Alderman Kirby serves Annapolis with no home of his own

Housing situation in spotlight after police incident

  • Annapolis Alderman Kenneth A. Kirby in the Clay Street community, which is the neighborhood in which he grew up.
Annapolis Alderman Kenneth A. Kirby in the Clay Street community,… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
January 26, 2012|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Every other Monday night, Annapolis Alderman Kenneth A. Kirby, dressed in a suit and tie, takes his seat on the dais at City Council meetings, discussing community issues and voting on legislation.

Afterward, the others head home from City Hall. And Kirby wanders.

Kirby, who grew up in public housing in the capital city, is without a permanent place to live. He stays with a network of friends and family who open their homes to him — a niece in public housing, a friend in Annapolis' moneyed downtown.

Friends say Kirby, whose personal struggle came to light this month after police found him while raiding an apartment in search of the drug PCP, moves easily between the different worlds of a city that many see as deeply divided by race and class. He has to.

Police say Kirby is innocent of any wrongdoing, but he has nonetheless faced questions since the incident about his living situation and his lack of employment beyond the $12,600-a-year council job. Though he acknowledges he doesn't have a home of his own, Kirby denies that he is homeless.

"I really don't have to tell anyone where I lay my head every night," said Kirby. "I could go sleep under the Weems Creek Bridge every night. I can visit everyone and anyone I want to and choose where I sleep."

Kirby, 57, would prefer to talk about other parts of his life. The first-term Democrat grew up poor, went on to college and played professional basketball overseas. He was elected in 2009 to represent Ward 6 on the city council.

Craig Purcell, a Baltimore architect who was a member of Kirby's 1973 graduating class at Annapolis High School, said questions about Kirby's housing arrangements and employment are unwarranted.

Purcell said Kirby has a "unique way" of navigating Annapolis' communities, where affluent whites are clustered in the waterfront downtown area and poor blacks live in the city's public housing developments.

"Kenny's been forever like that — he does what he has to do to survive," said Purcell. "Annapolis is not exactly affordable. … He's been doing that for years. He stays with lot of people. He knows a lot of people. Not everybody can live in a nice mansion."

Purcell, who played lacrosse in high school, remembers the 6-foot-7-inch Kirby as a basketball star. As popular athletes, they knew of each other but ran in different circles. When Kirby ran unsuccessfully for alderman in 1993, Purcell, who was then living in Annapolis, contacted him.

"We share common ideas about the city and what's going on," said Purcell, who frequently weighs in on matters related to the city's historic district.

In his two years on the council, Kirby, who chairs the Housing and Human Welfare Committee, has pressed for more public transportation options, funding for recreation centers, and a law change that would allow more downtown bars and restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m.

Alderman Ross H. Arnett III, an Eastport Democrat, says Kirby's strength as council member lies in his ability to effectively advocate for his constituents. Arnett said he's been impressed with Kirby's equal attentiveness to the concerns of downtown business owners and public housing residents.

"You can't go anywhere in town with Kenny without a whole bunch of people coming up and saying, 'Hi,'" said Arnett. "Everyone knows him. He's really an affable person — always upbeat and positive. In spite of his personal struggles, growing up in public housing, not having a lot of wealth, he has a very positive attitude toward life."

Kirby bounces around Annapolis, staying with friends and relatives. A reporter recently met him for an interview at his father's house. He uses an address in his district that belongs to a family friend, who said he doesn't live there but sleeps there occasionally.

Over sandwiches and coffee at the 49 West cafe in downtown Annapolis recently, Kirby said he was looking for full-time work but worried that the publicity over the drug raid would hamper the search.

"I have the same problem so many other millions of Americans have," said Kirby, in his signature gravelly tone. "It's just a downturn in the economy. It's very tough … but I have a good family. My family and friends help me a lot. They prop me up where they can."

Public records show he has had financial troubles. In 2007, a Massachusetts judge issued a lien for unpaid child-support payments to the tune of $26,784. Several federal tax liens from the IRS were also levied against him, including one in 1991 for $5,376.

Kirby declined to answer questions about his finances, calling it a private matter.

On Jan. 5, Annapolis police, armed with "no-knock" search warrants, raided two apartments in the 1200 block of Madison St., part of the Harbour House public housing development. Police found PCP, marijuana and packaging material, and arrested three people in the first apartment. In the second apartment, they found Kirby, who said he was watching TV.

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