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Incumbent Mitchell loses Senate seat

Sun Staff

Verna L. Jones overwhelmed incumbent Clarence M. Mitchell IV in the Democratic primary race for the state Senate in the city's 44th legislative district.

With all the votes tabulated, Jones, a first-term delegate, scored better than a 2-to-1 victory over Mitchell, scion of the storied but somewhat sullied West Baltimore family known for its political and civil rights activism.

Jones called her margin, which far surpassed the predictions of even those who thought she would unseat Mitchell, "humbling" but "not surprising."

"I think people felt as though they haven't been served in a way that was constructive and they were ready for a change," she said.

At a party for campaign supporters at a downtown nightclub, Mitchell took the stage almost triumphantly, declaring that his real victory was in helping defeat the governor's redistricting plan. He attributed his loss to his enemies in the Democratic establishment who he said punished him for daring to speak out.

"All of the forces that could have come out against us came out against us," he said.

The Mitchell-Jones contest came on a day when two Baltimore legislative leaders, forced by a Court of Appeals redistricting plan to run in new territory, received a split decision from the voters.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, was beaten by Del. Lisa A. Gladden in Northwest Baltimore's 41st District. But House Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh was first among four incumbents and one former delegate vying for three House seats in Northeast's 43rd.

One of the biggest winners in yesterday's Democratic primary was Del. Howard P. Rawlings.

Rawlings, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, provided political and financial backing to both Jones and Gladden.

Rawlings also was the top vote-getter in the race for House of Delegates in North and Northwest Baltimore's 40th District. He led a victory parade of three incumbents, including Dels. Salima Siler Marriott and Tony E. Fulton, and his percentage of votes was among the highest of any delegate in the city. State Sen. Ralph M. Hughes also won re-election against nominal opposition.

In the 41st, newcomer Jill P. Carter, a lawyer and member of Gladden's "posse" of political hopefuls, was the top vote-getter for the three House seats with 18 percent of the vote in a 12-person race that included three incumbents. Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks was second with 16 percent, while Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a cohort of Hoffman's who was also forced to run in a new district because of redistricting, was third with a little more than 15 percent.

But Rosenberg's margin over Del. Wendell F. Phillips - who finished fourth and apparently out of the money - was just 58 votes, the narrowest margin of all the delegate races. The third seat could well be decided by the more than 700 absentee ballots from the district.

Redistricting put four incumbents together in a race for three House seats in the new 46th District, which encompasses the waterfront of South and Southeast Baltimore. Dels. Peter A. Hammen, Carolyn J. Krysiak and Brian K. McHale won re-election, while Del. William H. Cole finished fourth.

Turnout in the city was about 35 percent - about what had been expected.

Where Baltimore previously could lay claim to six legislative districts solely within its borders and four others that it shared with Baltimore County, the city now has just six districts. The changes stem from the city's substantial loss of population during the last decade, coupled with the growth in population in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.

Many of the remaining districts were changed substantially.

The 45th, for example, now includes a large section of Northeast as well as East Baltimore.

All four incumbents in that district - state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden and Dels. Talmadge Branch, Clarence E. Davis and Hattie N. Harrison - won re-election. Harrison's victory came despite being dropped from the ticket of the Eastside Democratic Organization headed by McFadden in favor of state central committee member Vernon E. Crider, who finished a distant fourth.

In the 44th, Jones' challenge to Mitchell left two incumbents and six newcomers running for three House seats. Dels. Ruth M. Kirk and Jeffrey A. Paige were the top two vote-getters, with attorney Keith E. Haynes third. Haynes' margin of victory over Jennifer L. Coates, a City Council aide, was less than 100 votes.

Two incumbent state senators - Joan Carter Conway in the 43rd and George W. Della Jr. in the 46th - ran unopposed.

During the campaign in the 44th, Mitchell promoted his opposition to the redistricting plan of Gov. Parris A. Glendening, which was redrawn by the state's highest court, as an example of his willingness to stand up for what he believes. Jones countered that her ability to work with her colleagues was one of many attributes that distinguished her from Mitchell.

Despite incumbency and his family name, Mitchell was saddled in his bid for a second state Senate term by an ethics reprimand from the legislature and had earned the enmity of many leading Democrats for his outspoken support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Jones had received the political and financial backing of several unions and leading politicians, and had a nearly 4-1 lead in fund raising.

Several voters interviewed yesterday said they voted for Jones because they wanted new leadership.

"I'm a little tired of the Mitchells," said Vanessa Kelly, 50, a wastewater operator for the city's Department of Public Works, outside an east-side polling place. "There's too much controversy with them."

"I haven't really been feeling too comfortable with Mitchell," added Darlene Copeland, a 39-year-old city school teacher. "The things I heard about [Jones] I felt good about."

There were no contested Republican primaries.

In fact, only one Republican filed for state Senate in the city's six legislative districts: Gordon T. Gates, a candidate in the 45th.

Two Republicans filed for the three House seats from the 44th District, and in three districts, one Republican will be on the November ballot.

Sun staff writers M. Dion Thompson, Sarah Koenig and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.

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