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Is This Seat Taken?

City Paper's Primary Election Endorsements

Tom Chalkley

Posted 9/3/2003

Baltimore City government approached this election cycle with the best of intentions and a pair of peripheral tasks in mind: realign the city elections with the presidential elections, in order to save money and improve turnout, and redistrict the City Council based on information gathered in the 2000 Census. In the wake of the 2002 state elections, disgruntled voters added a third task: restructure the City Council.

In a series of events and nonevents chronicled in these pages and others, Baltimoreans wound up with a 14-month gap between the looming city primary and the general election next November, 16-year-olds eligible to vote, a set of 14 new single-member districts for everyone to learn and understand, incumbents battling one another for long-held seats, a tide of insurgent young Turk challengers assailing the incumbents, a jostling pack of mayoral candidates who tried hard to compete with each other without ultimately canceling each other out, a clutch of veteran pols vying for the City Council president's seat with eyes toward gaining the top job through the back door, nearly a year of potential lame-duckery for some, and a new City Council structure that promises to either make governing simpler and more accountable or complicate it in ways no one has foreseen. Frankly, we here at City Paper are more than a little frazzled, and not just from late nights and deadlines.

Still, the CP Campaign Beat team sat down with our candidate questionnaires, our notebooks, and our gut feelings, and hashed out a slate of candidates we support in this giant game of musical chairs. We made our best guesses at which hopefuls might best represent the needs of the city, and of the individual City Council districts. In some cases, we endorsed incumbents; in others, relative newcomers. In some cases, our endorsements are hearty and heartfelt; in others, we must admit we are holding our noses a bit. But in all cases, we tried to make recommendations we feel are in the genuine best interests of the citizens of the particular district, and of Baltimore as a whole. In fact, unlike voters in the voting booth, we had the luxury of making choices for each district citywide, and therefore we can recommend a slate of candidates that attempts to balance black and white, men and women, experienced legislators and eager neophytes. (As usual, we endorse both Democratic and Republican candidates in each party's primary, when applicable; in uncontested primaries, including City Comptroller, we endorse no one.)

We hope that you will consider our advice when you vote Sept. 9, but more than that we hope you go out and vote, period, whether or not you pull a lever for a single candidate we back. Many feel that the Question P ballot initiative responsible for restructuring the City Council passed because voters were tired of feeling that their city government didn't represent their needs, didn't speak with their voice. If you don't speak up now, how are the people who are supposed to represent you going to know what you want them to say on your behalf for the next four years?


Democrat: Martin O'Malley

In 1999's bitter contest for mayor between Martin O'Malley, former City Councilman Carl Stokes, and then-City Council President Lawrence Bell, we picked O'Malley. And we were one of the few papers in town to do it. We're doing it again because he's earned it, especially in light of the field of four relatively unimpressive challengers. The only one with legs, esteemed Walbrook High School Principal Andrey Bundley, failed to convey how he would better execute the complicated task of running a troubled city government. The rest were simply diversions. O'Malley, though, has shown he can run government and, in some ways, improve its performance. After four years, he deserves a chance to show he can do more. We can rest assured he will--because he has to.

He's tried valiantly to beat back crime, with some demonstrable success. He's used his limited influence over city schools to help achieve improvements in student performance, especially at the critical elementary-school level. He's shown an understanding of the holistic nature of economic development--that is, that new business investment in the city requires more than tax breaks, but more importantly a sense of real progress in bettering education, fighting addiction, and nurturing a healthful, productive work force. And he's engendered a sense of accountability in government, by instituting a formal system to measure trends in city services.

The mayor's personal ambitions are now inextricably tied to Baltimore's fortunes. He may want to be governor of the state or president of the country some day, as many have speculated, but he can only get there by showing believable results in Baltimore. He's not quite there yet--there is a widely felt gap, we believe, between the results he touts and reality lived by too many in this city. But we trust that a healthy dose of enlightened self-interest will further motivate O'Malley to keep the city and his political future on an upward trend that will translate into more power for him and better lives for more Baltimoreans. Then he can move on with his career, leaving Baltimore in better shape for the next mayor.

