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Hey 14

Clarke Faces One Relatively Unknown Challenger In 14th District Race
Mary Pat Clarke

NOT SHOWN: Thomas Conradt

By Randy Leonard | Posted 8/29/2007

"We've accomplished quite a bit in . . . the city and in the 14th District," says incumbent City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who for the past three years has represented her district on the council. "But there's a lot more to be done."

The 14th District, located north of 25th Street and south of Cold Spring Lane, contains neighborhoods such as Waverly, Ednor Gardens-Lakeside, and portions of Hampden, Charles Village, and Guilford. The area has enjoyed above-average prosperity for Baltimore with nearly 10 percent reporting incomes above $100,000 and only about 30 percent of families reporting incomes below $25,000. About 12 percent of the 14th District's housing units were vacant in 2000, compared to the city average of 14 percent, and around 4 percent of properties in the district were valued over $300,000--nearly twice the average across the city as calculated in the 2000 Census.

Clarke, a Democrat, has been a figure in Baltimore politics for decades. She has served 16 years on the City Council, including eight as its first woman president. In 1995, Clarke tried unsuccessfully to unseat Mayor Kurt Schmoke in a bid for that office. For the next nine years she stayed out of civil service and taught English and urban issues at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland Institute College of Art, and UMBC. After Baltimore residents voted to change from six three-member districts to 14 single-member districts in 2002, Clarke says she was concerned the system would not provide enough representation and decided to re-enter politics. She was elected to her present seat in 2002.

Clarke says she briefly considered a bid for the City Council president seat once again this year. "I decided against it because I really, really enjoy . . . representing my district," she says. "I have a lot of work to be done."

Being the only representative in a district has proven to be a full-time occupation, Clarke says.

"I have never worked harder," she says with a laugh.

Rather than a leader, Clarke considers herself to be a good follower and facilitator of ideas that come from her constituents. "I'm very lucky to represent a district that has very active citizens, in the schools as well as in the neighborhoods," she says. She cites the traffic-calming report that the city issued last month as one such initiative that constituents started: "That came out of the neighborhoods."

Considering the work ahead of her if re-elected, Clarke says she wants to address reducing crime and improving schools. She proposes a court-watch program that would give everyday citizens access to trial details for defendants that have been charged with crimes in their neighborhoods. "I'd like to see a system of updates that everybody could access," she says.

Clarke would like to see more law-enforcement officers in the 14th District, which she says is underpoliced.

"I think we need to do everything possible to recruit and retain police officers so that we can prevent crime, not just chase it," she says. The way to prevent crime, Clarke says, is by having officers walking patrols who could become familiar with neighborhoods. "That's community policing, and I am a big fan of it," she says. Clarke recalls a pilot project under the Schmoke administration that focused on community policing in the early 1990s. She says the program was very successful but never got expanded.

Clarke has worked in education and has been involved in the city's attempts to maximize the space used by its school system. She is concerned about some issues raised by the process, which, she says, leaves some middle-school students without resources such as laboratories, libraries, and teachers.

"That puts . . . these children at a disadvantage, for example, in terms of math," Clarke says. "They don't necessarily have an algebra teacher."

Each public school should have its own budget, like charter schools, Clarke says, so they can know what funding is available to plan staffing, procure resources, and provide a transparent budget. "You can't understand the education budget unless you can see it school by school," she says.

Clarke quotes Sen. Barbara Mikulski as saying, "`The best way to campaign is to do the job you have and to do it as well as you can.'" That, in addition to getting out and talking to constituents, is what Clarke says she's been doing this campaign season.

The only challenger to Clarke in the Sept. 11 primary is Thomas Conradt, who is relatively unknown. Conradt answered one telephone call from a reporter and asked if he could call back in a few minutes. He never called back and did not respond to subsequent voice mails or e-mail messages.

"I've never met him," Clarke says when asked about Conradt. Told that a reporter was having trouble reaching him, she says, "Nobody can."

Another candidate, Kelly Fox, had placed his name on the ballot when he thought Clarke might run for council president. After he found out that she was going to try to keep her current seat, he withdrew his bid.

"I fully support her," Fox says. "I'm going to do whatever I can to keep her in the 14th."

If Clarke wins the September primary, she will face Republican Mark Newgent in the November election.

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