If you’ve wondered why all the election signs were taken down after the Sept. 13 primary election, it’s because Baltimore is a one-party city.
That means the September primary was tantamount to the general election, and the actual general election – happening next Tuesday, Nov. 8 – is a sleepy afterthought.
The historic reasons for this situation boil down to race and the Civil War.
After the war, Baltimore embraced the pro-South Democratic Party and banished the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. Under the slogan of “This is a White Man’s City,” the Baltimore Democratic Party surged on the tide of Jim Crow white supremacy in the early part of the 20th century.
When black Baltimore finally was able to vote without intimidation, its political leaders gravitated to the Democratic “machine” originally set up to thwart them.
The last Republican to serve on the City Council was elected in 1939. Theodore R. McKeldin, the only GOPer in modern memory to break through to the mayorship, was elected mostly because Baltimoreans didn’t consider the genial homeboy a Republican.
McKeldin won elective office during World War II (1943-47) and again in 1963, occupying the Maryland governor’s seat for two terms in-between.
(As a personal footnote, Henry T. Reutter, my great uncle, ran for mayor in the Republican primary. He lost. The lamentations of Reutters about the “stranglehold by Democrats” was a family staple even when McKeldin was mayor.)
McKeldin departed City Hall in 1967. Since then, the Democratic Party’s been the only game in town.
If, in this election year, resurgent Republicans – locking arms with determined independents, resolute Greens and disillusioned Democrats – were mounting a robust challenge to the status quo in a Baltimore version of the Arab Spring, we’d certainly report it.
But it’s not happening.
“Thanks for Noticing”
Consider Alfred V. Griffin III. The Republican Party’s candidate for mayor has been plagued by an off-and-on website that just this morning began functioning again.
On the fundraising front, Griffin – a political novice who organizes the Baltimore Film Festival International – has raised less than $1,000, according to Baltimore City Paper.
This contrasts with the $1.4 million amassed from developers, contractors, law firms, financial-services providers and ordinary citizens by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose status in the Democratic “machine” is hard to overlook. (She’s the daughter of late Democratic powerbroker and Maryland House Delegate, Howard “Pete” Rawlings, who was elected to the City Council at age 25 and methodically climbed the ranks of elective office.)
The 38-year-old Griffin recently made some YouTube videos. The three-minute clips promote building a “multi-line” subway, improving city schools, establishing a business advisory group and making Baltimore’s tax credit program for film production competitive.
The videos have attracted fewer than 50 viewers. Griffin has tweeted only once on his campaign twitter page since July 14 when he wrote wistfully to a potential supporter: “Thank you for noticing Republicans in Baltimore City!”
His chance of victory next Tuesday? We’d put it at 1 in 43 – the spread between the number of votes he got in the Republican primary (908) and the number of primary votes (38,839) delivered to Rawlings-Blake.
There’s one active write-in candidate for mayor, Catalina Byrd. A performance poet and blogtalk radio host, Byrd said she decided at 15 to run for mayor when she was 30.
When that time arrived, Byrd failed to secure the 5,000 voter signatures needed to get her name on the general ballot. Apparently undeterred, Byrd says she’ll blast her network of friends and artists to come to the polls next week and stage “a big surprise.”
Leaning toward conservative Republicanism (she was a strong supporter of Bob Ehrlich in his two runs for Maryland governor), Byrd wants to jump-start the creative juices of young people with new arts programs and develop urban farming to fight blight and produce homegrown crops.
She’d also demand residency by city police, saying “we’re forking over the largest part of the city budget to Harrisburg and Harford County.”
About herself, she says this: “The audaciousness in me that some see as inspiring and others see as naive and sometimes offensive; just know that’s what I believe Martin Luther King marched for.”
In addition to Byrd, two other candidates filed for the mayor’s race but failed to submit enough signatures to get on the ballot. They are Charlene Gaskins Tamara and Steven H. Smith.
A Fed-Up Citizen
In the City Council President’s race, Republican candidate David Anthony Wiggins is not your conventional GOPer. He’s against the death penalty and in favor of Pan-Africanism.
But the lion’s share of his wrath is directed at what he calls “the rampant corruption” in city government.
“I’m not a politician,” he says on his website, “I’m just an ordinary man that’s fed up with unaccountable elected and appointed officials in Baltimore City. Every other week or so, the media is reporting government scandals and corruption, and yet no officials are ever held accountable.
“I asking all of you, particularly community, political and spiritual advocates, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, Libertarians and Unaffiliated to allow me to be the voice of the People, a voice for reason, a voice against fraud, waste and abuse of your tax dollars.”
Wiggins is president of Baltimore Black Think Tank, a group that offers, for $100, membership in an investment fund that will buy silver bullion to promote black economic development and protect against the downgrade of the U.S. dollar.
Wiggins received 1,144 votes in the Republican primary. His Democratic counterpart, incumbent City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young,” got 49,863 votes.
Cutting Taxes – and His Own Salary
Libertarian Party candidate Lorenzo Gaztañaga is also vying for Jack Young’s post. He’s spent “the last 16 years to help bring about political alternatives to Maryland,” he says, running for U.S. Congress, Maryland lieutenant governor and Baltimore City Council.
The Cuban-born security guard considers reducing the city’s property tax and rolling back licensing regulations among his major priorities. He also pledges to cut his own salary and benefits if elected – and would demand the rest of the City Council do the same.
