Despite controversy surrounding his nomination and City Hall’s vacancy filling process, the Baltimore City Council selected William “Pete” Welch to replace his mother as councilperson for the ninth district. The council voted 10-3 in his favor at a public meeting Jan. 11. Immediately following the vote, Welch took the oath of office, flanked by Council veteran and his mother, Agnes Welch and his daughter Tiffany.

Welch, 57, declined to comment after his win, saying he would give media interviews in two weeks. At his initial nomination Jan. 6, he called the experience “overwhelming.”

“Even if you know you have worked hard for so many years, to be recognized by the people who may be your peers and they exhibit so much faith in you is overwhelming,” he said that day.

Welch’s mother retired last month with one year left of her term in what some community leaders call a stunt to elevate Pete, her son and longtime aide, to the position.

The public accountant’s selection process began with a public hearing last week, in which the City Council’s 12-member vacancy committee interviewed Welch and three other candidates. In a subsequent hearing, the committee narrowed the field, considering only Welch and city teacher Abigail Breiseth for the nomination vote. Welch ultimately won by nine votes.

Some political observers are calling the vacancy filling process “antiquated” and prone to cronyism or nepotism because constituents do not choose the replacement.

“Having city council people decide who will represent citizens of another district is a flawed process,” Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, former NACCP President said in an e-mail. “Right now 13 City Council people and the President will decide who will replace a council person from a district that none of them live in. Preposterous!”

Cheatham suggested that, in the future, residents vote on new Council representatives.

Welch said he liked the idea. “I’m not sure it can be done in a timely, cost effective way,” he said. “Maybe in the future.”

Back when three council members represented each district, if one vacated their seat, the other two nominated a replacement, who was confirmed after a City Council vote. Now that only one councilperson represents a district, city leaders say the new rule came in effect.

“No matter what we do, somebody is not going to be happy,” City Council President Jack Young told the AFRO. He voted in favor of Welch.

At least two city council members, Mary Pat Clarke, D-14, and James Kraft, D-1, are drafting a bill changing how the Council handles vacancies, he said.

Welch’s consideration and ultimate win also prompted concerns about his criminal past, including his firearm charges in 1999 and “sloppy bookkeeping” of his mother’s campaign finance reports in 2004.

Michael Johnson, a community organizer who vied for the seat, called Welch’s win “a slap in the face to constituents in the (ninth district).”

“It’s an embarrassment for African-American leadership because you have tainted leadership as soon as he hits the door,” he said.

Yet, Welch does have some community backing. When his supporters were asked to stand at one of last week’s hearings, the majority of visitors in City Council chambers rose and he had 32 written recommendations.

In previous interviews, Welch said he plans to improve the housing conditions, education opportunities and public safety in the district. “By doing that, the neighborhood is empowered and engaged,” he said.

The three other vacancy candidates told the AFRO they plan to challenge Welch during city elections in September.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO