinct that includes Simms' home. That was second to former City Councilman Carl Stokes in the multicandidate field, and far below O'Malley's citywide total of 53 percent.

Four years later, O'Malley garnered 60 percent of the vote in the same precinct in the Democratic mayoral primary against high school principal and political novice Andrey Bundley. Citywide, O'Malley got 67 percent.

Among those who find Duncan appealing are Napolean Dobson, a retired elementary school teacher who lives a block from Simms and says she is concerned about crime encroaching from other neighborhoods.

"He's a fresh face, for one thing," she said of Duncan. "And from what I understand, he's had success in Montgomery County."

As she finished weeding her front lawn Tuesday afternoon, her son, former state Del. Michael V. Dobson, arrived for a visit, sporting a yellow "Duncan for Governor" sticker on the back window of his car. Michael Dobson, who grew up in Ashburton but lives in Northwood in Northeast, says he's backing Duncan because of his "roll-up-your-sleeves" attitude and his feeling that O'Malley had his sights on higher office as soon as he became mayor.

Even among those in Ashburton who express a preference, there is some ambivalence about the race.

David J. Johnson Jr., for example, a semiretired, part-time community college instructor, said he isn't "all that keen on O'Malley," citing turnover at the top of the Police Department. He says he's leaning toward Duncan but acknowledges he doesn't know that much about the Montgomery County executive's record. Pressed on whether he had made up his mind, he said, "Not totally, not really."

He says Simms' presence on Duncan's ticket is a definite plus in his eyes, saying of his neighbor, "He's a strong person. He's solid. He's committed. He has integrity."

But he questions how far that influence extends. "Everybody in the neighborhood knows him. Nobody knows him in other neighborhoods."

Similarly, Dorothy Dubose, a nurse for the Red Cross, said, "Right now, I'm still O'Malley." She noted that the mayor has been supportive of the neighborhood, but says she'd like to know more about Duncan before making a final decision.

Loretta Richardson counts herself as genuinely undecided.

A retired dean of the college of nursing at Coppin State College and board member of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore City, Richardson says she thinks O'Malley has done a "very good job" in strengthening city services through the 311 system. She says she has not heard enough from Duncan but said, "Some that I have heard, I'm impressed."

She said Duncan's choice of Simms "does carry some weight."

"He's well-known and well-liked," she said.

"I do have a dilemma," she added. "Isn't it wonderful?"


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