Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector has been systematically re-elected to represent her Northwest Baltimore district for 30 years.

“I wasn’t even born ,” said Curtis E. Jones, one of three Black candidates vying for Spector’s seat during this year’s election.

Jones, a 26-year-old entertainment company head, says Spector has “slid her way” into office without earning it for “far too long.” The councilwoman was appointed to complete her late husband’s council term in 1977 upon his selection as a district court judge. She has been elected ever since and ran unopposed during the last election in 2007.

“Its time for a change in the 5th district,” Jones told the AFRO in a phone interview. “I don’t even think she should hand over the torch, the torch should be taken from her, because it was given to her.”

Jones and two other Black men—all new to the political field– are working to unseat the “dean” of the City Council in this month’s Democratic primary. The other candidates include Derrick Kevin Lennon, president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association, and Luke “Santa” Durant Jr., a fixture in the Mondawmin community for his role as Santa Claus and co-owner of the former “Somethin’ Good” candy and popcorn shop.

But in a recent AFRO interview, Spector quipped, “I believe in change, but I believe the most important change is in diapers.”

The councilwoman, who is the longest serving representative in the state, said she is proud of her record stabilizing neighborhoods, introducing new economic development and serving on the planning commission.

She “welcomes the competition,” but asserts that “experience far outweighs someone who just wants to come in because they are younger than me.”

“I honestly feel in this case, my ability, my experience and the fact that I have accomplished so much for this district and the city–it would be a disservice to my constituents if I did not stay in my position,” she said.

Spector has recently come under fire for living in a ritzy downtown condominium with her longtime boyfriend.

“Look I have a home and I get the Homestead Tax Credit and I pay the BGE bill in my house in my district. But I’m not going to lose a good boyfriend,” Spector said.

Jones, a Glen area resident, says Spector’s residency issues demonstrate her lack of commitment to the job. He runs TakeOva Entertainment, a company that offers mentoring services and educates teens about financial independence.

Youth employment, recreation centers and schools would be his top priority if elected, he said, adding that his first bill would be to make YouthWorks, the city’s summer youth jobs program, year round.

“Its sad that D.C. employed over 21,000 and in Baltimore 5,000 applied and 3,000 got hired, so they cut 2,000 youth this summer,” Jones said.

Children in the Upper Park Heights community, he says, don’t have access to free recreation centers, and the district’s high school—Northwestern—needs more funding.

“Most of my district is being neglected and I feel that is wrong,” he said.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Jones raised the most out of Spector’s challengers—$375. Still, it’s a far cry from Spector’s reported $41,000.

The 5th district, located in the city’s northwest corridor, has a virtually even Black-White populace, with a large Jewish segment. Race relations were tested late last year when members of a Jewish patrol group allegedly attacked a Black teen, while spitting racial slurs. Still, many of the 5th district candidates deny that there are racial tensions in the district.

“That was an isolated incident,” said another Black candidate, Durant.

As one of the city’s first Black Santa Claus’, Durant has put smiles on the faces of Baltimore children for a quarter century. The businessman and his family also owned the popular “Somethin’ Good” store until it closed its doors in late 2009.

Durant, 65, began his first business venture in 1968 at age 21—a nightclub called “Brother’s Two.” He was also an AFRO delivery boy for many years, beginning in 1958.

His family encouraged him to enter the race, he said, because “crime, abandoned housing and a lack of opportunities for small businesses” were pummeling the community.

“If you look around the city, the Black business person is not around,” he said. The best way to resurrect Black business, he added, is to help entrepreneurs obtain loans.

“Then you have to have the climate in the city where they want to stay,” he said.
Durant did not submit a campaign finance report.

Some political observers suspect he will drop out of the 5th district race and support one of the other Black candidates.

“No, that’s not true,” Durant said. “At first I thought the councilwoman was running unopposed and no one should run unopposed. There are others in the race now, but I like this. I want to make some positive change and I’m not afraid to speak out.”

Lennon, the final Black candidate, has been the president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association for the last four years.

The 45-year-old works as a transportation coordinator at the non-profit Chimes, which aids the developmentally disabled.

Lennon, a Towson University graduate, raised $50 for his campaign. Calls to Lennon were not returned by AFRO deadline.

According to his campaign website, he plans to encourage better relations between schools and communities, encourage increased police presence to whittle down crime, and help sustain community groups.

“Power must be put back into the hands of communities,” Lennon notes on his Facebook page.

Two other men, Scott M. Carberry, a democrat and former U.S. Marine who works at Good Samaritan Hospital, and Ari Winokur, a republican and systems engineer for a computer company—both White–are also challenging Spector.

She says she’s ready for the fight. She also denies rumors that this will be her last run for elected office.

“I wouldn’t say that at all,” she said, mentioning that a friend recently pulled out an old photo of her, from 1968, when she was a pre-K teacher. “My friends tell me I don’t look any different than I did in 1968,” she said. “I’m young at heart, and I’m anxious to do the job and stay in office. I’m very capable now. I’m not getting old, I’m getting better.”

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO

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