For O'Malley, failure is not an option. And for a city like Baltimore today, with weak vital signs growing somewhat stronger, that's an excellent trait in a mayor.

City Council President

Democrat: Carl Stokes

In some ways, this was a very easy choice; in others, it was a tough one. It was easy to rule out endorsing James Hugh Jones III, a genial minister running on general anti-incumbency, with no political experience and seemingly few concrete ideas for programs or policy. It was also surprisingly easy to rule out incumbent City Council President Sheila Dixon. Many argue that the City Council has operated with unprecedented efficiency under her one-term tenure as president. We would contend that her relatively unruffled cooperation with the mayor in advancing his agenda has not fully lived up to the spirit of the council as an independent body, and her staunch (many would say illegal) attempts to preserve the status quo during the recent voter-mandated restructuring of the council went against its role as the elected legislative voice of the citizens. And since the next City Council president would ascend automatically to the mayor's office if O'Malley runs for and wins another political office in 2007, as is widely speculated, the imperial-bordering-on-imperious style Dixon has developed as City Council president seems like a potentially bad fit for the office of mayor, the ultimate position of public accountability in the city.

Deciding between the two remaining Democratic challengers was not so simple. Touted as Dixon's most serious competition, Catherine E. Pugh brims with passion and with interesting ideas for the city and its future. But despite her many accomplishments in business and public boosterism over the past several decades in Baltimore, her single term on City Council representing the 4th District has not established her definitively as a legislator or a leader; while she has criticized Dixon's lockstep with the mayor, she has not made bold steps of her own to distinguish herself either--other than running against the incumbent president, that is.

And so we come to Carl Stokes. A lot of people liked Stokes for mayor in 1999, and with good reason. He has a wealth of experience with Baltimore City government and with the city school system, which is still in desperate need of attention despite some recent gains in test scores. When he lost his mayoral bid to O'Malley in 1999, Stokes continued to work to improve schools in the city as a private citizen, lobbying for the Thornton Commission legislation in Annapolis. Stokes' political impulses have let him down in the past--in 1999, when an official lie helped derail his campaign for mayor, and this year, when a last-minute campaign switcheroo landed him in hotly contested race, struggling to catch up. But Stokes is a serious and seasoned legislator, and he still maintains palpable passion for the city and its possibilities. Indeed, his often passionate criticisms of O'Malley make it seem likely he will function as a more active foil or counterweight to the executive branch should the incumbent be re-elected; if Andrey Bundley wins the day, Stokes' experience would be a distinct benefit to the novice administrator. And if Stokes should ascend to a vacant mayor's office in three years, it wouldn't hurt to have another often brash but competent and serious-minded Baltimorean to carry on the city's top job.

1st District

Democrat: Angelo Solera

In an open-seat race for the privilege of representing the city's most prosperous and culturally homogenous district, there are several Democratic candidates with plenty of money and backing from the traditional sources of Southeast Baltimore political might. Familiar alliances of prominent political and business interests are picking sides among three lawyers in the seven-way race--Jim Kraft, Art McGreevy, and Ben Neil--and in some cases they're betting on all three. In this district, though, where the agenda of the region's investing class nearly always wins out, after much public clamoring over community concerns, we're snubbing the power players in favor of a fervent grass-roots contender: Angelo Solera.

Solera is a tireless and sophisticated community activist and health-services advocate who has helped many among the city's poor and alienated get help in what, especially for them, can be a very unforgiving city. His community ties are deep and wide, from acting as a liaison to the Latino community in the city to a stint playing drums for the Westsiders Marching Band. He understands, as all candidates do, the importance of allowing development in the 1st to thrive, so as to create new jobs for the local work force. But, as someone who'll come into office with no strings attached to the money class, he's the best positioned to assure something that rarely happens in the 1st: that the district's residents get louder voices than developers in public decisions about the direction their communities take. Solera offers the promise of leadership that is as independent and genuine as it is energetic, and that's a combination that deserves all the votes it can get.

