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Hold Your Nose and Vote

City Paper's General Election Endorsements

Posted 10/30/2002

It's beginning to smell a lot like elections.

You know the time of year--your TV set begins belching attack ads like it ate too many lima beans and signs start popping up all over abandoned buildings in the city and suburban lawns in the county like mushrooms after those rains of which we see fewer and fewer.

Candidate A says Candidate B is distorting his record. Candidate B says Candidate A is soft on crime. Candidate A says Candidate B is lying about her vote on X. And we in the media, of course, tell you nothing about the issues and all about the horse race.

Same as it ever was.

This year, you'll note (and some of you may not even be surprised) that the shadowy cabal sometimes referred to as the City Paper editorial board has chosen an inordinate amount of Democrats in our endorsements. This can be explained in any number of ways.

Some will say we're a bunch of snotty-nosed city liberals. As H.L. Mencken used to say in pre-printed response cards, "Dear Sir or Madam, you may be right."

But the fact is, the nation's political spectrum--and to a large extent, the local one as well--has grown radically polarized in the last 10 years. Even though Maryland is predominantly a Democratic state--a Republican hasn't been elected to statewide office here since 1980--there is still a grand tradition of moderate Republicanism in the state at the district level. Somewhere along the line, though, the United States' political discourse has gotten louder and more shrill, and much of it, we feel, stems from the tide of new conservative media pushing candidates to the right.

Unlike in 1994, today you can get up in the morning, get TheWashington Times delivered to your door (even in Baltimore!), watch the Fox News Channel over breakfast, listen to Rush Limbaugh and Ron Smith on the radio over the course of the day, and at night you can read the New York Post online while watching Bill O'Reilly. Throw in the occasional scan of TheWall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review, and you never need hear from the "liberal media" at all.

And so, the new conservatives are more forward and more brazen come campaign season. This doesn't necessarily mean that they win; in 2000, former Howard County police chief Paul Rappaport campaigned against U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes by calling him an "ultra-liberal." When Sarbanes soundly thrashed Rappaport 63 percent to 37 percent, the Republican said on election night, "Maybe the state is more liberal than I thought it was."

By and large, there aren't a lot of burning issues front and center in this year's mid-term elections. It is, as USA Today's political reporter Walter Shapiro called it, "a Seinfeld election"--it's about nothing. So sadly, personality means a lot.

We wish we could say we were more enthused about this year's crop of general-election candidates. We wish we could say there are a group of rising stars with new and provocative ideas on the ballot, with experience and energy and promise. We wish we could say that there is something to appeal to on the ballot this year other than fear of the other guy (or gal).

There isn't. But go vote anyway. It's your duty.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D)

There are three ways for a Republican to run statewide in Maryland: 1) moderate your record, 2) run unabashedly as a conservative and constantly call your opponent a liberal, and 3) spin your record as a conservative and call yourself a moderate.

The first of these can have you holding up your right hand in January. The second can have you presiding over a rapidly emptying ballroom on election night.

The outcome of the third path remains to be seen.

There are three ways to lose a statewide election as a Democrat in Maryland: 1) forget your base of support, 2) appeal to voters far outside your base of support, and 3) have little record or personality to speak of.

The fact that Robert Ehrlich may be giving Kathleen Kennedy Townsend a run for her money may be due to the fact that she embodies all three of the Democrats' weaknesses and he is a textbook example of a Republican trying to spin his record.

We would love to say this year that the Libertarian candidate or the Green Party candidate had an idea or an issue to give them even a chance at breaking through the stranglehold that Maryland has given to the (virtual) two-party system on the ballot. But frankly, politics isn't single-A baseball, and in a year where the state is facing a massive budget deficit and possible future shortfalls to come, endorsing a newcomer would be irresponsible of us.

So it comes back to the two party standard-bearers.

Ehrlich has seen fit on occasion to deviate from national GOP orthodoxy. He never signed on to term limits, which was clearly a stalking horse to get Republicans across the country to knock off their opponents in 1994 after 40 years of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. He hasn't completely catered to the hard right on the abortion issue (barely) and the posting of the Ten Commandments.

But the fact is, Ehrlich came into the U.S House as a conservative and he has made little effort to really moderate his record in the sense of a Connie Morella or a Wayne Gilchrest. In an obvious gun-control state, he has done nearly everything possible to hew to the National Rifle Association party line. He is far outside the tradition of moderate conservatives in Maryland.

