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Mobtown Beat

Your Friends and Enemies

The list of applicants for City Council President Jack Young's former 12th District seat includes former challengers and political allies

Wilkes: Baltimore City Branch Of The Naacp; Harris, Richardson, Carter: Jefferson Jackson Steele
From left; Aaron Keith Wilkes, Ertha Harris, Frank Richardson, and Pam Carter

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 2/17/2010

Shortly after former City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake replaced the disgraced Sheila Dixon as Baltimore mayor in early February, Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young (D-12th District) was unanimously elected by his fellow council members to fill the City Council president slot vacated by Rawlings-Blake. Now, Young's old seat--one that has long been affiliated with the Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO) political club--is open, and the City Council must appoint his replacement. The roster of those interested, though, remains unclear, even as some 40,000 city residents of the overwhelmingly poor 12th District currently lack City Council representation.

According to the city charter, whenever there is a vacancy in the council, the position must be filled "without delay." A nominating committee must be formed, and it must hold a public hearing within 30 days of the vacancy, giving the public at least seven days' notice that the hearing will take place. The nominating committee will accept résumés from interested candidates, conduct interviews, then appoint someone to the post. Candidates must have lived in the 12th District for at least one year to be eligible. Young originally obtained his spot on the council through an appointment in 1996, when he replaced Councilman Anthony Ambridge after he retired. Now, an appointee will be selected to take his place.

Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District) says the formation of a nominating committee was announced at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting, but the information on when it will hold its hearing has not yet been posted to the council's web site. When asked if he had been contacted by anyone interested in the seat, Henry says that one individual--Aaron Keith Wilkes--has sent e-mails to the council expressing his interest.

Wilkes, president of the Darley Park Community Association and a former chair of the Greater East Baltimore Political Organization, a political club founded by retired Del. Clarence "Tiger" Davis, ran for a 45th District seat in the House of Delegates in 2002 and 2006. Both times, he campaigned on a platform of independence from the EDO, which is controlled by state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-45th District). When City Paper contacted Wilkes to confirm his interest in the 12th District vacancy, he says he plans to apply--and he once again expressed that he is not beholden to any political organization.

"Quite frankly, with the pressing problems we have in this district we need somebody who can be an independent voice and can stand up for the people," Wilkes says. "I have always opposed EDO's control of East Baltimore, and I've always been active in raising the alarm to what they've been doing. I come from the community, so I would be able to work with the community, and I would be able to hit the ground running on day one."

Wilkes is one of three individuals involved in a lawsuit against the city over trash-pickup policies. Wilkes, Herbert Graves, and Charles U. Smith (who has run for mayor of Baltimore and other elected offices in the past, sometimes as a Democrat, sometimes as a Republican) brought the suit in 2009, after the city reduced its number of weekly trash pickups from two to one, and increased its recycling pickups from biweekly to weekly. "The trash just piles up on the streets," Wilkes says, and it has frustrated community leaders who have been working on cleanup campaigns in the neighborhoods. "They threw our whole community back further behind in terms of getting a handle on the trash situation."

A civil trial is scheduled in May.

On Feb. 3, Young said via e-mail that he's been contacted by "a couple of candidates" who might be interested in the job. The only name he offers, though, is that of Frank Richardson, a Charles Village resident and campus safety and security officer at Johns Hopkins University. Like Wilkes, Richardson has tried to break into city politics before, most recently with a run against Young in the 2007 Democratic primary for the 12th District. "I came in second place," Richardson says. "So I'm getting closer. I'm looking forward to working in the district." Richardson, who has volunteered with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (B.U.I.L.D.) in trying to redevelop East Baltimore's Oliver community, says he's not a political insider, "but I'm not letting that stop me."

Community activist Ertha Harris, who also ran against Young and Richardson in the 2007 primary, says she's also hoping to throw her hat into the ring for the 12th District seat and is frustrated that so much attention is paid to the higher-profile vacancies--mayor, City Council president--while so few have discussed the 12th District. Harris says she isn't even sure yet how to go about applying for the seat.

"I contacted C.D. Witherspoon [of the African American Democratic Club of Baltimore] and said, find out the process, the procedure," Harris says. "Do we interview? Do we send something? Whatever the process is, I'll step up to the plate."

Local political commentator Hassan Giordano, who writes the Baltimore Independent Examiner blog, posted this week that Carl Stokes, a former City Councilman who lost his seat when he ran an unsuccessful race for City Council president in 2003, is being considered a top candidate for the vacancy. Stokes did not return a call asking him to confirm whether or not he would be interested.

According to Wilkes, there's another contender expected to throw down for this seat as well: former City Councilwoman Pam Carter, who was originally appointed to the City Council in 2001 to replace late councilwoman Bea Gaddy, who died while in office. Carter, who is director of the Dawson Family Safe Haven Center in East Baltimore, was affiliated with the EDO, but in 2003 she broke ranks with the organization when redistricting reduced the number of seats on the council, pitting her and Young against one another for a chance to represent the 12th District. McFadden told The Baltimore Sun at the time that Young was "next in line" for the seat and that he was bothered by the "disloyalty" Carter was showing by running against him.

City Paper called and e-mailed McFadden to inquire about the EDO's interest in the 12th District seat and to ask whether it would support Carter if she chose to apply. McFadden did not respond. A message left for Carter at the Dawson Center to inquire about her interest in the seat was also unreturned.

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