Republican: Roberto Marsili

In the two-way Republican race, we give the nod to Roberto Marsili, the Little Italy activist who's ever ready for edgy--indeed, sometimes crazed--rhetorical scuffles. Nonetheless, beneath the gruff exterior lies a man who, over the years, has repeatedly been the first to bring government misdeeds to light. Nearly all of his issues have originated in Little Italy--a wastefully constructed parking garage, for instance, or political cronyism in the award of a city housing-renovation grant where at least one signature on the contract was that of a dead man. But that's OK. Given a chance, he'd look for such problems wherever he could find them. And he's head and shoulders above his primary opponent, Brandon Katz, who has some bright ideas but needs a few more years to weave himself in the 1st's peculiar political fabric.

2nd District

Democrat: Cheryl Glenn

There are several very competent candidates running for the 2nd District City Council seat, and we agonized over this particular endorsement decision. After all, hard-working longtime incumbent Nicholas D'Adamo Jr. has strong ties to Annapolis through his personal friendship with Gov. Robert Ehrlich, and two-term Councilwoman Lois Garey is a former community activist whose heart has always been in the right place in representing her district. But of the seven Democratic candidates running in the 2nd, we're putting our support behind Cheryl Glenn.

Throughout her campaign, Glenn, founder and former president of the City Union of Baltimore, has been the one candidate who seems to be in touch with what all the communities in this sprawling new district need and want: better education and recreation opportunities for children, safer streets, and more visible and responsive representation on the City Council. She is advocating for the election of some members of the city School Board, to guarantee that it will have at least some accountability and responsiveness to the public; she is encouraging schools to adopt a broader curriculum that includes skills training in addition to the three R's; she is insisting that every community have well-staffed and -supplied recreation centers for kids; and she wants every city school to have after-school programs for children with nowhere else to go. Glenn recognizes that the city's resources are limited, so she's advocating for change in the way the city prioritizes its programs. In her own words, "We need to recognize that the answer to many of our problems rests in the way we deal with our children."

The one caveat to this endorsement is that Glenn is affiliated with state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden's Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO), a political organization that's known to wield a lot of power--some say too much power--in East Baltimore. We urge Glenn to prove to us and her constituents that she will represent their best interests, not the interests of well-connected cronies, as a member of the City Council.

3rd District

Democrat: Robert Curran

Robert Curran can be seen as the ultimate entrenched incumbent. The two-term councilman is a member of a powerful political family (his late father was a city councilman, his brother is Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran Jr., and his nephew-in-law is none other than Mayor Martin O'Malley). But here's the thing: Curran is not content to rest on his name and his connections. This councilman works hard. When an issue affecting his Northeast Baltimore district goes before the zoning board, the liquor board, the planning commission, or some other municipal body, it's a good bet that Curran is there--taking notes, asking questions, and determining the best course of action for his constituents. He also sponsors legislation that adds to (or at least doesn't dent) the city's battered coffers. Recall that he led the fight to align the city election cycle with presidential elections, a move designed to save the city some $4 million. And while his recent call to raise parking fines might rankle those frequently stung by meter maids, it's perhaps better for a cash-strapped city to get green out of scofflaw motorists than to raise taxes across the board. Curran also doesn't shy away from potentially controversial issues, such as his willingness to explore ways to control the number of tax-exempt storefront churches gobbling up commercial space along his district's business corridors. Curran believes--and rightly so--that balance must be found that allows residents ready access to both God and the goods, services, and jobs commercial districts are designed to provide. Undoubtedly, redistricting is going to put more than few fresh faces in the council chambers. Curran is just the type of seasoned, roll-up-the-sleeves old hand it will be good to have in City Hall to show the newcomers how things are done.

