Jack Young has City Hall’s biggest war chest, most of it from people who don’t live here

Baltimore's No. 2 elected official cultivates an image of a no-nonsense populist. But his campaign contributions paint a different picture.

jack young at BOE

Jack Young after a recent Board of Estimates meeting.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

For a politician who fashions himself as a man of the people who “aggressively represents the interests of the citizens of Baltimore,” City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young sure gets a lot of money from non-Baltimoreans.

In fact, more than 75% of the $161,000 that Young raised last year came from individuals with mailing addresses outside of the city limits. These figures were made available recently in reports to the Maryland Board of Elections. None of Young’s contributions was publicly disclosed by his office or his political campaign managers.

Jack Young holds the second highest elected job in Baltimore after the mayor and presides over both the City Council and the powerful Board of Estimates.

While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake raises substantially more campaign dollars than Young, she spends a lot of hers, while Young frugally keeps most of his cash stashed away in his election committee.

The result: Young controls the largest political war chest in the city – over $330,000 at the start of 2014, besting the mayor’s own campaign kitty by fully $100,000.

We will write about the mayor’s fundraising habits in an upcoming article. This post, part of The Brew’s on-going series of “Money and Politics in Baltimore,” will focus on the flow of money to Jack Young.

Representing the poor Eastside district around Johns Hopkins Hospital when he first won his Council seat in 1996, Young now has the financial clout to make a credible run for mayor, an ambition the Northern High School graduate clearly harbors.

We submitted these questions to Young about his campaign finances:
•  Can you serve the citizens of Baltimore well when you rely so much on campaign cash?
•  Why aren’t you reaching out more for contributions by “average” citizens?
•  Does the money you receive from contractors and developers in any way influence your decisions on the Board of Estimates or City Council?
•  Do such donations give contributors special access to you or your staff?

Young responded through his spokesman Lester Davis:

“The Council President respectfully declines to offer comment for this particular article. He believes that his track record (a defined history of bringing quality jobs to Baltimore, fighting for affordable housing options for city residents, etc.) speaks volumes about his continued commitment to best serving the interests of the citizens of Baltimore.
Up From Obscurity

A hard-working politician who prides himself on his street savvy, Young is known to travel to scores of community meetings every month to gauge the pulse of the people. His campaign literature touts his common touch and, depending on the audience he stands before, he can employ an easy, empathetic tone.

That’s one Jack Young. The other is an equally tireless seeker of campaign lucre, making calls to potential contributors and working with his treasurer, Keith Tmmons, and campaign advisor, Stephanie Mellinger, to drum up ticket sales at his fundraisers.

Young, now 59, got a late start in politics and was a backbencher until then-Mayor Martin O’Malley began laying the groundwork for his run for governor and Sheila Dixon was president of the City Council.

At the start of 2005, Young had a modest campaign kitty of $29,000, according to financial records on file with the Maryland Board of Elections.

A year later, his coffers had swelled to $72,500 – a 250% increase. Two years after that his political committee boasted $140,000.

By the time Dixon resigned as mayor following her 2009 corruption conviction – paving the way for Young to become City Council president to replace Rawlings-Blake who had ascended to the mayorship – the Eastside Democrat had become a powerful force in the incestuous world of campaign fundraising.

Incestuous because nearly all local politicians go after the same suspects – the contractors, developers and consultants who depend on City Hall business and the small businesses and shop owners that need to stay on the good side of city regulations and inspectors.

Market Stall Owners and Liquor Stores

Young tapped into a tributary of the fundraising stream that had gone largely unnoticed by O’Malley and his protege, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Young participates in a candlelight vigil for a Korean-American businessman slain outside an East Baltimore liquor store in 2011. (File photo)

Young participates in a candlelight vigil for a Korean-American businessman killed outside a liquor store in 2011. (File photo)

His breakthrough fundraising of 2005-06 came from large contributions from Lexington Market stall owners, Korean-American liquor store owners, up-and-coming parking lot owners and fledgling minority contractors.

There were sizable donations from Lexington [Market] Fried Chicken, Seafood Market, K&C Liquors, PMS Parking and its owner Amsale Geletu, Pennsylvania Avenue shopkeeper Young D. Paik, and the Theo Rodgers-William Lloyd “Little Willie” Adams interests.

What’s more, Young had gained the attention of some influential members of the city’s development community.