Townsend has never been elected in her own right to any office in her career. On the few issues for which she had direct responsibility, the results have been less than spectacular. She is not a convincing speaker, nor a charismatic campaigner.

Still, she is likely, we believe, to be more loyal and less prevaricating than her predecessor. She has been at the table, and has solid support from leaders in the legislature. In a time of predicted financial turmoil, we will likely not have to look forward to gridlock in the General Assembly among other troubles we may anticipate in the coming years.

She's not our idea of a great politician, but City Paper endorses (with a rueful shake of the head) Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for governor.

William Donald Schaefer (D)

Yeah, we know. Just a few weeks ago, we here at Baltimore's Most Elder Disrespecting Weekly suggested that former governor/incumbent Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was a traitor to the Democratic Party. We tarred him as both a reactionary and an idiosyncratic wild card, and even insinuated that the octogenarian pol might be losing his marbles. All this as we threw our primary endorsement behind his Democratic opponent: bright, levelheaded party toiler and Parris Glendening ally John Willis, the man we thought--and still think--was right for the job and better for the state.

Of course, Schaefer's entrenched political power base and enormous corps of citizen faithful had other ideas. So now we find ourselves recommending that you return to office a man who will undoubtedly win anyway--and just as undoubtedly should have been eliminated in the primary.

Why? Well, none of his opponents on the ballot show any signs that they are ready to take on a big, complicated job that must be done well to insure that the state functions properly. But the tight gubernatorial race is the clincher here. It is entirely possible that Republican Robert Ehrlich could be the next governor of this state, and in the unlikely event that Republican comptroller candidate Gene Zarwell should also unseat Schaefer on Nov. 5, two of the three seats on the state's powerful Board of Public Works would be controlled by the GOP. Complain about the uneven performance of Democrat-dominated boards over the past umpteen years and we'd nod along with you. But we're not prepared to place two Republicans in unchecked control of the sweeping budgetary and public-policy decisions that are its mandate (including issues pertaining to labor, the environment, and development) just yet.

For his part, Schaefer can hardly help but get along better with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend than he has with Glendening. That said, the comptroller is likely to continue to be a law unto himself--it's not inconceivable that Schaefer could wind up getting on with Gov. Ehrlich best of all. But a peevish part of us hopes that if Ehrlich wins, Schaefer will win, too, and come to make the new gov dread those biweekly BPW meetings every bit as much as his predecessor did.

Attorney General
J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D)

Democrats have held the Maryland attorney general's office since 1954. The current attorney general, 15-year incumbent Joseph Curran, succeeded Stephen Sachs and comes from a political dynasty that has endured since the 1920s. Given the longstanding partisan hegemony over the office, which serves as the state's law firm and issues opinions to guide government behavior, we are open to backing substantial challengers. This time around, the Republicans haven't fielded one. Simply put, their candidate--Edwin MacVaugh, a Towson criminal-defense attorney--has demonstrated little other than strident criticism of Curran's approach to lawyering. While the 71-year-old Curran is part and parcel of the statewide Democratic machine, he remains an effective administrator and a stable hand to guide a sensitive office.

2nd Congressional District
C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger III (D)

This open seat, left vacant by Republican gubernatorial contender Robert Ehrlich, is big enough that only a candidate of substance can fill it. And, yes, the Democrat, two-term Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, is a large man--especially when compared to diminutive Helen Delich Bentley, his Republican opponent. In fact, 78-year-old Bentley is of even smaller stature than she was when she last held this seat in 1994. That's because she has aged substantially--despite her protests to the contrary. The famous curmudgeon lost her balance as we accompanied her up a three-step flight of stairs during a fund-raiser early this campaign season. We're not convinced that another 24 months in Congress won't tip her off balance completely--both as a geriatric and as an ideological loose cannon who still thinks we should have dropped nuclear bombs on Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

Ruppersberger, by contrast, is saner and soberer--and he's a mature 56 years old, with plenty of experience and stature in political circles. It's been a while since he's been a legislator--the last time was in the Baltimore County Council, from 1986 to 1994--but we're confident he can make the adjustment to the national political stage.

