Novice challenging Della slate

Outgunned in money and renown, activist banks on shoe leather, vacant-house theme

September 01, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,sun reporter

Down on Baltimore's waterfront, Mike Mitchell wants to be somebody. He wants to be a contender in the Democratic primary election for the House of Delegates' 46th District.

But to get there, the first-time candidate has to knock off one of the three well-financed and well-known sitting delegates whose re-election bids are backed by the southern Baltimore district's top powerbroker - Sen. George W. Della Jr., who is unchallenged in the primary.

The incumbent ticket of Dels. Peter A. Hammen, Carolyn J. Krysiak and Brian K. McHale has served since the early 1990s. Its members are senior leaders in Annapolis and possess family histories of public service in Baltimore dating to the 1950s.

They also have a combined war chest with Della of nearly $245,000 - about $7.50 for each of the 33,000 voters who cast ballots in the district in 2002, according to Maryland Board of Elections data.

Mitchell, former executive director of Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, is mounting a serious challenge despite being a relative newcomer and a native of nowhere in particular (Peace Corps parents kept him moving around the world until he settled in Baltimore in 1996).

The housing advocate has raised $25,000 and is knocking on hundreds of doors every week with a message of property tax reduction through the elimination of vacant houses.

"The thrust of my campaign is to end vacant housing in Baltimore," said Mitchell, 36. "Your tax dollars subsidize vacant housing."

To help restore the tax base with homeowners, Mitchell wants the state to allocate more money to the Baltimore state's attorney's office for prosecutors who focus on housing violations. He also wants the state to assist the city's efforts in seizing titles of vacant properties and wants legislation that would allow community groups to sue owners of such houses.

"Some say there are constitutional issues with that. I say, `Bring it on,'" Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he is not targeting any of the incumbents. But he has said he would cherish the chance to work with Hammen, the district's top vote-getter. That leaves Krysiak and McHale, who respectively won with 4,800 and 4,600 votes, as his campaign's practical targets.

Della - whose name prominently tops the other three on campaign signs throughout the district - tried to persuade Mitchell not to run so their financial resources could be funneled to Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial bid. He even called Mitchell's boss at Habitat for Humanity to ask her to persuade him to bow out or risk future state funding for their group.

Krysiak and McHale, however, appear to welcome the challenge.

McHale, a 51-year-old Locust Point longshoreman whose father was a city councilman from 1952 to 1964, said Mitchell has raised enough money to be a real threat, but that the ticket's record will carry it to victory.

A delegate since 1990, McHale said he is most proud of two laws that he co-sponsored in this year's General Assembly session: The first was tax credit legislation to help ease the property tax burdens associated with rising values of homes occupied by the elderly, working-class families and people on fixed incomes. The second was the Healthy Air Act, which reduces mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen pollution from the state's six largest coal-fired power plants by requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in filtration equipment.

Krysiak, a longtime community leader elected to the House of Delegates in 1991, pointed to her leadership on consumer protection issues, including a bill that passed this year that protects women whose credit scores changed after their husbands left them or died.

She said many women were seeing their homeowners insurance premiums skyrocket because their scores changed. The law now prohibits homeowners insurance companies from using credit scores to calculate premiums.

Krysiak, 67, whose late husband Charles was a delegate before she was, questioned Mitchell's ability to deliver on the needs of a district that encompasses the city's toughest communities such as Westport and Cherry Hill and its toniest neighborhoods of Federal Hill and Canton.

Hammen, 40, is probably the most influential of all the delegates thanks to his position as chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee, which defines the course of Maryland health care. He prides himself on building bipartisan support for health issues.

Elected in 1995, Hammen wants to enhance treatment programs for drug addicts. He is also active on several community organizations that address housing in his district's inner-city areas and environmental conditions of the Inner Harbor.

"They work tirelessly for their district," said O'Malley, who supports the ticket. "They've done a terrific job protecting the quality of the neighborhoods while at the same time allowing for future growth, which we know is the city's hope."

Another candidate is Donald Nygard, a circulation employee for The Sun. He has no money and no political experience, but he said he is running because he has figured out the three root causes for all of society's ills: "domestic, social and environment."

"They will all promise more of everything - more commissions, more statistics, more laws, more taxes, more money. Obviously that doesn't get us anywhere," Nygard said. "I say less, not more. The root causes are in the home, our social interactions and what we do to the environment."

Facing the winners of the Democratic primary will be two Republicans. Peter Kimos is seeking a House seat, and Keith Losoya is seeking the Senate seat.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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