Crowded fields, strong incumbents in City Council races

More than 70 candidates vie for 14 seats

September 09, 2011|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

The incumbent ditched a mayoral bid at the last minute, deciding instead to try to hang on to his seat representing parts of Charles Village, Oliver, Remington and Station North.

His challengers include a community activist who hopes to be the Baltimore City Council's first Latina member, an openly gay neighborhood leader who patrols the streets of Mount Vernon on a Segway and a college senior who has snagged the governor's endorsement. And then there's the labor leader, security guard and East Baltimore activist.

And that's just in one district.

More than 70 candidates are vying for 14 seats on the Baltimore City Council — a job characterized by lengthy meetings, endless calls from residents about vacant homes and rats, and, in the city's strong-mayor form of government, very little political power.

Yet Baltimore's City Council has long been a proving ground for higher elected office. Five of the past six mayors got their starts on the council — as did Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

And council members are able to make the kind of tangible improvements — organizing neighborhood clean-ups or arranging for potholes to be filled — that affect residents most directly.

The council's composition shifts at a glacial pace, with many of the legislators holding onto their seats for decades. When Agnes Welch retired last year after representing West Baltimore for 27 years, her colleagues chose her son and longtime aide, William "Pete" Welch, to replace her, out of courtesy to the elder Welch.

Only one council seat is open this year — an East Baltimore district that has been represented for 20 years by Nicholas D'Adamo. Six Democrats are angling for that seat; Brandon M. Scott, a protege of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is considered the front-runner.

Scott, 27, who covered East Baltimore for Rawlings-Blake's Office of Neighborhoods, has never held public office. But he is backed by the powerful fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer, whose clients include O'Malley, Rawlings-Blake and about half of the sitting council.

Power of incumbency

In most of the city's races, the sitting council member faces a crowd of challengers, who are likely to divide the anti-incumbent vote.

For example, Carl Stokes, who was selected by his colleagues to fill the 12th District seat left open when Bernard C. "Jack" Young became council president in February 2010, faces six challengers in the Democratic primary.

Stokes, who had served on the council from 1987 to 2005, had his eye on the mayor's office for much of his current stint on the council. But hours before the July 5 deadline to file to run for city office, he reversed course, dropping his mayoral ambitions and announcing plans to pursue re-election to his seat.

Stokes, who helped found a charter school an East Baltimore, says he wants four more years to advocate for the residents of his district, which includes neighborhoods in the center and east of the city.

"It's a very diverse district," said Stokes. "For a council person, the challenges are giving as much energy as possible to the some of the weaker neighborhoods in the district, yet as the same time maintaining the services to neighborhoods that aren't as needy."

Stokes has been one of the council's more independent members, leveraging his position at the helm of the Taxation and Finance Committee to challenge the hefty tax incentives awarded to large development projects. But some of his efforts — such as a proposal to slash property taxes — drew criticism from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration and little backing from his peers on the council.

Challenging Stokes is an eclectic group of candidates, including many he advised before deciding to jump back in the race.

Campaign signs mark different regions of the district. Orange signs bearing Odette Ramos' name are most prevalent in Charles Village, and even the iconic alien on the roof of a home at Howard and 28th Streets holds a campaign sign for the community activist.

The restaurants and bars in Mount Vernon are emblazoned with red-white-and-blue posters for Jason Curtis, including some signs exhorting residents to support Curtis so that the council includes a gay representative.

Signs for Maryland Institute College of Art film major De'Von Brown are most prominent near his East Baltimore home.

Boy of Baraka

Brown, 21, has the is living in his family's home on the district's east side while studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art on the west side. He wears button-up shirts and khakis to class, in sharp contrast to most of his peers' artily tattered clothes.

He preaches at Zion Baptist Church on Sundays and is a board member at Taharka Brothers, a socially conscious ice cream company that fosters the careers of young men.

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