3rd Congressional District
Ben Cardin (D)

Ben Cardin is running in a significantly redrawn district, and it is possible that his fruitful but unflashy 15 years of service as the 3rd's representative may have escaped the notice of many of his new constituents. But his demonstrable dedication to shoring up the health and financial well-being of the average Maryland family and his position as the senior Democrat on the key House Ways and Means Committee (i.e., Maryland's best grip on the federal purse strings) win him our endorsement. We hope the voters of the 3rd District agree.

Still, we wish that the Republican Party had more Scott Conwells to throw into state races. Cardin's 38-year-old Republican opponent is, by all appearances, a fairly sharp political comer, a far cry from the usual also-rans the GOP also-runs year after year. Conwell proved his savvy by stumping on a handful of who-can-complain issues like education and staying away from hot buttons like gun control and abortion. While we'd wanna know about that kind of stuff before we endorsed him in any future contest, Conwell could be a genuine moderate. And a moderate Republican option to the often too-comfortable Democratic powers-that-be in this state would be a good thing for all concerned, most especially the voters.

7th Congressional District
Elijah Cummings (D)

What is there to say about this race? Elijah Cummings is firmly in step with his 73 percent minority district, brings home the bacon, sits on the Government Reform and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, and holds the top Democratic slot on the Civil Service subcommittee. His Republican opponent, Joseph Ward, refuses requests for information about his positions and apparently exists on the ballot because the GOP residents of the 7th District got tired of perennial candidate Kenneth Kondner. City Paper endorses Elijah Cummings for the 7th District.

43rd Legislative District, Delegates
Curt Anderson (D)

Ann Marie Doory (D)

Maggie McIntosh (D)

Erstwhile TV reporter Curt Anderson served in the House of Delegates from 1982 until his unsuccessful run for a state Senate seat in the 1994 elections. The Northwood lawyer says he wants to return to Annapolis because Baltimore is "in crisis." Anderson's tireless, shoe-leather primary campaign allowed him to beat two incumbents; if he can employ the same energy in the State House he demonstrated on the campaign trail, he should serve the district well.

Redistricting tossed Del. Maggie McIntosh from the 42nd District into the 43rd, and her new district embraced her in an impressive primary win. The hard-working, 10-year veteran delegate and current House majority leader is a State House power player--something Baltimore City needs as its clout erodes away to the Washington suburbs. Fellow vet Del. Ann Marie Doory is the only member of the district's incumbent House team to survive the primary. Seems Northeast Baltimoreans have gotten used to her constituent service, as well as her dedication to legislatively tackling crime-prevention and drug-treatment issues.

It is worth noting that Republican candidate John Heath, a thirtysomething Pen Lucy minister, is a political hopeful worth watching. Based on his answers to the City Paper candidate's questionnaire--in which he gave particular emphasis to increasing school funding--he differs little from his Democrat opponents, though he currently lacks their experience.

44th Legislative District, Delegates
Sarah Matthews (write-in)

James Peters (R)

Sad to say, we can make no hearty endorsements in this House race. That said, we believe Sarah Matthews to be a viable candidate whose civic leadership in Bolton Hill, along with her eight years as a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, will stand her in good stead in Annapolis. Matthews says her write-in candidacy came as a result of her fear of running against freshman Del. Verna Jones, who, had she not opted to run for the 44th District Senate seat, was a shoo-in for re-election. Matthews is also running in protest of fellow candidate Keith Haynes, who raised hackles recently when questions arose over his residency in the district.

City Paper endorsed Haynes in the Democratic primary--mainly because he appeared to offer a much-needed level of sophistication and legal savvy to a district that has been rife with inept and discordant leaders. But questions have arisen among 44th District constituents regarding Haynes' domicile (though he bought a home on Howard Street in June, he still retains his former residence in Columbia) and his lack of political experience.

We also endorse Republican James Peters, a teacher at Western High School. Although he's light on local political experience, Peters has done time both as a lobbyist in the District of Columbia and as an activist with local groups like Civic Works. Most of all, unlike some candidates, Peters definitely lives in the district and has a clear political agenda that is in line with its needs. He says he'd like to tackle issues of gentrification, provide more tutoring and job-training programs, and promote more citizen policing as well as increase foot patrols by city police.

We offer no third endorsement, mainly because incumbent delegates Ruth Kirk and Jeffrey Paige have run lackluster campaigns following lackluster performances in Annapolis.

