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Ballot Stuffing

No Contest

By Van Smith | Posted 8/23/2006

Incumbent Clerk of the Circuit Court Frank M. Conaway is faced, yet again, with a primary challenge by William Allen. In 1998, when Conaway was first elected to the position in an open-seat contest, Allen took 3,585 votes in a nine-way race that Conaway won with more than three times as many votes. Then in 2002, Allen tried again-this time as the only challenger. Allen took 20 percent of the total, with more than 13,000 votes. His tally, mind you, was gained without really running a campaign at all. The same seems to hold true this year.

Attempts to reach Allen to discuss the race were unsuccessful. He left no phone number or e-mail address when he filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections, though he did leave an address and apartment number on West North Avenue. The small residential building, at the corner of Bentalou Street near Coppin State University, has a beauty salon in the basement. The good folks who answered the phone at New Hair Design Phase II had never heard of William Allen. Calls to minions at the courthouse, where he has worked at times over the years, yielded nothing.

But Conaway knows him. "None of the constituents knows how to reach him," asserts Conaway. "He's incognito, every four years."

Political consultant Arthur Murphy, a student of Baltimore City electoral history, adds that "Willie Allen is one of those people who shows up every now and then. I believe he's been running for various things since 1970. Even got elected to something once, though I can't recall what it was. He's one of the Don Quixotes of Baltimore politics, hoping to get lucky. And he did once."

That was in 1978, when Allen was elected clerk of the Baltimore City Superior Court (the predecessor of the Circuit Court), making him the first African-American to gain that seat. He stepped down in 1981 "amid charges of incompetence," the Evening Sun reported at the time. The next year, then-state Del. Conaway lost re-election while fighting allegations of mishandling insurance premiums at his insurance companies. Conaway was burdened by debts-including tax liens for unpaid taxes-and declared bankruptcy shortly after his loss at the polls. He's since regained his financial footing and the electorate's favor.

As for Allen, Conaway observes, "I see [him] walking in front of the courthouse every now and then, talking to himself. I'm not sure he's all there."

True that, in a political sense, anyway.

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