Republican: Lorraine Pontillo

Lorraine Pontillo's sole rival for the Republican nomination is Carlos Torres, who ran for a 1st District council seat as a Democrat in 1999. GOPers might rightly question the depth of his Republican convictions. Thirty-four-year-old Pontillo, meanwhile, is vice president of the Baltimore Area Young Republicans and one of the party's eager young bloods. Torres built his campaign around promoting Project Exile, a crime-fighting initiative that calls for federalizing a number of gun violations--a controversial approach that is increasingly coming under fire from right- and left-wingers alike. Pontillo, who owns her own financial-planning firm, envisions a more moderate Republican revolution for Baltimore, one built around fiscal responsibility. While she supports parental choice in schools (i.e., school vouchers), she also envisions a strong and healthy public school system. And while advocating for the privatization of some city functions, she knows it is not a cure all and has to be applied judiciously. Young, energetic, and thoughtful, Pontillo should promote the Elephant's interests well.

4th District

Democrat: Bill Henry

We had high hopes for Kenneth N. Harris Sr. when we endorsed him in the 3rd District in 1999. But despite his strong background in community service, since gaining his council seat Harris has seemed more interested in photo ops--taking disadvantaged kids to the National Aquarium and Ravens games--than addressing his district's most difficult issues. In his three years on the council Harris has only sponsored one major piece of legislation that was passed. The ordinance established a truancy program, which brings youths caught ditching school to special centers that determine what services are necessary to get the child back on track. It's exactly the kind of program that the new 4th District needs, but after three years it feels like too little too late. And with four challengers offering to provide a full-time commitment to the position (Harris has a full-time job as Comcast's director of government and public affairs for Baltimore, Harford, and Howard counties), the district can do better.

In fact, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Democratic challengers. Monica Gaines, for one, has spent most of her life in the district's toughest neighborhoods and is raising three children and a grandchild there, giving her both a firm grasp on the concerns of the area and a real stake in seeing them fixed. Bill Goodin, for another, has proven himself an outspoken activist, challenging Baltimore Gas and Electric, the city School Board, the Police Department, and the city itself; he is the kind of outsider voice that could help break up the council status quo.

But in the end, we endorse Bill Henry. He has a long and proven track record of working with community organizations, most recently as the assistant director of the Patterson Park Community Development Corp. and a vice president of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. He also worked as an aide and manager in the City Council for six years, giving him the kind of institutional knowledge that will be needed in what may be a largely freshman council. Henry seems to have both solid plans for fixing his district's ills and the understanding of city government necessary to make those plans a reality.

Republican: No endorsement

Neither Armand Girard nor Bruce Fleming, the two Republicans in the primary, are running aggressive campaigns. Instead, they seem to be waiting for a coin toss to determine whose name will be on the ballot in 2004.

5th District

Democrat: No endorsement

When the citizens of Baltimore voted for a restructuring of its City Council, they were essentially voting for a change, for a new sense of vitality and accountability in this stagnating body. And Rochelle "Rikki" Spector epitomizes the old guard. Spector once joked, "I've been appointed and elected, I think I should serve by divine right." From the looks of the new 5th District, which includes such Spector strongholds as Mount Washington, it seems like it would take an act of God to unseat her. The self-appointed dean of the council, Spector has been a councilwoman since 1977, making her complicit in 35 years of intermittently effective government. And we have little hope that Spector will change with the new council--she opposed the new single-member districts and has consistently backed the mayor's initiatives in the chamber. Baltimore is looking for fresh faces and independent voices. Spector is neither.

At 78 years old, challenger Leonard Kerpelman can't be called a fresh face either, but voices don't get much more independent than his. He successfully fought against mandatory prayer in schools in front of the Supreme Court in 1963 and routinely takes local government to task on his public-access cable TV show In and Around Baltimore. Putting Kerpelman on the council would definitely liven up those unbearably dull meetings. But as much as we'd love to watch the fireworks, we can't endorse Kerpelman. He has rallied his campaign around a single issue--about 4 1/2 acres of woods near his Mount Washington home--that affects few outside his immediate neighborhood, and his penchant for angry rants makes it unlikely he would play well with others.

