Speaking to reporters and potential voters earlier this year, Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes sharply challenged the tax breaks given to local developers and condemned the city-subsidized biotech park being created near Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“[The project] put 800 black families out of East Baltimore, and they spent $200 million,” Stokes thundered in May at a Greater Baltimore Urban League forum held for mayoral candidates. “How much of that went to the people who lived there?”
Using his perch as chair of the City Council’s taxation and economic development committee, he later held City Hall hearings calling executives leading the project on the carpet. Stokes has also criticized tax relief for upscale waterfront hotels at Harbor East and demanded a review of the city’s TIF (tax increment financing) and PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) programs.
That was then, when he was running for mayor.
Now seeking to protect his 12th District Council seat from two strong opponents, Stokes has been raking in contributions from the very developers he once dissed, including the Cleveland company that has been the master builder for the bio-tech-themed redevelopment project north of the medical complex.
A review of campaign finance reports by The Brew shows that Stokes collected $62,425 between July 5, when he abandoned his mayoral ambitions, and August 20, when his latest report was filed with the Maryland Board of Elections.
That’s a staggering sum for a sitting Council member – more than the combined sum that the five other east side council members raised in the same time frame. What’s more, 95% of the contributions came from businesses and individuals outside of the 12th District.
Leading the list of developers contributing to Stokes? Forest City Enterprises, which completed Hopkins’s first biopark building in 2008 and is the primary developer of the 88-acre housing project he had so vehemently criticized.
Forest City gave Stokes $4,000 on August 17. This supplemented a $500 contribution given in late June by Scott Levitan, development director of Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, the formal name of the group under contract with East Baltimore Development Inc. to develop the property.
Pless Jones, another key benefactor of the project, contributed $1,000 more to Stokes. This came through his affiliate, National Construction Inc., also on August 17. Jones received $12.1 million through P&J Contracting Co. to demolish 500 rowhouses to make way for the Forest City housing.
Stokes did not respond to The Brew’s request for comment made to his City Hall staff.
Other Developers Open Their Checkbooks
The councilman got a financial boost from other prominent figures in the local development pantheon in the last two months. Carl W. “Bill” Struever and Charles Eccles, for example, kicked in $725.
They are listed as officers of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, which was awarded $10 million in TIF financing for the Clipper Mill and Belvedere Square projects.
Also in the mix is David Cordish, who gave $1,000 to Stokes through Kansas City Live LLC. Cordish is seeking a $3 million rent break from the city for his Power Plant entertainment properties in the Inner Harbor.
More Stokes donations could be traced to the following: Arrow Parking owner and developer Ben Greenwald ($1,000); Howard St. “Superblock” participant French Development Co. ($1,000); Michael Schechter’s Center City ($500); electrical contractor Charles Eaton ($1,000); Theo Rodgers’ G.W.T. group ($500); minority contractor Mahogany Inc. ($500); Broughton Construction Co. ($500); L&J Construction Services ($1,000); and affordable-housing builder The Woda Group ($250).
Campaign “Angel” Angelos
Stokes’ biggest financial backer continues to be Peter Angelos. The Baltimore Orioles owner, who owns 100 North Charles St. and other downtown properties, contributed $15,000 to Stokes’ campaign in August through six business entities.
That’s on top of the $5,000 that Angelos kicked in during Stokes’ abortive mayoral run, and the $2,500 Stokes got from Samuel Bates, who ran Angelos’ Perring Place restaurant in Parkville.
The O’s owner has strongly opposed several development projects pushed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, including the State Center expansion, and has been critical of tax breaks to developers, mirroring the complaints of Councilman Stokes.
Last December, Stokes announced the formation of a task force to review how the city uses tax incentives to lure development downtown. He appointed Angelos to the committee. The committee was originally supposed to complete its work by March 31, but a report isn’t now due until later this fall.
Facing a Tough Primary
Stokes faces a crowded field of six opponents in tomorrow’s Democratic primary. Two of the candidates appear to be credible threats, though they could well split the vote and hand Stokes the election.
Jason Curtis, president of the Mt. Vernon Belvedere Association, has raised $25,000 since July, mostly in small donations. His biggest benefactors are Susan and R. Paul Warren, who together contributed $5,000.
Odette Ramos, a community activist and consultant to non-profits, has matched his pace, raising $24,000 since July. Raspira Medical of Linthicum Heights ($4,000) is her largest business contributor, and Steve Klepper of Charles Village ($1,000) her largest individual donor, according to campaign reports reviewed by this website.
In recent months, Curtis and Ramos have stolen some of Stokes’ populist thunder.
Curtis has advocated a “cleaner and greener” district, trumpeting his success at cleaning up trash in Mt. Vernon, while Ramos has made getting rid of vacant houses, which are plentiful in the 12th District, a rallying call for her reformist agenda.
Curtis, who would be the council’s first openly gay member, and Ramos, who would be its first Hispanic member, have been leafletting heavily in their geographic strongholds – Mount Vernon and Charles Village, respectively.
Stokes, meanwhile, does not appear to have gone door-to-door in many neighborhoods to win votes.
–Fern Shen contributed to this story.