If there is something positive to be found in the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray's death and the turmoil that followed, it is in the quantity — and often, quality — of candidates vying for Baltimore City Council, many of them first-time candidates anxious to rally behind the city they love. In all, there are 97 council candidates listed on the April 26 city primary ballot.
No matter what happens at the polls next Tuesday, the composition of the next City Council is certain to prove substantially different from its predecessor. There are no incumbents running in a half-dozen of the 14 councilmanic districts, and voter interest in retaining those eight running for re-election this year may not be especially high.
Recognizing the importance of issues of social justice brought to light by the Freddie Gray protests — from police brutality and racial inequity in the prosecution of crime to broader issues of poverty, housing and education — but also mindful of neighborhood issues that may be of importance to each district, The Sun endorses the following candidates in Districts 1-5:
In District 1 which covers some of Baltimore's most vibrant growth areas in the Southeast from Little Italy to Highlandtown, our choice for the seat vacated by James B. Kraft is in the Democratic race is Scott Goldman, a 34-year-old attorney and former U.S. Army captain who became interested in running after he first experienced the ineptitude of the city bureaucracy first hand — a burst water pipe belonging to the city flooded his basement in Canton and took months to fix. He demonstrates a broad understanding of Baltimore's core issues but also a realistic expectation of City Council — and the need to work with fellow council members as well as agency heads.
District 1 is unique in heavily Democratic Baltimore for not only having a vibrant GOP primary but also the realistic possibility that a Republican could win in November — Gov. Larry Hogan actually carried this district in 2014. The best choice among three strong Republican candidates is Matthew McDaniel, 27, also a lawyer living in Canton who wants to bring greater fiscal responsibility and accountability to city government. He believes many of the city's problems could be lessened if existing resources were spent on the right things — on teachers instead of administrators — and each agency was periodically audited.
One more observation. The District 1 field of candidates may be the strongest slate of any in Baltimore this year. Voters could scarcely go wrong supporting most any of the candidates (a truly rare circumstance in any election in any jurisdiction), and we would be remiss if we did not give kudos to several who are particularly impressive — Mark Edelson, a Canton attorney, and Mark Parker, a Lutheran minister living in Highlandtown, both Democrats, and Liz Copeland, deputy director of the Baltimore Department of Social Services, a Republican.
In District 2, which covers the far eastern side of Baltimore, an enthusiastic endorsement goes to Councilman Brandon M. Scott, 31, who has become one of this city's most outspoken leaders on issues of criminal justice. During last April's unrest, Mr. Scott was an effective advocate for Baltimore (even though the Freddie Gray incident took place far from his own district), reaching out to the disaffected and helping restore calm. His leadership in the 300 Men March anti-violence group is also noteworthy.
And while Mr. Scott's challenger, 29-year-old financial literacy instructor Tony Christian, is a credible candidate, the incumbent has demonstrated the kind of leadership skills and understanding of the public safety arena that could prove invaluable in the next council.
In District 3 where longtime Councilman Robert W. Curran has chosen to step down after representing the Northeast district for 22 years, our choice of successor is Ryan Dorsey, 34, of Mayfield who is employed by his family's Soundscape audio and home theater supply and installation company. Mr. Dorsey's passion for progressive causes from raising the minimum wage to righting social wrongs is exceeded only by his disdain for what he perceives as the outgoing councilman's lack of leadership on those same issues.
Mr. Dorsey may not be destined to become the most popular member of the council, but his unwillingness to accept the status quo may just be what the city needs right now. He expects Baltimore to be "at the forefront of social justice," a sentiment we suspect many others in his district may share. "We have been leaders in segregated housing and the ills of society," Mr. Dorsey told The Sun. "We have to be leaders in righting the wrongs of the past."
Other strong candidates in the field include Democrats Jermaine Jones, 31, a labor union leader from Hamilton, and Marques Dent, 31, of Belair-Parkside, a software developer for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
Councilman Bill Henry, 47, has represented District 4 on the City Council for two terms and is running for a third, which he promises will be his last, and under different circumstances, we might be inclined to support him in the effort. But given his modest accomplishments in eight years of council service and the strength of the challengers running to unseat him, there is a far better choice — Brian Hammock, 35, of Homeland, a resident vice president for CSX.
For a relatively young man, Mr. Hammock has an exceptional range of experience, both political and professional, from City Hall to the State House and as an attorney in private practice. But what makes him particularly attractive as a candidate for council is his exceptional commitment to addressing the "Two Baltimores" and the disparity of opportunity.
He has made bridging the artificial divisions caused by York Road — privilege to the west and poverty to the east — the theme of his campaign for office. His experience in management and in politics will no doubt be put to good use (he has already promised to step down from CSX to be a full-time councilman if elected). Among other things, he wants to make sure the same vital city services taken for granted in places like Homeland are just as available in nearby Pen Lucy.
The 5th District, which runs across the northwest corner of the city, has been represented for years by Councilwoman Rikki Spector, the longest-serving member of the council. With her retirement, a crowded field of candidates is vying for the seat, and several would make good choices. We'll highlight three.
Betsy Gardner, 50, is a long-time neighborhood liaison in the City Council president's office, and the chief attribute she brings to the race is a deep knowledge of city government, how it works, and whom to call when it doesn't. She is well known throughout the district because of her work on behalf of constituents, and she has the support of City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Ms. Spector and a number of labor unions.
Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer, 26, is a young man in a hurry. The married father of one owns his own business and serves as the vice-president of his community association. He's the top fund-raiser in the race, and his signs and campaign literature are nearly ubiquitous in the district. He is primarily focused on property crime and boasts that he helped persuade the city to add more staff to its crime lab to solve burglaries.
Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, 35, is a Georgetown and University of Maryland-educated lawyer who has worked in the city law department for the last several years. She has political experience, having worked for Rep. Nancy Pelosi after college and Sen. Dianne Feinstein during law school, and a solid knowledge of how the city government operates. In addition to focusing on issues important to her district, like its lack of any recreational centers for youth, her goal is to make the council more proactive rather than reactive, to embrace its role as a watchdog to make sure city government is doing what it's supposed to.
Ms. Martinez gets our endorsement. She provides the best combination of experience, independence and big-picture thinking. She has the potential to become a leader on a new and reinvigorated City Council.