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Battle for the Badge

Longstanding Baltimore City Sheriff's re-election is already competitive

Incumbent Baltimore City Sheriff John W. Anderson faces a field of challengers in the 2010 election.

By Van Smith | Posted 2/17/2010

Months remain before the July 6 filing deadline for candidates in the 2010 elections, yet one race in Baltimore City--for sheriff--has already attracted three Democrats and one Republican seeking to challenge incumbent Democrat John W. Anderson. The sheriff's race hasn't seen this much action since Anderson first assumed the post by appointment after his former boss, Shelton Stewart, was forced out due to a 1988 felony conviction for obstructing justice. Since then, Stewart has tried unsuccessfully to unseat Anderson numerous times, including in 2006 ("Sheriff Showdown, Reprise," Sept. 6, 2006), but is noticeably absent this time around.

Thanks to decades of cultivating political relationships, Anderson enters the campaign season with a formidable $100,000 war-chest as of Jan. 20, the deadline for the latest round of campaign-finance reports required by the Maryland Board of Elections. Two of the challengers already have raised pump-priming sums: Democrats Deborah Claridy, with about $10,000, and Frances Hamilton, with about $1,200. The other two--Democrat Carlos Torres and Republican David Anthony Wiggins--still have plenty of time to get into gear. The next round of campaign-finance reports is due on Aug. 17.

Despite Baltimore City's notorious lawlessness, its sheriff is not a modern-day Wyatt Earp patrolling the Wild West. But the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office does have important powers and courthouse duties, and aside from the State's Attorney, the sheriff is the city's only elected law-enforcer. According to its web site, the sheriff's office: serves court papers, including subpoenas, summonses, eviction orders, and writs; executes arrest warrants, sheriff's sales, and peace orders; transports and keeps custody of prisoners during trials; secures courtrooms; collects fines and court costs; and conducts crime-suppression and traffic enforcement.

Attempts to reach Anderson for this article, via his office phone and e-mail, were unsuccessful as of press time. In 2004, City Paper awarded him Best Politician, but the write-up was a back-handed compliment lauding "his utter silence in the face of criticism" of his tenure, after an audit revealed abuse of overtime and leave, poor accounting, and nepotism in his office. Since then, no new concerns have surfaced publicly about Anderson's management--though that is about to change, given that Anderson now has several rivals hitting the campaign trail.

"I feel the agency is not moving forward," says Deborah Claridy, when asked during a recent phone interview why she is running against her boss. As a 20-year Sheriff's Office veteran who became a lieutenant in 2003, after using the equal-employment-opportunity process to force her way to sergeant's rank two years earlier, Claridy says she has perspective on persistent problems under Anderson's watch. She alleges the office is beset with problems in promotions, hiring, payroll, and disparities in treatment--in particular, a glass ceiling for women, which she experienced and fought first-hand.

"There is no vision there," Claridy declares. "I find that we do the job, but it is not as efficient as it could be. We don't get people in there who are qualified to do the job, and that leaves us with a shortfall to do what needs to be done and an astronomical overtime budget. There are qualified people in the hiring process who wait six months to find out where they are, and the office instead hires people in 30 days who are not qualified or have things in their background--most times, it's people that the command staff knows."

As the administrative lieutenant with day-to-day involvement in the office's details, Claridy says, "There will be a lot of things that I've been exposed to that will come up in this race, things that give the appearance that the sheriff is doing what he's supposed to do, when he's not. It's time-out for that. The same things happen over and over again."

Frances "Jean" Hamilton declined to be interviewed for this story. She did, however, provide a statement saying she "is a native and current resident of Baltimore City" who has served in the military, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), and the sheriff's office as a lieutenant. "With 28 years experience as an able administrator and top law-enforcement official," the statement continues, "Ms. Hamilton will focus on improving courthouse security, upgrading officer training, and enhancing the Sheriff Office's technology capabilities, among other things."

Hamilton has a pending federal lawsuit against the BPD. The complaint alleges that in 2005, she lodged a written complaint to the Internal Affairs Division, reporting that several of her fellow officers were submitting "falsified overtime slips to be paid for hours that they did not work." As a result, Hamilton's lawsuit contends, she suffered improper retaliation that has impeded her career in law enforcement, while the BPD took no action to address the overtime abuse she reported. When filing the lawsuit in court, Hamilton listed as her address a property in Havre de Grace in Harford County. In her statement in response to City Paper's inquiries, she states that "at the time of the still-pending federal lawsuit, I was indeed a resident of Harford County. Currently, the property is rented."

Carlos Torres may be familiar to some Baltimore voters, having run for City Council in the past, as both a Democrat in 1999 and a Republican in 2003. City Paper played phone-tag with him in an attempt to discuss his candidacy, including his return to the Democratic column for this race, but was unable to catch up with him as of press time.

Wiggins, the sole Republican to have filed so far, did not respond to e-mails and phone calls. He achieved notoriety last year by filing an unsuccessful lawsuit to challenge the legitimacy of former Mayor Sheila Dixon's claim to office, saying that she was improperly sworn in by Gov. Martin O'Malley instead of Baltimore Clerk of the Circuit Court Frank Conaway Sr. Wiggins provides legal research and information services, according to his web site, and is chairman of the Baltimore Black Think Tank, which says it seeks accountability for mismanagement of Baltimore City government.

Court records indicate that Wiggins has a history of run-ins with the law in Maryland, including a 2005 guilty plea in Howard County for filing a false firearm-registration application, which resulted in probation before judgment, and 1995 guilty pleas in Baltimore City for assault and drug possession, for which he violated probation before judgment. And last year, Wiggins sought unsuccessfully to have a landlord-tenant dispute he was embroiled in--the property owner claimed Wiggins was living at the property, though he was not on the lease, and that he had "launched a campaign of harassment, extortion and intimidation against the Landlord"--removed to federal court.

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