The youth movement that has swept Baltimore politics in the last few years has produced some highly competitive primary elections this year, with young upstarts seeking to oust veteran lawmakers from one corner of the city to another. As with the City Council elections two years ago, we think that’s mainly a good thing. Baltimore needs new energy and ideas to tackle its endemic problems. But in the never-ending battle for resources in Annapolis, it also needs clout, and that means keeping a few influential lawmakers in its delegation, too. Here are The Sun’s picks in the Democratic primary for state Senate and House of Delegates in Baltimore. (There are no competitive Republican primaries for city legislative races this year.)
After Catherine Pugh’s election as mayor two years ago, her seat in the state Senate went to then-Del. Barbara Robinson, a long-time veteran of the legislature. Now attempting to win the seat in her own right, Senator Robinson faces a strong challenge from Del. Antonio Hayes, a former City Hall staffer who has quickly established a reputation as an up-and-comer in Annapolis. He has our endorsement. Mr. Hayes, who grew up in the Penn-North neighborhood, has an excellent understanding of his community’s needs, including expanded drug treatment and mental health services and economic development. Ms. Robinson emphasizes her experience (she has served in the legislature 12 years to his four), but she remains a newcomer in the Senate, and he has already shown an ability to muster resources for the district.
In a crowded race for delegate, we endorse Nick Mosby, the former City Council member who was appointed to fill Ms. Robinson’s seat after she was elevated to the Senate. Throughout his career, he has proved a thoughtful and dedicated lawmaker. But the General Assembly could easily do without the other incumbent, Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr., who has little to show for his years in office. Fortunately, there are plenty of other excellent candidates in the race. Our picks are Melissa Wells, a community activist and labor leader whose interest in apprenticeship programs could help prepare city residents for well-paying jobs, and Gabriel Auteri, an attorney former teacher who works as a top aide to Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. The Union Square resident brings great expertise in public health as well as an interest in criminal justice reform. A close third is Terrell Boston Smith, a veteran of the Safe and Sound Campaign who now works in Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office.
Perhaps the roughest race in town is the contest between Sen. Jill Carter and former teacher J.D. Merrill. Mr. Merrill has made an issue of the large number of votes Ms. Carter missed while in the House of Delegates, and she has in turn accused him of playing on racial stereotypes. But on the issues, they both present compelling and different areas of interest and expertise. Ms. Carter was focused on police accountability and criminal justice reform long before Freddie Gray’s death brought those issues to broader public attention. She has worked to provide police officers with better training around the use of force and wants to bring stronger civilian oversight to law enforcement. Mr. Merrill’s experience as a teacher at his alma mater, City College, and as a top aide at the city schools headquarters has given him an acute understanding of the challenges Baltimore students face. His agenda centers on fostering upward mobility in Baltimore, primarily by ensuring that every student goes to an excellent school. It’s a tough call, but we endorse Mr. Merrill. As a delegate, Ms. Carter was (for better or worse) not a team player, and while independence can be a virtue, we worry that she would have difficulty influencing the agenda in the Senate. Mr. Merrill, by contrast, has a record of fostering collaboration to solve problems (for example, parlaying $300,000 in city schools funds into a $2.2 million renovation of the City College library).
The race for delegate in the district includes one no-brainer: Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, who has for years been one of the sharpest minds in the legislature and a dedicated champion of his district. He and Del. Angela Gibson, who was appointed to the legislature last year, are running on a ticket. She is a long-time aide to Baltimore mayors, working in government relations, which is a strong background for the legislature. She has already shown attentiveness to community issues like problem businesses. She gets our endorsement, too. Finally, we recommend Tony Bridges, who has worked in a variety of government and community relations roles in both the public and private sectors. He demonstrates an unusually deep understanding of the issues facing the state, particularly in transportation.
The big exception to the rule when it comes to bringing fresh blood into the city delegation is in the 43rd District, where Sen. Joan Carter Conway is facing a tough challenge from Del. Mary Washington. We have long admired Delegate Washington’s work, particularly around water bill and tax sale reform, but there is simply no way she can match Senator Conway’s ability to stick up for Baltimore City. Ms. Conway is chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which means that if she is re-elected, she would play a pivotal role in ensuring that Baltimore gets its fair share from legislation to implement the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (aka Kirwan Commission). As a member of Senate leadership, she would also be in the room to advocate for the city in the decennial redistricting. We have disagreed with her on issues many times in the past, but Baltimore needs someone who can stand toe to toe with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and not a lot of people fit that description.
Among the delegate candidates in that district (in the city as a whole, really), Del. Maggie McIntosh stands far above the rest. Her ability to work the levers of power in Annapolis to Baltimore’s benefit is unparalleled, and her role as chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee is vital to the city’s interests. Her fellow incumbent, Del. Curt Anderson, presents a difficult issue. He also has a strong record of advocacy for the city, but we cannot recommend his re-election while he is being investigated on multiple accusations of sexual harassment and even one case of assault. Fortunately, there are other good choices. Regina Boyce, a former neighborhood liaison for the City Council President’s office and currently the director of the Strong City Baltimore Adult Learning Center, has a strong record of community activism in Waverly. And Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, who is a primary care physician at Health Care for the Homeless, would bring a needed perspective to the legislature. His perception of violence as a public health issue is particularly important. We endorse them both.
Del. Keith Haynes is unopposed.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden has been a member of the Senate for more than 20 years and has been president pro tem for more than 10. His record of commitment to his constituents is beyond question. But we believe it’s time for a new generation of leadership in the district, and we endorse Del. Cory McCray. A rising star in the House, Mr. McCray brings strong ideas about how to fund improvements to the education system and how to leverage transportation improvements to provide greater opportunities for city residents.
In that district, we endorse incumbent Dels. Talmadge Branch and Cheryl Glenn. Both have significant clout in the House — Mr. Branch as majority whip and Ms. Glenn as the former chairwoman of the legislative black caucus — and both have used it to advocate issues important to their constituents, including public safety, criminal justice reform and economic development. For the third seat, we endorse Stephanie Smith, an attorney with extensive experience in environmental and housing policy.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, who helped kick off the youth movement in city politics eight years ago, is unopposed. In the delegate race, we endorse all three incumbents: Dels. Luke Clippinger, Brooke Lierman and Robbyn Lewis. Ms. Lierman, an attorney and former community organizer, is particularly attuned to the issues of raising a family in Baltimore, from education to public safety. Mr. Clippinger, also a lawyer who grew up in a dollar home in Reservoir Hill, was the lead sponsor of paid sick leave legislation in the House and has been a leader in encouraging the use of renewable energy. Ms. Lewis, who was appointed to replace Del. Pete Hammen two years ago, is a former Peace Corps volunteer and a public health professional. Her years working for the state’s health insurance exchange give her important insight into the challenges faced by the Affordable Care Act in Maryland.
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