45th Legislative District, Senator
No endorsement

Ask yourself a question, 45th District: What has Sen. Nathaniel McFadden done for you lately?

Sure, he's shown his face around the district recently, after Carnell Dawson and his family were burned to death in a fire set by drug dealers in their neighborhood to punish the family for reporting crime to the police. But has anyone listened to his proposed solution to the problem? Call in the military and take out the "terrorist cells of juvenile drug dealers," McFadden told TheSun. We'd like to know where the senator has been all this time, while drugs and crime have become so bad in his district that he thinks military attacks on out-of-control juveniles are the best way to curb the problem.

Ask some of his constituents and they'll tell you McFadden has spent too much time cozying up to Johns Hopkins, which is planning to build a biotech park in the area, and not enough time helping the neighborhoods find solutions to their growing problems. That's not the kind of representation we can endorse.

Had the Republican Party put forward a strong, promising candidate to run against McFadden, we would gladly throw our lot in with that person. However, the GOP offers us only Gordon Gates, whose first suggestion for fighting the rising crime in the area is simply to "increase funding to law enforcement." Unfortunately, it's going to take a more complex and carefully wrought plan for the 45th to earn our endorsement.

45th Legislative District, Delegates
Clarence Davis (D)

Of the four candidates running for three open seats in this race, we are sad to say that only one seems worthy to represent the 45th in Annapolis. Like Clarence Davis, incumbents Hattie Harrison and Talmadge Branch have long been affiliated with state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden's east-side political machine. Branch is running on McFadden's ticket, but Harrison was unceremoniously booted from her potential spot on the ticket earlier this year (speculation has it that McFadden felt the 74-year-old Harrison was too old to be an effective representative; McFadden says it's because he thought she didn't plan on running for office again). We don't feel that either delegate has truly served the constituents of this troubled district, which is plagued by crime, drugs, and poverty. Both have been busy advocating for Johns Hopkins and its development plans for the area; like McFadden, they have spent too much time and effort helping to pass legislation that benefits the university and getting involved in failed development efforts (the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, anyone?) that have left residents disheartened and disillusioned.

The difference between those two and fellow incumbent Davis, however, is that Davis is not one to toe the machine line. He's represented the district for 20 years, and he knows how to play the political game without bowing to peer pressure.

In a perfect world, we'd like to see Davis retain his seat and see the seats of Harrison and Branch filled by new, more forward-thinking, and conscientious candidates. However, the only other candidate running for a seat in the 45th is Republican Roxcelanna Nia Redmond, who does not strike us as someone with the experience or the platform to take on the daunting task of giving 45th District constituents the representation they need--and deserve--in the House.

46th Legislative District, Delegates
Pete Hammen (D)

Carolyn Krysiak (D)

Brian McHale (D)

The new 46th District, which wraps around Baltimore's entire waterfront to encompass everything from Highlandtown to Curtis Bay, is fortunate to have a full complement of hard-working, experienced candidates in Democrats Pete Hammen, Carolyn Krysiak, and Brian McHale. The sole Republican challenger, Patrick Dail of Canton, is a well-intentioned individual who appears genuinely interested in representing city interests, especially regarding education. His time to serve may yet come, but, lacking a track record or a strong constituency, Dail has much work to do before he can lay claim to a seat in a district where voters have incumbents who ably demonstrate real legislative accomplishments.

Question 1

A domestic-abuse situation in the middle of the night is the victim's worst nightmare. Sure, police officers can come and take statements, but, absent a protective order signed by a judge, they can't legally bar the alleged abuser from approaching the victim again. The state constitutional amendment addressed in this ballot question will make the protective-order process more accessible during off-hours by allowing a court commissioner to issue an interim order until a judge is available to address the situation, providing much-needed relief in an all-too-common scenario.

Question 2

The Maryland General Assembly passes emergency legislation--bills that need a super-majority of both houses to pass and take effect immediately upon the governor's signing--all the time. But, due to an anachronism in the state constitution dating from 1915, such measures can't take effect immediately if they concern public offices or officers. In the 2002 session, for instance, when the legislature responded to the threat of terrorism by passing emergency legislation changing the powers and duties of the governor and the secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it did so in spite of these constitutional limits. The bill took immediate effect nonetheless, but only because no one raised the constitutional challenge. If a challenge had been raised, the effective date may have been postponed until June 1 at the earliest. By passing this amendment, such challenges will be moot--and should be, especially since emergency legislation is, by definition, intended to take immediate effect, already has a high vote threshold to meet, and can still be petitioned for referendum by voters.

