After seven consecutive terms in the Baltimore City Council, Agnes Welch, D-9th district, has confirmed her retirement, saying she will leave her post within two weeks. Welch, 85, made the formal announcement Nov. 22 at a weekly city council meeting. Her last day will be Dec. 6, she said.

The tiny but robust councilwoman has been a staunch advocate for the elderly, a warrior in the fight against childhood obesity and animal cruelty, a champion for children safety and a member of various boards and committees including the Urban Affairs and Aging committee and Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

For over a quarter of a century, she was consistently reelected to represent Southwest Baltimore, which houses some of Baltimore’s neediest neighborhoods including Rosemont, Poppleton, Harlem Park and Sandtown. Welch also endured redistricting, several mayoral administrations and the loss or retirement of many of her first political colleagues.

“I think there comes a time when you have to evaluate where you are,” she said during an interview with the AFRO, “and it is time for me to retire.”

City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, who has worked with Welch for over 14 years, says he will miss a woman who was “tireless” Baltimore advocate.

“Since I’ve known her…she has been a dynamic representative for the people in her district,” he said. “I can’t tell you how important she has been to Baltimore government. We are going to lose someone who has been an advocate for not only seniors but all of Baltimore.”

Prior to her career in city politics, Welch was an educator and 20-year social work veteran. She said running for political office was a “natural” progression.

“As a social worker, you knew all the problems people were having so you thought if you got into government you could improve the quality of life for them through legislation,” she said.

The Morgan State graduate ran for what was then the fourth councilmanic district with the support of former Mayor William Schaffer.

“The great thing about Agnes is that when she comes to me with a problem, she always has a solution,” Schaffer told the AFRO in 1983. “Anyone can tell us what’s wrong, but Agnes tells us what we can do about it.”

In those early years, Welch was praised as a feisty political newcomer who was vocal and independent.

When asked why her constituents reelected her year after year, she said, “Because I work with the people; I was hands on. They know where I live, they call me at home, they see me, I set up meetings, I love them and don’t mind going to their houses or having them at mine.”

“I’ve had a great career as far as I see it and I hope my constituents will remember how much we worked together,” she said.

Political strategists say Welch’s retirement sets the stage for her son and longtime aide William “Pete” Welch to step in and complete her term.

When asked whom she would like to see as her successor, Welch named her public accountant son but quickly added, “But I can’t decide. It has to be a process.”

That process includes a public hearing—which city officials say will be held the first week in January—and a final vote by the City Council.

“I’ve had a son that’s been my aide for 20-something years, who knows…the process and who’s been there, she said. “So, I would want him to take my place.”

Pete Welch said he is open to taking his mom’s spot on the Council, noting that change and new leadership are needed in the city.

“You always consider those things because you want to help the largest amount of people and if you have been helping people all of your life, it presents a great opportunity to help even more people,” he said.

If selected to represent the ninth district for the remainder of his mother’s term, Pete said, his main priorities would be housing, education and employment.

His critics blew up comment boards and blogs when rumors of the councilwoman’s retirement became public, noting his trouble in 2001 for firearm charges and in 2004 for what a state prosecutor called “sloppy bookkeeping” of his mother’s campaign finance.”

Pete Welch would likely see steep competition in the 2011 city elections. Michael Eugene Johnson, who lost to Welch in 2007, says he will run again next year and political newcomers such as Towson University professor John T. Bullock are vying for the leadership role.

Whoever the next ninth district leader will be, Councilwoman Welch seems happy to pass the torch.

“I’ve had a very happy career,” she said. “I had people who worked with me in the district in the communities in the churches; it was like an extended family. It wasn’t like a job. It was like you were out there with your friends doing things, making legislation, and working to make life better for each other…I have enjoyed every minute of my time.”

Welch says even in retirement, she will remain and advocate for the elderly and follow Baltimore politics including the heated mayor’s race. “I’ll be watching,” she said. The council member called the city’s political landscape “very good despite what some people might think” and said municipal officials are doing “the best we can with what we have.

“We’ve got to get a hold of violence in our neighborhoods and our vacant housing and create some economic opportunities and jobs for our young people—that is most important.”

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO