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Baltimore City

Jockeying begins for Cole's City Council seat

With City Councilman William H. Cole IV leaving to run Baltimore's economic development corporation, candidates began lining up Friday to take over his seat representing the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill and Bolton Hill.

Bill Romani, president of the nonprofit One House at a Time, and Betty Bland-Thomas, former president of the Sharp-Leadenhall Planning Committee, said they planned to apply for the job.

Two other potential candidates — state Del. Keiffer Mitchell and Locust Point community leader Greg Sileo — were undecided.

"It's definitely the talk of the town," said state Sen. Bill Ferguson, whose district includes some of Cole's. "A lot of people are excited for Bill. In the follow-up, because there's a new process, there's a lot of uncertainty about how things could unfold. I've heard a lot of different names."

On Thursday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Cole as the new head of the Baltimore Development Corp., the quasi-public agency tasked with attracting new businesses and projects. The announcement came as BDC President Brenda McKenzie said she was resigning for personal and family reasons less than two years after she came to Baltimore from Boston.

A new city law on filling a council vacancy will be tested for the first time. City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has the task of creating a committee with at least 13 members — mostly from community groups — to nominate a finalist for Cole's seat.

Young said he planned to appoint a mix of community members, business leaders and City Council members to the committee. The full City Council will cast a final vote on the nominee.

"I am looking for someone who will be independent and vote the conscience of the district, and not mine or not the mayor's," Young said.

In the meantime, observers speculated about who might make the best replacement for Cole.

Reached by phone Friday, the usually talkative Mitchell — who in June lost his Democratic primary race for re-election — declined to comment on whether he would pursue the seat. Mitchell, who lives in Bolton Hill, represented the area when he served on the City Council.

Sileo, an administrator at the Maryland Department of Human Resources, also said he was undecided.

"The process is so new and unclear," Sileo said. "But I'm flattered that others have mentioned my name."

Both Romani, a former teacher, and Bland-Thomas said they were interested in the job.

"I surely would be interested," said Bland-Thomas, who is president of the South Baltimore Partnership. "It's an exciting time. I'd like to see the City Council more transparent and more engaged in the community."

Romani recently finished fourth in a competitive field to represent the area in the House of Delegates. His One House at a Time group works to raze or rehabilitate vacant houses.

"There's over $2 billion of development actively going on in the district," Romani said. "We need to find a balance between growing the businesses and keeping the environment for residents that live there."

Cole said he wasn't backing any particular candidate to replace him.

"It is a challenging job in a challenging district," he said. "The timing might not be right for some people. I'm going to wait and see who applies. There may be people who I've never even thought of."

Ferguson said he would "love to see somebody who is incredibly hardworking and recognizing the importance of showing up before different communities." He called Mitchell a "great guy" who has worked "very hard in the legislature."

"I have a lot of confidence the council president will be incredibly thoughtful in selecting a committee that will pick the best candidate for the job," he said.

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