6th District

Democrat: Stephanie Rawlings Blake

We admit that we expected more from City Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake when she was first elected in 1995. Rawlings Blake came into chambers as the youngest legislator ever to serve on the City Council, at the age of 25, and has shown some of the ambition and promise that we love to see in a young legislator. But her legislative record to date, though well-meaning, has been curiously thin. (We did find heartening a resolution she introduced responding to constituents' requests for more community-oriented policing that resulted in more city and federal funding to meet the community's needs.)

In any event, we can't set aside the fact that Rawlings Blake has some significant ties to Annapolis--her father is, after all, Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings (D-40th)--which will surely come in handy should other incumbent councilmembers with key ties to Annapolis lose their seats in September. And then there are those remaining glimmers of youthful promise.

We're endorsing Rawlings Blake based on that promise, her substantial experience after her two terms on the City Council, and the knowledge that should she be re-elected to her seat, she will have no choice but give this job her all over the next four years--after all, in the new single-member district system, she won't have a delegation to hide behind. And should she fail to live up to the expectations of her constituents, voters will find it much easier to oust her from the seat.

7th District

Democrat: Shawn Z. Tarrant

There seems to be a current of anti-incumbency running through this primary season. In the case of the 7th District, however, there are no incumbents running, so there is no established yardstick against which to measure each candidate. This means judging the hopeful on factors like approachability, energy, smarts, and past work in the community.

Given these gauges, we support Ashburton resident Shawn Z. Tarrant, a 37-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native and 10-year Baltimore resident. We believe that the key to improving the district's quality of life, a key component of Tarrant's platform, is coalition building, a knack Tarrant has already displayed in abundance. Tarrant, who's active as president of the Ashburton Community Association, took broad steps to meet this summer with the members of a number of community associations not only in his middle-class comfort zone, but in areas like Hampden, Remington, and Greater Mondawmin. After meeting with these groups, Tarrant was able to provide detailed accounts on their needs and offer possible solutions.

We like Tarrant's idea of using community resources to rehab houses, a Habitat for Humanity model. Tarrant believes that the more people you have living in rehabbed houses, the more crime rates decrease--a perfectly logical assumption. We're also all for Tarrant's idea for a more community-centered public-safety program in which police partner with local neighborhoods. We hope Tarrant maintains his current energy, sticks to his guns, and makes careful alliances in trying to transform his ideas into legislative realities; we also hope he continues to reach out to all the district's constituents.

Republican: Owen Hanratty

Fresh-faced young Republican Owen Hanratty 's platform calls for, among other things, better training for police, better synchronization of traffic signals to relieve traffic congestion, year-round schooling to keep kids off the streets, and focusing redevelopment in the north and west sides of the city, rather than just around the Inner Harbor. The other Republican candidates, Carlton "Yummy" Dotson and Almaajid Muhammed El couldn't be reached, despite numerous attempts.

8th District

Democrat: Patrick Burns

Two incumbents are going head-to-head in the new 8th District, and we're hard pressed to muster much enthusiasm for either. Melvin Stukes, who currently represents the 6th District, physically moved from Cherry Hill to Irvington to run in the 8th, and the windy, hotheaded councilman probably shouldn't have bothered. The 5th District's Helen Holton, meanwhile, has done little to distinguish herself during her two terms, emerging as a complacent backbencher. The pair faces a competent field of rivals, including recreation center manager David Maurice Smallwood, a former House of Delegates candidate with good connections in Annapolis. However, his campaign call to a create a "semi-police" force of deputized unarmed citizens seems like an unmanageable recipe for disaster.