Minority contractor Ronald Lipscomb contributed $6,500 Young through RHL Development and Doracon Development of Puerto Rico. John Paterakis, builder of Harbor East who worked with Lipscomb, kicked in $1,500 through H&S Properties Development.

Among others who backed Young with their checkbooks: Timonium-based commercial property owner Thomas Obrecht; real estate attorney Stanley S. Fine; Station North developer Michael Shecter; and Cleveland-based Forest City, the master developer for the EBDI renewal project around Johns Hopkins Hospital.

By holding frequent fundraisers and keeping expenses to a minimum, Young and Timmons had collected a cash balance of over $200,000 when the former assumed the City Council presidency in early 2010.

This new position not only gave Young administrative control of the City Council, but entry into the real power source at City Hall, the Board of Estimates.

Beatty lavished funds on mayor and City Council as they lavished tax credits on Harbor Point (3/18/14)
Councilmen say why they accepted donations from developer Beatty (3/24/14)
Cole brings home the bucks (3/26/14)
A silent Councilman speaks volumes in his campaign report (4/3/14)
Council members raised more than $300,000 in 2013 (4/14/14)

Power of the Purse

The Board of Estimates approves all contracts over $25,000 as well as ratifies all federal and state grants, which collectively are worth over $280 million annually.

While the mayor holds the ultimate power of the purse through control of three of the five board seats, the City Council president determines what items appear before the panel – and when.

Young and Mayor Rawlings-Blake break ground at the Rita R. Church Rec Center in Clifton Park in 2011. (File photo)

Young presents himself as a man of the people and avid backer of recreation centers and neighborhood fire stations. Here he is with Mayor Rawlings-Blake breaking ground for a rec center in Clifton Park. (File photo)

A review of Young’s campaign records shows how his change in position has altered his fundraising strategy.

While many of his earlier backers still buy tickets to his fundraisers at places like Nick’s Oyster Bar in Federal Hill, his campaign committee, “Friends of Bernard C. Young,” has many new acquaintances.

These include contractors and consultants employed in the rebuilding of the city’s aging sewer and water lines.

The Sewer Gang

New Jersey-based Spiniello Companies gave Young’s campaign $2,000 last year, while R.E. Harrington, a minority sewer contractor, handed over $4,000.

Phoenix Engineering contributed $500. Just last week, Young and the Board of Estimates gave a $69,500 contract to Phoenix for the design of electrical upgrades at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Transviron, which paid Young $250 last year, won $196,000 worth of work on the same job.

At the February 5 board meeting, Young approved two contracts – worth $21.5 million – to Am-Liner East of Berryville, Va., for improvements to the Herring Run sewershed. Am-Liner contributed $1,250 to Young last year.

On the same Herring Run contracts, R.E. Harrington won $1.83 million.

It should be pointed out that these contracts had gone through the city’s procurement office and were approved by the Bureau of Water and Wastewater before they came before Young and the Board of Estimates. In each case, the approved contractor was designated the lowest responsive bidder.

Young, in other words, did not play an active role in pushing specific contractors through the procurement process. But he did appear to reap the rewards of a system in which contractors are actively solicited for contributions by elected officials who can ultimately approve, or reject, contracts worth millions of dollars.

The Brew’s review of Young’s campaign records found payments from more consultants and contractors involved in city water and sewer contracts.

Among them: Pierre Stewart, a former Rawlings-Blake assistant turned lobbyist for a Cleveland water meter company ($1,000); Valentino T. Bates, owner of an Atlanta-based engineering firm ($1,000); Tejpal Ahuja, a former city water engineer ($1,500); Colorado-based CH2M Hill ($500); and Peter E. Auchincloss, who owns the advisory firm, Watermark Corp., and is chairman of the Parking Authority of Baltimore City ($500).

“Pay to Play” Culture?

In other areas of city business, where lucrative contracts are approved for road paving and parking garage leases, key players have become Young’s “Friends” with four-figure checks.

For example, Christopher McCoy paid $4,000 to Young last year through his construction company and his wife, Ladawn. McCoy has secured millions of dollars in city work at Chapel Green, Orchard Ridge and other “affordable housing” projects.

Four parking garage operators – Parkway Co. of Philadelphia, Edison Properties of Newark, N.J., Greenwald/Arrow Parking and Amsale Geletu of PMS Parking – collectively gave the Young committee over $7,000.

