The Feb. 25 filing deadline has passed. With the contenders in the June 24 election now set, it appears this year’s Democratic primaries to fill the Baltimore seats in the Maryland General Assembly will be highly competitive; and due to the recent legislative redistricting, dramatically different from past campaign seasons.
One of the Baltimore state senators who is unchallenged is 40th District Sen. Catherine Pugh.
Among the more publicized showdowns will be the matchup in the 45th District where 19-year Annapolis veteran Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, 67, will face convicted robocall conspirator Julius Henson, 64, who was sentenced to five months in jail, three years’ probation and fined $1 million for his role in attempting to mislead Black voters during the 2010 gubernatorial election. After a judge’s ruling that Henson violated the terms of his probation by launching his own campaign, the candidate vowed to keep running while he awaits an appeal. If the Henson appeal is not filed in a timely manner, or is judicially denied, Henson’s run may come to an abrupt end since the judge levied a four-month jail sentence for violating his probation.
In an October interview with the AFRO, Henson said he is running because the district’s constituents “have not been served.” Currently the president of the Berea Eastside Neighborhood Association – a position he ran for and won – Henson said he believes people will welcome his candidacy, despite his past.
Larry Gibson, an elections law and political expert with the University of Maryland, believes otherwise, saying Henson committed the “unpardonable sin” of attempted voter suppression. “I think with a large number of people it makes him unelectable,” Gibson said.
McFadden, currently president pro temp of the state Senate, seemed similarly sure that Henson’s misdeed would color voters’ choices. “He was convicted of trying to suppress Black votes, which is abhorrent. Now, after trying to suppress votes, he’s trying to get votes? Strange…,” McFadden said.
The longtime educator also responded to Henson’s claims that he has not served his constituents, pointing to several projects and millions of dollars he has brought back to the largely poor and working class district and to the city. “I clearly have a record to run on….The question remains, has he outlined what he is going to do differently? What is his platform? What does he plan to do other than talk?
“The voters in the 45th District are intelligent and sophisticated," McFadden said." They have the ability to look at both our records and determine who is best able to represent them.”
As in the 45th District, political experts believe other incumbents will ultimately prevail given their name recognition and voters’ fear of the unknown.
In the 41st District, Sen. Lisa Gladden will face Will Hanna, a military veteran, former legal analyst with the U.S. Department of Justice, and businessman, who counts among his positions the presidency of The New Park Heights Community Development Corp., a non-profit organization in Northwest Baltimore.
Councilman Bill Henry, serving the Fourth District in the Baltimore City Council for two terms, will likely need a stone, sling, and a prayer when he goes up against veteran lawmaker Sen. Joan Carter Conway in District 43.
The race in the newly redrawn 44th District – two-thirds of which now extends into Baltimore County – will be harder to call. Incumbent Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell will face County Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, whose connection with Baltimore’s Caribbean community and other relationships means she’s not a completely unknown entity in the city.
Political analyst Matthew Crenson said he would still predict a Jones-Rodwell victory. “I would think Verna Jones has a good chance of staying in office because she is the incumbent and she still has a piece of her old district in the City. Her opponent is going to have a lot of work ahead of her,” he said.
The Baltimore senator agreed, saying in a previous AFRO interview, “Two-thirds of my district is new in geography but not necessarily in relationships. I have been able to touch Baltimore County in a way that some people have not been able to due to my positions in budget and appropriations committees.”
Sen. Delores Kelley lost a large geographical section of her old district – and support base – in the redistricting. Earlier, she expressed concern about the changes to the county’s only majority-minority district and the opponents she could face in the election.
She will face an old nemesis, Pat Kelly of Randallstown, who ran unsuccessfully for the same seat in 2010, and Stephanie Boston, 49, who taught in the Baltimore City Public Schools for 25 years.
Boston, a political newbie, said she was running because of the “lack of visible leadership” in her district and the lack of progress. “It bothers me that for the last 15-20 years we’ve had Black representation at all levels, from Congress on down, and the 10th District has not had any progress at all,” said Boston, who is Black.
Among the issues she cites are low-performing schools, paucity of jobs, the proliferation of liquor stores “on every other corner” and a lack of services such as facilities and activities for youth and seniors. “District 10 does not look like it is a middle-class community and it does not have the kind of social services a middle-class community should have,” she said. “I feel we deserve more.”
Redistricting will also raise the excitement quotient in the race for the single House of Delegates seat in the newly created District 44A, where colleagues-turned-rivals Delegates Keiffer Mitchell, Melvin Stukes and Keith Haynes will go head to head.
It is a difficult competition to gauge – in the last elections, November 2010, Mitchell got 31.99 percent of voters, Stukes got 29.71 percent and Haynes got 31.59 percent. “This is a very awkward race,” said Stukes, who also worked with Mitchell in the City Council for several years, “But it is what it is.”
The 21-year politician said while their professional relationships remain affable, all the candidates are “running hard,” and he believes he has as good a chance as either of his colleagues.
Crenson, the political analyst, said he believes Mitchell has the edge. “Mitchell has the benefit of a highly respected family name and is also widely known,” he said. “In terms of candidate recognition, he is in the lead. His only disadvantage is that he’s a bit laid back for a politician.”
Mitchell told the AFRO that while he may be laid back, “I always warn people don’t mistake it as being complacent.” He said he plans to lobby for the seat and that “at the end of the day, voters will see my overall record of service, not just as a delegate, but a councilperson.”
The 40th District, now a much more diverse jurisdiction with the addition of neighborhoods in Pigtown, Laurel Park, Hampden, Morrell Park, etc., may prove the most highly unpredictable race of all. Ten candidates will be vying for three House seats. Incumbents Frank Conaway Jr., Barbara Robinson and Shawn Tarrant will field takeover attempts from:
• Antonio Hayes, a longtime community activist and legislative aide to former 40th District Del. Salima Siler Marriott and former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon, who narrowly lost his bid for a 40th District seat to Shawn Tarrant in 2006;
• Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, the 63-year-old former president of NAACP’s Baltimore branch, activist, former elections official and specialist;
• Douglas R. Barry, a real estate broker, Army veteran, and a leader of the Medfield Community Association;
• Quianna M. Cooke, a city educator for more than 35 years, elected to the Democratic State Central Committee in 2008, ran for the City Council’s Ninth District seat in 2012, is an active member of the West Baltimore Strategic Alliance (WBSA), and treasurer of Bridgeview Greenlawn Neighborhood Association;
• Rob “Bobby” LaPin, a 35-year-old Army veteran, military trainer and consultant, co-founder of the international nonprofit Full of Hope, a former city teacher, and winner of the Reginald F. Lewis Outstanding Teaching Award; and
• Bill Marker, Pigtown resident and attorney with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation; and perennial candidate Timothy Mercer.
Of the challengers, Hayes and Cheatham may have the best chances. “I view my chances to be better than average,” Cheatham said. “The incumbents, of course, always have the advantage of name recognition. But my name recognition and my years of community service equals ,if not doubles, my chances.”
Cheatham said he also had the advantages of time and availability to offer the district’s constituents. “I live in this community all year round,” he said. “And unlike many state delegates who have other jobs, I will be a full-time, not part-time public servant.”