Question 3

The Montgomery County government has a little problem it needs the rest of us Marylanders to fix. It has to do with eminent domain--the power of government to take private property for public use, as long as it pays the property's fair market value to the owner. The constitutional amendment addressed in this question would not change anything about eminent domain other than the agent used to determine fair market value. Right now, the county can only use a licensed real-estate broker. It also wants the power to use a licensed, certified real-estate appraiser--which seems a more appropriate professional in the first place, since appraisers don't actually market property as brokers do. We say, let them have this power.

Question O

Question O is purportedly designed to conform the city Department of Social Services to state law. But the language is hazy, most politicians we spoke with were only vaguely familiar with it, and it has received little coverage in the media since it was first introduced by the City Council in May.

After further research, we've figured out what Question O's purpose is--sort of. It would increase the number of members on the city's Social Services Commission (right now, it can have anywhere from seven to 11 members; passage of this ballot question would increase the number to anywhere from nine to 13), giving the city a few more bodies to provide oversight, direction, and vision for the agency. The problem is, as far as we can tell, the resolution would take the mayor and the city health commissioner off the board. City Hall assures us that the mayor and the health commissioner would both continue to "appoint" members to the commission, but nowhere in the bill is this clearly stated. When pressed for information about where in the bill this was guaranteed, no one could tell us for certain.

Why, we wonder, should anyone vote for a bill that no one seems to know anything about? We can't support a bill that's as unclear as Question O.

Question P

The members of Baltimore's City Council, unable to derail this ballot initiative to change its makeup with their own competing measure (which was struck down by the courts in late September), are trying to derail it through misinformation. The council's reaction is natural--it's called the survival instinct. The body now has 19 members: an at-large president and 18 members, three each in six districts. If Question P passes, the council would still have an at-large president, but its district members would be reduced to 14, each serving a separate district. Thus, at stake are the comforts of multimember incumbency, which lends itself to indomitable slates, and the seats of four members. It's just too much of a threat for officeholders to stomach.

Opponents tend to harp on fears of overreaching--downsizing is a good idea, they say, but not Question P, which goes too far. The most emotional assertion is that Question P will reduce minority representation on the council. This flies in the face of reason. The mayor and City Council will draw the new district lines, and with 14 districts to play with, they will have more flexibility to carve out districts that maximize minority representation. Detractors proclaim that Question P also will lead to "Balkanization" on the council, but a parochial body such as the City Council is likely to act more or less so depending on the issues before it and the personalities in office, not the size and structure of the council.

Those working against Question P even try to suggest that the measure's implicit efficiency--with council salaries set at $48,000 a year, four less members will save $192,000 each year--is illusory. The claim is based on the theory that 14 district offices will require more budget dollars than six offices. The amount of city dollars dedicated to council offices, though, is set during the annual budget process, which is controlled by the mayor. If the mayor feels more money for the council budget is justified, let him try to boost the allocation. Our guess is he'll do as reason suggests--fewer members means less dough for their offices.

Our lethargic city legislature has made Question P ripe and ready for passage. The measure will create a long-awaited opportunity for robust challengers to replace incumbent dross, reduce the cost of government, and increase accountability. With three members per district, a pass-the-buck mentality can easily arise within a delegation, making it hard for voters to determine who is or isn't pulling his or her weight. With only one, voters will know precisely who to blame at the polls should the quality of their representation be suffering. And that may be the most compelling reason of all to support Question P.

Questions A through N
For A, B, C, D, E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, N;

against G

This slew of ballot questions asks voters to authorize the city to borrow money to help fund a variety of public and semi-public programs and organizations. Some are relative no-brainers--who doesn't want to support recreation and parks or the Baltimore Museum of Art, as Questions C and L provide for? Others are somewhat more problematic: Question A authorizes money to be raised for "economic development," but the underlying ordinance is nonspecific enough to mean that voters who vote in favor must trust the mayor and City Council to make sure it is well-spent. All that said, we endorse all save Question G, which authorizes money be raised for the already heavily subsidized Port Discovery children's museum. While we would like to see Port Discovery stick around in theory, we're not convinced cash-strapped Baltimore City should be holding this marker.

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