Crowded field looks familiar in District 40

Old hands battle newcomers for Senate and House spots

September 03, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

When Tara Andrews, a prisoners' rights activist and a candidate for state Senate, addressed a crowd of potential voters at a recent forum in Hampden, she posed a telling question: "What can I possibly say to stand out?"

She spoke among some of her more well-known opponents -- Del. Catherine E. Pugh, Del. Salima S. Marriott and City Councilwoman Belinda K. Conaway.

With seven candidates vying to represent West Baltimore's District 40 in the state Senate and 10 candidates for the House of Delegates, distinguishing oneself from better financed and more widely known opponents might be the toughest challenge for the political novices who have entered both races.

Pugh, who previously served on the City Council, and Marriott, who has represented the district for 16 years, lead the field in big-name endorsements and fundraising.

One voter, Bill Harvey, 59, of Charles Village, said he looks for experience in a state senator and said he would vote for Marriott.

"I've known her for years," Harvey said. "I know she's on our side with the issues."

Also running for the seat vacated in May by longtime Sen. Ralph M. Hughes are former City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former council candidate Timothy Mercer.

The winner in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary will face George Stephen, the lone Republican in the race.

The abundance of candidates has made the race one of the Senate's most competitive -- with both political veterans and newcomers campaigning vigorously -- canvassing neighborhoods from Druid Hill Park to Charles Village. Similarly, 10 candidates are competing for the three seats to represent the district in the House of Delegates. With two of the three sitting delegates running for the Senate seat, Del. Marshall T. Goodwin is the only incumbent left in that race.

Education, economic development and crime are some of the issues voters are concerned with, the candidates say. The political veterans note their leadership abilities, while the newcomers say voters want change.

Hughes, who himself has jumped back in the fray as a candidate for the Democratic State Central Committee, said he predicted almost all the candidates in the Senate race would run.

"My wife and I, we named a lot of people," Hughes said. "It became like a free-for-all. Everybody said, `Hey, we can do it now. He's gone.'"

Marriott, a former social worker who chairs the joint committee on children, youth and families, stresses her experience in Annapolis over the past 16 years.

Her campaign has raised more than $60,000.

And she has aligned herself with General Assembly candidates Shawn Z. Tarrant, president of the Ashburton Area Association and Antonio L. Hayes, chief of staff for City Council President Sheila Dixon to create what they call TEAM 40.

Pugh, who has been endorsed by Hughes, previously represented District 4 on the City Council. As a state senator, she said, she would work on increasing funding for the construction of senior housing and health care. She also wants the age at which students are permitted to drop out of school to be raised from 16 to 18 statewide.

Among Marriott and Pugh's chief rivals is Conaway, who has represented the city's 7th District on the City Council since 2004. Her father is Frank M. Conaway, the clerk of the Circuit Court.

Belinda Conaway, who has called herself "an independent voice," said she keeps in touch with her constituents with a monthly newsletter. "Many of the calls that I receive are people that are looking for jobs, and I definitely believe that development in our area would help address that problem," Conaway said.

Another familiar name in the Senate race is Bell, who lost the race for mayor to Martin O'Malley in 1999 after embarrassing financial troubles came to light. He has said he would work on police brutality issues and education.

While several of the Senate candidates are seasoned politicians who have won past elections, many of the candidates for delegate have never held political office.

Tarrant lost the 2003 election for City Council to Conaway by just 53 votes.

Tarrant, whose wife is a teacher at City College, and whose two children -- Kayla, 11, and Shawn Jr., 9 -- attend city public schools, said education is an important issue to him.

"I have a personal commitment to Baltimore City schools." Tarrant said.

His partner in the race for delegate, Hayes, has worked as a legislative aide for Marriott.

Also running for delegate are City Hall mail clerk Frank M. Conaway Jr., who is the brother of Belinda Conaway.

Noland V. Rollins, the senior vice president of economic and community development at the Baltimore Urban League, said his job has prepared him to be a delegate. For the past 10 years, he said, he has helped people get access to job training and assisted first-time home buyers.

"My past has really prepared me for what I'm really looking to do," Rollins said. "One of the things that sets me apart is having actual experience in all of these areas."

Mark E. Hughes, who is running for delegate, is the Park Heights coordinator for the Community Law Center. He calls himself a proven community organizer, raising money for programs to mentor youth, saying, "My forte is bringing in dollars. That's really what I'm basing my campaign on, to get more money for these programs." He is not related to Ralph Hughes.

Also running for delegate are Sarah Louis Matthews and former group home case manager Kinji Pierre Scott, who was fired when he spoke publicly about one of his charges, and job-training entrepreneur Barbara Robinson.

They will battle Green Party candidate Jan E. Danforth.

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