“For over 45 years, Baltimore has been driven into the ground by an incestuous relationship between the Democratic Party and whatever crony capitalist friends they had,” he argues in a questionnaire submitted to The Baltimore Sun.
City Council Races
In addition to citywide elections – there’s no opponent to City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt – here are profiles of the non-Democrats running for City Council. (This list excludes Democratic Councilwoman Belinda K. Conaway, running as a write-in candidate in the 7th District to overturn her primary loss to Nick Mosby, and Shannon Sneed, who is taking another shot at Warren Branch as a write-in in the 13th.)
1st District – Matthew Brian Libber, unaffiliated write-in, has no website and has not actively campaigned against incumbent James B. Kraft
2nd District – Republican Shereese Maynard-Tucker wants to improve the city schools and tackle unemployment by supporting small businesses in her district. If elected, she says she would launch a media campaign aimed at luring new residents to the city through neighborhood profiles rather than big corporate projects. She’s up against former Recreation and Parks aide Brandon M. Scott, who was anointed as Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s candidate prior to the September Democratic primary.
3rd District – the two alternatives to ultra-insider (in office since 1995) Councilman Robert W. Curran are Bill Barry and Gary M. Collins. Barry, a professor at CCBC Dundalk, is the Green Party candidate. In addition to supporting the Green’s liberal environmental and labor policies, Barry vows to be a thorn in the Democratic “machine” by championing new viewpoints and helping citizens access to City Hall. Barry won 27% of the vote running for the same office in 2007.
Republican Collins, a consultant and motivational speaker, says he will focus on education, economic development and government responsibility. Hammering on the theme of corruption, he notes, “The city’s electorate needs to try something new on for size; they need to vote in a representative that is not a Democrat. Otherwise, corruption will continue.”
4th District – Republican Ebony R. Edwards manages Waverly Main Street, a community non-profit. A lawyer, Edwards wants the city to reduce the number of vacant and abandoned houses by reducing the number of landlords who “do not have domicile in the city of Baltimore and often times in the state of Maryland.” She proposes partnering with local universities and creating an endowment to maintain and improve public schools. She would cut city government costs by ending lucrative consultant contracts and reducing energy consumption. She’s challenging incumbent Bill Henry.
5th District – Republican Ari Winokur says he has “three simple ideas”: transparency so that citizens can see how their tax money is spent, better use of city revenues and cutting the property tax rate to spur investment and bring back jobs. He faces a steep battle to unseat veteran Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector.
7th District – Republican Michael John Bradley has no website and is not actively campaigning, making this race a battle between Democrats Nick Mosby and Belinda Conaway (as a write-in).
8th District – Dennis Betzel, a Republican, is project manager for a local software company. He would confront the vacant housing problem by establishing a point-system lottery to allow bidders to purchase houses with a mix of cash and points. He’s against increasing the size of the police force and favors reducing property taxes and streamlining zoning laws to attract new businesses. Incumbent Helen Holton is the heavy favorite.
10th District – Independent Adam Van Bavel, named “Best Do-Gooder” in The City Paper Readers Polls of 2010 and 2011, is conducting a spirited write-in campaign to displace incumbent Ed Reisinger (who also serves as City Council Vice-President).
Van Bavel wants to bring back $1 homes, increase taxes on vacant houses, and reduce property taxes for occupied homes. He proposes a “budget blitz” by an independent task force to “ensure Baltimore City’s services are as efficient and economical as possible” and he’d implement a “city-services” program for public school students.
11th District – Republican Duane Shelton, a financial analyst, has a novel view about how to deal with vacant house: tear them down. He recommends demolishing “tens of thousands” of abandoned buildings with the goal of “creating parks and development tracts in their place.” Shelton would cut city property taxes and enhance residential drug treatment as part of his drive to reduce crime.
Libertarian Doug McNeil is against the city’s TIFF and PILOT tax-break programs for commercial developers. He would institute a land-value tax to reduce the number of vacant properties and encourage “focused policing” in Baltimore, which is how New York City cut its crime rate by 80%, he says.
Practically speaking, the two candidates will split the small vote that won’t be headed for the column of incumbent Councilman William H. Cole IV.
12th District – Republican Kent Boles Jr., a criminal defense and personal injury lawyer, says, “I have watched the city deteriorate and I’ve watched and listened as the city government continued to do the same old things and give the same old excuses for their failures.” His top priorities would be working with community leaders and police to stop violent street crime, increase job opportunities, lower property taxes to “rebuild the middle class” and provide quality education.
There is no information about Libertarian Scott James Spencer, even on the party’s own website. Carl Stokes is the incumbent Democrat.
13th District – Robert M. Owens-Bey is running as a Libertarian against incumbent Warren Branch and write-in candidate Shannon Sneed. Owens-Bey is a perennial candidate who hasn’t posted any information we could find.
14th District – Douglas Armstrong, representing the Green Party, is a community activist who co-filed a lawsuit that has been variously blamed and credited with stalling the 25th Street Station Walmart/Lowe’s project in Remington. “Citizens are poorly served by the current political system; principles of justice and democracy are ignored while violence is tolerated,” says Armstrong, who works in film and television production.
Armstrong is challenging longtime incumbent Mary Pat Clarke, who, he says, has become too meek in challenging City Hall policies.