Pless Jones Sr., who recently secured from the Board of Estimates a demolition contract worth up to $15 million, handed over $3,000 to Young through P&J Contracting and National Construction.

Road paver Pierce J. Flanigan IV gave $1,250, while competitor M. Luis handed over four checks totaling $3,500 (just under the total allowable limit for an individual contribution of $4,000).

Liquor and Strip Club Dollars

Liquor store owners did not forget to pay their respects. More than $6,000 flowed into the “Friends” coffers from places like Sherman Liquors, New Q’s Tavern and K&C Liquor.

Jack Young last June with developer (and campaign contributor) Michael Beatty. Young said he backed $107 million  in TIF tax incentives to Beatty's Harbor Point project to spur jobs in Baltimore. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Jack Young last June with developer (and campaign contributor) Michael Beatty. Young said he backed $107 million in TIF tax incentives to Beatty’s Harbor Point project to spur jobs in Baltimore. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

KAGRO and The Korean American Coalition for Fair Zoning kicked in another $1,000.

The Young campaign received $1,000 from strip club manager Kenneth “Kenny Bird” Jackson under his corporate nom-de-plume, Four One Four. (We have more on Jackson’s contributions  to another city councilman here.)

Generous Developers

More than $25,000 of the funds raised by Young last year cam from developers.

Among notable contributors: John Paterakis ($2,000 through HELP I LLC); Bozzuto Group ($1,000 under BA Salvage Mill); Carl W. “Bill” Streuver, ($1,000); Henson Development Co. ($1,250); Woda Group/Valhalla Holdings ($2,000); Allen J. Chapman, head of an Alabama-based “affordable housing” builder ($4,000); three principals of the Dawson Group ($1,000); Kenneth R. Banks ($500); Commercial Interiors ($1,000); and Verde Development Group ($500), which is building housing in the EBDI renewal project.

His most notable contribution – never publicly disclosed – came from Beatty Development Group.

Two checks, totaling $2,000, came in March and December 2013 from the developer of Harbor Point, book-ending a long and emotional debate in the City Council over the group’s demand that the city contribute $107 million in tax incentives to build parks, roads and other infrastructure for the Exelon Tower and other buildings on the site.

Young fervently backed the tax incentive package, personally making sure it overcame the legislative hurdles thrown in its path by Taxation Committee chair Carl Stokes. While Councilman Stokes said the TIF allocation was far greater than necessary, guaranteeing the developer an uncommonly high profit margin, Young insisted that the project would bring needed jobs to the city.

In fact, while Young refuses to discuss the campaign contributions he collects, he has stated on many occasions that he views his job as increasing employment opportunities for city residents.

A large percentage of the parties he solicits from, however, don’t live in the city. The Brew’s review found only a relative handful – less than 6%of total contributions coming from people who (a.) live in Baltimore City and (b.) don’t have an obvious vested interest in city government.

Among those we discounted as disinterested citizens were four members of Young’s own immediate staff who wrote checks worth $450 to his political committee, thus becoming “Friends” with their boss.

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  • Jon Ayscue

    Does the City have any enforceable ethics laws that would stop these council members from shaking down contractors?

    • paticklyons

      it does not necessarily follow from the fact that someone who does business with the city gives contributions that they are doing so as part of a shakedown. even if the contributor _thinks_ he needs to pay to play, that doesn’t make it so.

      but really, the issues that the baltimore city council deals with on a regular basis where they actually have power are so obtuse that it’s not like regular citizens have any reason to care who their reps are for the most part, so why would they give? all most people care about are schools and police and property taxes and jobs. the school system is run by the state because the city has proven too inept to be trusted. the police are largely doing a decent enough job, but the violence and drugs are beyond anything they can actually stop. the property tax situation is largely intractable without another source of revenue which the city doesn’t have. and bringing in jobs largely means pandering to big business and developers so they’ll move here and pandering to young yuppies with marketable skills so they’ll move here and attract or start businesses, all of which brings criticism and cries of elitism even though it seems to actually be working at revitalizing the city’s once downtrodden neighborhoods.

      • axbca

        No, the taxes are presumed to be an intractable issue.

        Everyone pretty much presumes so because it has been as it is for so long, and they city pretends to be desperate for money, even though a close read of their weekly spending habits, if correlated with the city budget, would make one wonder just if there is any connection between planned spending and actual spending.

