Community activist Michael Eugene Johnson, who lost a 9th district City Council bid last month, is preparing to mount a write-in campaign to unseat the winning nominee William “Pete” Welch. Welch, who won the Sep. 13th Primary with 1,721 votes, has represented Southwest Baltimore’s ninth district for nine months, following his mother’s resignation from the seat.
Johnson, head of the Paul Robeson Institute, finished fifth in the nine-way race, garnering 489 votes, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Despite his middle-line finish, Johnson says community leaders — and several of his former district challengers — feel he has the best chance to unseat Welch in next month’s General Election. John T. Bullock, a professor at Towson University and 4th-place finisher in the race, said he wasn’t “energized” to run a write-in campaign, but he fully supports Johnson. “He was the first, if not the only person, that seriously talked about [a write-in run]. I wouldn’t stay in the way of that,” Bullock said. “One of the reasons why I’m giving him support is because we need to see a change in the 9th district.”
In a phone interview, Johnson said he’s running because “two-thirds of the people that voted in the last primary voted against the current winner. More people voted against him than for him.”
He’s referring to figures that show, while 1,721 people voted for Welch, 3,206 collectively voted for other candidates. Welch’s eight challengers were separated by very few votes. The voting difference between Johnson, who placed 5th, and second-place finisher Abigail Breiseth was less than 200 votes.
Johnson credits his disappointing performance to low name placement on the ballot.
“I had five names above me,” he explained. “I was what they call buried in the list of nine.”
Without Johnson’s run, Welch is all but guaranteed to go on to a full City Council term, as he faces no Republican challenger in the General Election. Johnson acknowledges that his write-in campaign will be a “monumental task” as such efforts are typically unsuccessful. “We won’t have the debates,” he said. “We have to train people how to vote differently and let as many people as we can know that the election is still going on.”
Johnson raised roughly $2, 800 during the last campaign cycle before the primary. While he would love to raise more, he says, his write-in campaign will be “more of a grassroots effort.” He and his team plan to spread the word at community associations and events and pass out new handouts and arrange robo calls.
Johnson says his relationship with the community paired with his commercial development background make him the better candidate. “He’s (Welch) served next to his mother for 20 years; we have to question how he influenced the decisions she made and since he’s held office these last nine months there has not been anything earth shattering that makes you think anything would change,” Johnson said. “I would bring change by giving the community an opportunity to plot its own course.”
Ultimately, he says the effort is about giving constituents another option without a crowded field splitting the vote. “It’s not about being the best man for the job it’s about giving the community a fair choice,” Johnson said.
As of Oct. 4, seven other candidates had planned write-in campaigns including 7th district incumbent Belinda Conaway, the only City Council member to lose a seat. Then there is former TV producer Shannon Sneed, who narrowly lost to incumbent Warren Branch in the 13th district and Erica White, a lawyer from Cherry Hill, who fought to unseat City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger in the 10th.
Others include a Republican candidate in the 10th district, a Republican for mayor and a Democrat for president of the City Council.
Candidates have until Nov 3 to register as a write-in candidate, but they had to sign-up with the Board of Elections by Sept. 30 in order to have their names appear in a special ballot page sent to constituents.
The General Election is Nov. 8.