51 votes separate top candidates in council district

Absentee ballots might decide the winner in east side's 13th

September 13, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

Separated by 51 votes, the top two candidates seeking to represent the 13th District in the Baltimore City Council are optimistic of a victory once all the ballots are counted.

With all 19 precincts reporting, Warren Branch leads incumbent Vernon E. Crider and appears poised to take the East Baltimore seat, which includes the McElderry Park, Berea and Ellwood Park/Monument neighborhoods.

But election officials said about 83 absentee ballots are to be counted this morning, and others might trickle in over the next couple of days. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by the day of the election, which was held Tuesday.

Three other candidates are in the race, including Emmett Guyton, who captured nearly 25 percent of the vote, about 2 percentage points fewer than Branch.

Crider, 43, would have to win about 65 percent of the known absentee ballots after garnering 26 percent of the votes from the precincts. Election officials also said they expect to have to factor in an unknown number of provisional ballots, which are expected to be counted Monday. Provisional ballots are votes cast but where there is some question about the voter's eligibility.

Armstead B.C. Jones, the city elections director, said that depending on the outcome of absentee ballots and the number of provisional ballots, a winner might not be declared in the District 13 race until next week.

"We'll put them together and see where we are," Jones said.

Crider said he had hoped more absentee ballots would be cast but still believes he will win the majority of those votes.

A high school special-education teacher in Harford County and former Marine, Crider said he expects a good number of absentee ballots to come from those serving in the military.

"I'm confident there is going to be enough to win," said Crider, who replaced City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch after she left office this year to take a job in the real estate industry. He said that because he served in the military, he might have an edge in winning the absentee ballots.

Branch said he believes the absentee ballots will be split evenly.

"I am confident that we should do very well with the absentee ballots," Branch said. "If at least four of us [candidates] receive votes, then I look at the race as being over."

There are no other parties running candidates in the Nov. 6 general election.

In the 13 other districts, 11 incumbents retained their seats. Sharon Green Middleton, who was appointed to the District 6 seat this year when Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake became council president, won a full term. William Cole won the open seat vacated by Keiffer J. Mitchell in District 11.

Branch, 46, has been president of his neighborhood association and was elected to the Democratic State Central Committee. He is not related to Paula Johnson Branch but is the brother of Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat.

Warren Branch ran a campaign focused on bringing neighborhood associations, churches, businesses and schools together to formulate a plan for the city. He said he is not surprised by the race's results.

"We knew it could have gone either way," Branch said. "Either of us could have been in the position I am right now."

Crider lives in Berea and ran a campaign focusing on getting rid of vacant properties in the district between Belair Road and East Fayette Street east of Broadway. Crider said he is working on legislation that would further tax owners of vacant properties.

Both candidates are expected to attend the absentee ballot counting.

"There are enough absentee ballots to determine who will be the winner. And it's been a competitive race," Crider said. "It's been the most competitive race in Baltimore City. I spoke to Branch and told him I wish him well. ... The bottom line, it's about East Baltimore."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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