        The real answer to the taxation question ultimately willl be found if and when the city audits, annually, all of its general fund expenditures, and all of its annual income from all sources.

        The Recreation and Parks audit will be released next week, the first department audit in the city in over thirty years. . It will be interesting to see if “the city” has any protocols to use that information to adjust spending patterns inside the department so it might one day be rebuilt in to the great civic agency it once was.

        And if the Parks Board uses the audit and compares audited expenditures in FY 12 with budgeted and reported expenditures of even twenty years ago, they will, or should be stunned, by what is missing from that once great government organization.

        It is a shell of its former self.

        We’ll see who cares. .

        Chris T. Delaporte
        The Park Advocate

    • Barnadine_the_Pirate

      As Helen Holt made plain, there is no law against selling your vote in Maryland. All of the people in the city council should just publish a price list and maybe give a discount to people who actually live in their districts. That would be a much more transparent, fair way of running the kleptocracy.

  • Sean Tully

    Jack Young a populist. I like the sound of it. It is nonsense, but I like the sound of it.

  • Tom Gregory

    Interesting tidbit: To answer the serious question of “Boxers or Briefs?”, City Council President Young appeared on WBAL-TV to show Jayne Miller the contents of his underwear drawer.

  • s. mark cates

    Wow! What a thorough report on Jack Young’s fundraising. Your questions, research, and reporting will hopefully keep Young on task for the public good.

  • ushanellore

    Auchincloss appears again–first on behalf of Cross Bar–Glass bar–or should I say Glass Dome Bar–and now here, padding the pocket of Young. Why do we need these building contractors and other corrupt donkeys to create jobs? People who work for these guys are not paid well, they are underemployed and many come out of state. Building tycoons also employ their own–nepotism rules.

    You want a job, create it yourself. You have a skill, market it. Cater from out of your home if you like to cook. Become a cobbler–repair shoes. Barter, tutor, sell, paint, landscape, do snow removal–folks need you–they are looking for you. F…the tycoons. Be your own boss. F… the politicians too. On voting day allow the dictators to vote for themselves.

    Today’s job creation is a mirage–no job security, 24/7 slavery, no health care or poor health care, no bathroom breaks, no sick leave, no pension, no praise, no pat on the back, plenty of HR and middle managerial imperialism and peremptory firings and dismissals with guard escorts out the back door.

    Who needs this crap? And these politicians are giving tax breaks to job creators of this sort? They are actually greasing their soft butts softer still for a pleasant march into the horizon, a whistle on their lips and a satisfied venal gleam in their eyes.

    Look at this Young’s backers. Amsale Geletu, Little Willie, Tejpal Ahuja–sounds like an international mob of give and take high wire artistes. From Virginia, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia have they come to curry the favor of our man of the streets, afflicted by multiple personality disorder–one face for the moneyed and another face for those gone to seed–will the real Jack Young stand up and be acknowledged? Those in the wings are wondering “For whom does this canary sing?”

    • Tom Gregory

      He also appeared in the Brew’s new “smart” water meter contract story:

      “Other members of the Dynis team – including company founder Earl Scott and Parking Authority of Baltimore City chairman Peter Auchincloss – donated nearly $20,000 to the mayor’s run, according to state election board records.”

      • baltimorebrew

        Good eye, Tom. Auchincloss attended meetings with city Water Bureau staff and reportedly represented Dynis team member R.E. Harrington. However, he never filed as a lobbyist with the Ethics Board and has refused to talk to us about his role in the smart meter controversy. –mr

    • Citizenpane

      Somebody needs to tell all these gimcrack local politicians who seek the thrill of power and prestige that there are a lot of less expensive ways to satisfy such urges.

      For example, I like to log on to Google Maps, type in random addresses from around the world, click on “Street View,” sit back, move the cursor around and pretend that I am God – watching over everything.

      I’m thinking about upgrading to Google Earth, in order to enhance the experience, but apparently they charge for that, and my current position as an Armchair God doesn’t pay too well.

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    Given that we don’t expect our council people to live in the districts we represent, I see no reason we should expect them to decline cash from people outside those districts, and/or the city itself. Throwing a few thousand dollars at city council members is a de minimis cost of doing business for these big contractors anyhow.

  • Andrew

    God help us, is this our next mayor?

  • trueheart4life

    Well this is just ducky … Many believe that our President doesn’t live in the city either.

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