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Councilwoman Helen Holton announces she’ll retire in 2016

Departure of five-term veteran will leave a second opening in Council. A summary of Holton’s career and legal travails.

Above: Helen Holton is hugged by Councilman Nick Mosby after she announced her retirement.

The surprise announcement by Councilwoman Helen L. Holton that she will not seek reelection in far West Baltimore’s 8th District opens up a second seat for a newcomer in a body dominated by incumbents.

Earlier this year, veteran Councilman James B. Kraft announced he would not run in southeast’s 1st District.

First elected in 1995, Holton said she is retiring when her term ends at the end of next year because of unspecified “health challenges.”

“I realize that I’m not getting any younger, and I need to take care of myself,” she said after making the announcement at the end of last night’s Council meeting.

Holton turns 55 today.

Last year, she was hired as executive director of the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO) based in Washington. It was unclear last night whether Holton would continue in that role.

As a city councilwoman, Holton earns $63,000 a year. The position is considered part-time, although many Council members devote full time to the job.

A certified public accountant, Holton heads the Budget and Appropriations Committee, where she is credited with keeping an eye on city finances through oversight hearings.

Last night, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young issued a statement praising Holton as “a true champion” of the people who exercised “steady leadership and advocacy.”

Opposition to Red Line

Holton said that she considered her advocacy for minority businesses seeking city contracts as among her biggest accomplishments. She said she also fought to win pensions for low-paid city workers “who were invisible to the government” and to secure new housing at Uplands.

She also disclosed last night her behind-the-scenes opposition to the Red Line, which would have bisected her district, running along the surface of Edmondson Avenue and in a long tunnel under Cooks Lane.

Holton said the Red Line’s route would have destroyed property values and caused huge congestion in her district.

Responding to the worries and complaints of her constituents, she said she actively lobbied against the line and was not unhappy when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan cancelled the project in June.

Bribery Charge Dismissed

In recent years, Holton was dogged by the fallout of the corruption investigation of former mayor Sheila Dixon.

In 2009, Holton was indicted on a charge of bribery by the state prosecutor’s office. She was accused of accepting $12,500 for a campaign survey from Ronald H. Lipscomb in exchange for helping the developer get lucrative city tax breaks for the Four Seasons Hotel and Laureate Education building at Harbor East.

Lipscomb worked in conjunction with H&S Bakery magnate John Paterakis, the prime developer of Harbor East, according to an “Agreed Statement of Facts” filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

A Paterakis entity (J&B Associates) later reimbursed Lipscomb’s Doracon Contracting Inc. for half of the funds paid to Holton after Holton negotiated the deal with Lipscomb at the Double T Diner on Route 40, prosecutors said.

The allegations were eventually dismissed by Maryland Court of Appeals, but Holton pleaded no contest to a campaign finance violation and paid a $2,500 fine.

Holton’s announcement leaves community organizer Kristerfer Burnett as the sole candidate who has filed to run for the 8th District seat.

That number is certain to increase now.

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