By Julie Scharper and Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun
2:39 PM EST, November 6, 2011
Members of the Republican, Green and Libertarian parties are often divided by strong ideological differences in national politics. But in Baltimore, their candidates emphatically agree on at least one thing: They're fed up with the Democratic dominance of city politics.
The names of 16 candidates affiliated with one of those three parties will appear on ballots in Tuesday's general election. Although they may lack the name recognition and fat campaign finance accounts of Baltimore's Democratic incumbents, they say they're running to call attention to problems exacerbated by decades of one-party rule.
But candidates affiliated with other parties face an uphill battle in Baltimore, where most of the ballots are cast in the primary and the general election is no more than an afterthought in many races.
"Far too often, people consider the election over in September," said Duane Shelton, chairman of the city's Republican Party and a candidate for City Council. "You need candidates who aren't part of the Baltimore Democratic machine."
Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one in the city, and the last Republican mayor, Theodore McKeldin, was elected in 1963. But candidates from other parties say that the best way to challenge the Democratic dominance of Baltimore is to run for office, regardless of the odds.
Despite their different political stripes, many of those candidates share similar viewpoints on many of the city's big ticket issues: They believe the city should cease awarding tax breaks to big development projects, such as Harbor East or developer Patrick Turner's planned Westport project. They want the city to increase transparency and accountability in spending. And they question the necessity of publicly-funded projects like the planned State Center redevelopment and the youth jail.
"The fundamental issue is how the city raises and spends revenues," said Bill Barry, a Green Party candidate who is challenging Councilman Robert W. Curran for the District 3 seat.
Barry, 69, director of the Labor Studies program at the Community College of Baltimore County, said he would cut off assistance for big developers and devote the proceeds to services that directly benefit residents, such as repairing school buildings and keeping rec centers open.
"Fixing the schools is paramount," said Barry, noting that many families flee when their children reach school age. "People who have mobility and ambition are going to leave."
Barry, who has run against Curran twice before — never drawing more than 27 percent of the vote — criticized the city's current strategy for raising revenue. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has raised more than 60 taxes and fees over the past two years to plug holes in the city's budget.
Shelton, 42, is running against Councilman William H. Cole IV in the 11th District. He shares Barry's opinion on tax breaks for large developments. They also share the belief that the city should oppose the state's plans to build a juvenile jail in East Baltimore.
Shelton, a financial analyst for Johns Hopkins Hospital, said members of other parties question policies endorsed by the city's "old boys' network,"
"In Baltimore, we're the transparency, good government, clean government party, and I'm sure the Green Party, though we might disagree on many things, would agree with us on that."
Shelton, a Federal Hill resident, is critical of the Grand Prix auto race, of which Cole was a strong proponent. He complained that city officials have not been forthcoming about the amount of money spent on the race.
Shelton believes Baltimore should dramatically reduce its property tax rate, which is more than twice that of surrounding counties, to attract new residents and spur development.
Douglas Armstrong, 55, a Green Party member vying for Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's 14th District seat, says the legislative body needs to assert its independence from the administration and developers.
"The job of the City Council person is not to be there to make sure the developer gets his project," said Armstrong. "The job of the city council person is not to be there to make sure the mayor always gets her way."
Armstrong, who has worked as a producer and location scout on films and TV commercials for 25 years, is hopeful that residents of the North Baltimore district would support a Green Party candidate.
Lorenzo Gaztanaga, a Libertarian who is challenging council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young,, acknowledges his chances of victory are slim. In September's primary, Young, a 15-year council veteran, faced four other Democrats and walked away with 79 percent of the vote.
"The city has been driven into the ground for well over 40 years by the Democratic dinosaurs that run the city," said Gaztanaga, 62, a security guard from Cedonia, who has also run for Congress and lieutenant governor.
"A lot of people don't even know there's other people running other than the usual suspects that slide right in. I've always known what I'm up against. To me, it's just a pleasure to be able to enlighten the people. You have an alternative," he said.
Alfred V. Griffin III, who won the two-way Republican primary for mayor, hasn't forged much of a fight against Rawlings-Blake. Griffin, 38 — who runs a non-profit from his Waverly home where he said he lives with wife and two young children, his mother, and an adult brother and sister — did not return phone messages last week about his campaign.
Days after his primary victory, some of Griffin's neighbors were unaware he was running for mayor.
"Now that I know he's running, I'm going to have to talk to him and find out about his plans," said Bill Dermota, 47, a contractor who said he's a registered Republican.
Griffin said in an interview then that he was running with an eye toward fixing long-standing problems in city schools. While he didn't raise any campaign cash, according to online records, he said he relied on a few friends to volunteer.
"I made phone calls and mailed letters," said Griffin. "I guess it's old school campaigning — knocking on doors."
Adam Van Bavel, a 32-year-old Pigtown resident who has worked in development for nonprofits, is registered as an Independent, which Maryland recognized as a party until last year. Because the party has lost its status, Van Bavel had to gather at least 2,500 signatures for his name to appear on the ballot.
After months of campaigning, he fell about 300 signatures short. Now, Van Bavel is running as a write-in candidate against Council Vice President Edward Reisinger for the 10th District seat.
Van Bavel believes the city should more aggressively advertise incentives for homebuyers. He thinks the city's repeated budget struggles — officials last week projected a $52 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year — could be avoided with better accounting.
"I don't think you really need cuts if you have a system that's managed properly," he said.
Van Bavel, once a Democrat, acknowledged that he would have a better chance of winning if he switched back to the dominant party. But he said he believed that the one-party system had weakened the city.
"They're either representing themselves or special interests, they're not fully representing the people who live in their districts," he said. "I believe in people, not parties."
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