Businessman and Westgate neighborhood leader Patrick Burns, meanwhile, is running on a plank of innovative ideas. He helped his neighborhood turn a vacant lot into a property-value-boosting park and reduce crime through a citizens-on-patrol initiative. If all politics are indeed local, then Burns feels that's where change must come. His proposed Community Association Property Tax Rebate Grant Bill would provide funds (tax rebates, not supplemental "special benefit" taxes) to empower neighborhoods to tackle street-level crime and grime issues. Burns' call to save money and water by changing the valves in everyone's commode might seem a little far-fetched, but who's to say it can't work? Burns prides himself on being an "outside-the-box thinker," and as our troubled city lurches into a new century some beyond-the-walls ideas might prove invaluable.

9th District

Democrat: Wendy Foy

When politicians talk about the problems that people who live in poor Baltimore neighborhoods must deal with, they're talking about problems that have affected Wendy Foy. The Harlem Park resident has been a victim of property flipping, her own child and the six nieces and nephews she has helped raise have had to attend some of the worst schools in the city, and one of her nephews has lead poisoning, which is all-too-common among the city's poorest children.

Foy is no politician--in fact, in endorsing her, we worry that it might take some time for her to adjust to the ins and outs of city politics--but she is a true member of her community. She knows the issues that people in her neighborhood face, and she could be the voice on the council for the poor and disenfranchised who desperately need stronger representation in this city.

We are a little wary of Foy's ties to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which has been a strong supporter of her campaign. We hope she can use ACORN to help her get a leg up in the council and to give her a little extra momentum in gaining support from her colleagues on important social-justice issues. But we urge her to avoid letting the organization use her as its voice in City Hall--for all its good intentions, ACORN is nothing if not opportunistic, and Foy will need to be strong to be her own Councilwoman.

10th District

Democrat: Charlie Metz

Deciding who to endorse in the 10th District is an act of evaluating the many diverse personalities and backgrounds of candidates vying for this seat. Candidate Mark Muhammad's background in wastewater treatment, for example, could be an interesting addition to the City Council, but his lack of experience in politics might prove a stumbling block. Attorney Nicole Pastore-Klein has a good track record of working with the Key Highway Community Association, but she seems to be more tuned in to the gentrified neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Locust Point, and South Baltimore than to the needs of the less-affluent neighborhoods south of the harbor, namely Cherry Hill, Curtis Bay, and Brooklyn. Incumbent Ed Reisinger has more experience than Pastore-Klein with all of these neighborhoods and says he wants to appease the immediate harbor neighborhoods with property-tax relief. His experience is comforting, but to build a new City Council we need to take some chances on new faces. And to that end, we endorse Charlie Metz.

Metz, an Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now-backed candidate, has an unrivaled enthusiasm for and understanding of the 10th. He sees how the 10th's various, diverse neighborhoods are similar, and he acknowledges that. More importantly, he sees the differences, and seems to understand how to accommodate everyone's wide-ranging needs and demands. Metz understands that all parts of this district, whether they are north or south of the harbor, need a stable economy to thrive. And he's got proposals for bringing light industry to some of the vacant properties in the 10th that could help put more people to work around the harbor. That would mean more money flowing through the district, more working-class folks buying houses in the city, and a stronger tax base--which would, in turn, mean a lower tax burden on those who own pricey property in the high-tax areas of Federal Hill and Locust Point. Are his ideas a little blue sky? Maybe, but the City Council needs a shot of optimism and creativity to help it better meet the demands and needs of a struggling electorate.

Republican: No endorsement

Not enough information was given by the Republican candidates in the 10th to make an endorsement. Joe Collins Jr. returns phone calls, and his campaign manager--his father--is very pleasant on the phone. But repeated attempts to contact Duane Shelton, Collins' only competitor, were not successful

11th District

Democrat: Keiffer Mitchell

This is an all-around-town district. Stable middle-class communities like Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, and Federal Hill line its eastern half, cheek-to-jowl with possibly emergent neighborhoods like Barre Circle, Pigtown, and Reservoir Hill. The desperation of poverty, meanwhile, rules much of its western half, from Upton to Druid Heights to Sandtown-Winchester. Such economic diversity calls for proven representation that steers a middle course, that is as comfortable tangling with fat cats as it is working to help single moms saddled with onerous mortgage payments. Keiffer Mitchell, an eight-year incumbent, has shown he can handle this balancing act responsibly, equitably, and energetically. His prominent last name--which has become a lightning rod in recent years because of the ill-advised behavior of some of his relatives--should not be held against this Mitchell. His district, the city, and the City Council all will be served well by returning him to City Hall.

