Low turnout, no surprises expected in city elections

November 06, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

There have been no television commercials, no debates and only a smattering of yard signs, but Baltimore voters will come out to the polls for today's general election nonetheless - likely to affirm an outcome everyone expects.

In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 8 to 1, the 11 candidates - seven Republicans, two Greens and two write-ins - who have lined up to take on the party in power face an especially daunting task.

Theodore R. McKeldin, elected in 1963, was the last Republican Baltimore voters sent to the mayor's office. The last Republican elected to the City Council was in 1939, the year the classic film The Wizard of Oz premiered.

Lack of interest is expected to keep voter turnout low today and explains why the city's top polling official used one word to describe his office on the eve of the election: "Quiet."

"A lot of people don't know there's an election," said Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr., director of the city's Board of Elections.

Up for grabs is the mayor's office, the City Council president's seat and eight of the 14 council districts (the other six are uncontested). Comptroller Joan M. Pratt will be on the ballot but has no challengers.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, faces Republican Elbert R. Henderson, who also ran for mayor in 2004. City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, also a Democrat, is up against Green Party candidate Maria Allwine.

For more than 20 years, Democrats have won the mayor's office in the general election with at least 72 percent of the vote. In 1983, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer received 94 percent of the vote. In 2004, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley captured 87 percent.

For Dixon and Rawlings-Blake, who have held their offices since January, a victory would bring an opportunity to fully put aside electoral politics and focus on the city's pressing issues, including a homicide count that is 9 percent higher than last year's.

Dixon and Henderson have talked about the need to reduce the city's property tax rate, which is the highest in the state, and to provide more effective social services to reduce crime. Henderson also has made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign.

Dixon and Rawlings-Blake held off challengers in the September primary election with solid margins, and neither has aggressively campaigned for the general election, though they have both maintained a bare-bones campaign staff.

In addition to the candidates, the ballot includes one initiative. The measure would amend the City Charter to loosen a requirement for city contractors. Currently, contractors must purchase performance bonds - akin to insurance - for the entire life of a city contract.

Under the proposed charter amendment, those contractors could purchase performance bonds annually, breaking up the large cost of a bond required for a five-year contract, for example, into five separate bonds. Supporters say the measure would let small and minority-owned businesses compete for larger city jobs.

Nine candidates - including two write-in candidates in one district - are running against incumbent members of the City Council or those who were nominated in the Democratic primary.

With non-Democratic candidates unable to raise enough money to get their message out - and a general lethargy that has defined the election - turnout is expected to be low. About 32 percent of Democratic voters turned out in the primary election, and Jones said he believes it will be lower for the general.

"I don't see anybody getting knocked off," said City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who has been on the council for more than a decade and who does not have any challengers in this year's general election. "It has always been quiet after the primary."


Baltimore elections

Two citywide positions - mayor and City Council president - are being decided by voters in today's general election, along with eight seats in the City Council.

Polls open today at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

To locate your polling place and confirm you are registered, visit www.elections.state.md.us/voting/where.html

Here are the contested races:

Mayor Sheila Dixon, Democrat (I) Elbert R. Henderson, Republican City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, Democrat (I) Maria Allwine, Green 1st City Council District James B. Kraft, Democrat (I) Glenn L. Werner Jr., Republican 2nd City Council District Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., Democrat (I) Brian H. Davis, Republican 3rd City Council District Robert W. Curran, Democrat (I) Bill Barry, Green 4th City Council District Sam Broaddus, Democrat (write-in) Reba Hawkins, Democrat (write-in) Bill Henry, Democrat 8th City Council District Helen L. Holton, Democrat (I) Sean D. Cummings, Republican 9th City Council District Agnes Welch, Democrat (I) Michael John Bradley, Republican 10th City Council District Edward L. Reisinger, Democrat (I) Duane Shelton, Republican 14th City Council District Mary Pat Clarke, Democrat (I) Mark Newgent, Republican [Source: Maryland State Board of Elections; (I) denotes incumbent]

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