12th District

Democrat: Pamela V. Carter

The voters in the 12th District have a momentous decision to make in this race. Do they continue to hand control of its agenda to the Eastside Democratic Organization, a longstanding political machine whose core territory falls within the 12th's boundaries, or do they send the old guard a message that the time has come for a new, more independent era? If voters back incumbent Bernard "Jack" Young, who's running with the full power of EDO's resources behind him, they ensure the district's political fortunes stay under the aegis of the machine. If not--and they have their pick of five other candidates--EDO will feel the well-deserved sting of electoral rebuke, as they did last fall when state Del. Hattie Harrison was re-elected against their wishes. We recommend the other incumbent in the race, City Councilwoman Pamela Carter.

Carter was selected in 2002, with EDO's backing, to serve out Bea Gaddy's council term after the famous homeless advocate passed away last year. Now she's running, like Harrison did last fall, against EDO's current favorite son, Young. Her brief tenure in the council chambers has exposed her to the nuances of the city's power structure, opening her eyes to how the scales of politics are brazenly tipped in favor of the rich and powerful--and against her constituents, who overwhelmingly suffer the opposite qualities. Carter is far and away the best person for the uphill battle of organizing an independent voice for the 12th's residents.

13th District

Democrat: Mel Freeman

It was difficult to determine what qualities made for the best candidate to endorse in the 13th. There is ACORN-endorsed Kevin Parson, who has years of political activity behind him. Constance Maddox, a newcomer to politics, is fed up with "the system" and wants to see big changes. Never-return-a-phone-call incumbent Paula Johnson Branch perhaps embodies the stagnancy Maddox wants to see changed. But the tough endorsement decision boiled down to two candidates: Emmett Guyton, a candidate with a longstanding care for the community, or Mel Freeman, a candidate with tons of experience working for numerous civic groups and neighborhood-improvement associations.

We decided to endorse Freeman because, of all the candidates, he seems to have the strongest awareness of the district as a whole. From the very beginning of this race, he proved himself to be very serious about improving the City Council--he even resigned his position as director of special projects at the Greater Baltimore Committee to campaign for the seat full time. Freeman's stances on most of the issues are standard: He wants to take back the city School Board, invest more resources in city neighborhoods, and improve responsiveness of city government. But what sets him apart is his impressive résumé and his dedication to involving neighborhoods in the government process. We think he'd be an intelligent, mature, and accountable leader.

14th District

Democrat: Mary Pat Clarke

Voters are rarely fortunate enough to have an array of high-quality options among its candidates, but that's the situation for the 14th, which cuts a swath across the north-central part of the city from Hampden to Lake Montebello. Kelly Fox and Elizabeth Smith are both high-energy, committed people with compelling plans for what they'd do on the council, and the 14th would likely be well served by either of them. But Mary Pat Clarke has been down this road before, and done it well, and she's sure to do it again.

Clarke has already served 16 years in the City Council, eight as a member and eight as its president. Another eight years has passed since, and the council has suffered from her absence. She knows how to form consensus and understands the importance of a council that can, when necessary, act as a check on mayoral excess--that's what she did better as the council's president than anyone since. There are few, if any, other politicos in city government who can demonstrate as much legislative cleverness or as strong an ability to deliver constituent services as Mary Pat Clarke. Too bad Fox and Smith ran against her, because they too should lead. But there will be other races in their futures. In the meantime, voters should take advantage of an opportunity to put Clarke back on the City Council.

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