Illegal fliers bring up City Council candidate Kelly Cross' past
By Lisa Snowden-McCray
Apr 13, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Kelly Cross, a candidate in the 12th District City Council race, is facing two battles right now.
First, there are the eight people who he must defeat to win current City Council member and mayoral candidate Carl Stokes' old seat.
Second, there are the anonymous fliers that someone is sending to voters pointing out that Cross plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of voyeurism in 2009.
Cross says the fliers misrepresent an embarrassing part of his past, are a form of "gay baiting," and are illegal campaign material since they are unsigned.
"It has come to my attention that someone is anonymously circulating negative materials to voters in the 12th District," Cross writes in a letter to his supporters which was sent to City Paper. "At first these materials were a gross exaggeration of my past, so I ignored them. Now, the author of these materials has resorted to outright law-breaking." Citing Maryland election law, Cross notes that there is no "authority line" telling voters who is behind the fliers. "Additionally, no person has a right to print and publish overt lies with the intent of damaging another's reputation—that is illegal defamation and is subject to civil litigation."
The flier is addressed to voters in the 12th District, which includes Charles Village, Remington, Charles North, Barclay, East Baltimore Midway, and Oliver, among other neighborhoods. "Convicted sex offender Kelly Cross wants your vote," the flier states. "We did the research. You should too." It then lists a series of Internet links to law articles, case search pages, and instructions on how to search for the D.C. Bar Association attorney disciplinary hearing on Cross. It ends by urging voters to "Cross Kelly off your list!"
At issue is an incident that occurred in a Washington, D.C. gym in 2009. According to documents in the case, Cross was accused of videotaping a man who was undressing in the gym's dressing area. Cross says that the gym was known as a place for cruising, and that he had made arrangements with a man via Craigslist to meet with him in the bathroom for sex, alluding to his interest in filming the encounter. Cross says he filmed the man undressing and in a bathroom stall, assuming this was the person he had arranged to meet on Craigslist. However, the victim told police that he didn't know Cross and was simply changing his clothes and using the toilet—and then discovered that Cross was surreptitiously filming him.
Here are the facts of the case as they appear in court documents: The case was originally filed in D.C. Superior Court on Aug. 26, 2009. Cross plead guilty to a misdemeanor voyeurism charge. On Oct. 23, 2009, Cross was sentenced to 180 days, which were suspended, and three years' supervised probation, which was reduced to one year. He was also required to pay a $50 fine. The court prohibited him from joining any gym or fitness club or engaging in any other activity that involves changing in a locker room for a year. He was prohibited from owning a camera, camcorder, or any other recording or photograph-taking device and could not use any social networking device. He was also required to stay away from the victim in the case.
The case also went before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility. In a statement dated May 28, 2015, the Board recommended that Cross be suspended from practicing law for three years.
Cross says that in these cases, the decision is usually retroactive, and that he didn't believe there would be discipline imposed in his case.
While he did plead guilty to the misdemeanor in criminal court, he says, the case is more complicated than it seems. A Princeton grad, he was practicing law at a D.C. law firm when the incident happened. He says that investigation into the incident was beginning to have an effect on his work. Also, the man whom Cross thought he had agreed to meet at the gym is a former prosecutor with the Washington, D.C. Attorney General's office, is married to a woman, has children, and simply had more power to make the case sway in his favor.
Cross says that he was told by his counsel to "apologize, say you're sorry, and move on."
The case is in the past and shouldn't need to be discussed, he says, adding that other candidates don't have to face the same kind of scrutiny. "Even having to have this discussion is a bit of gay baiting because, in my view, this is something that happened many, many years ago," he says.
"In a way it was a good lesson for me because it showed me what's wrong with the criminal justice system," he says. "It showed me that sometimes people take pleas, they put things on paper, they agree to certain facts that don't really encapsulate everything that was happening—don't really reflect what was going on in some cases." Pointing out that he comes from a place of privilege, as an attorney who went to an elite law school, he recognizes he had the ability to land on his feet and move on. "But what that showed me is even someone in my case, in my instance, you're still vulnerable and as soon as you accept the plea and you put something on paper for all intents and purposes, for people who weren't involved in the case and didn't know all the details, that becomes truth and gospel even though it's not."
Cross says that he's not exactly surprised that the incident has come back up. He has been active in neighborhood politics, serving on the board of the Charles Village Civic Association and as the president of Old Goucher Community Association. He fought several entrenched interests and, he says, made some political enemies along the way. The voyeurism charge resurfaced in 2015 when he was fighting to reopen the much-loved Baltimore Eagle, a landmark gay leather bar located at 2022 N. Charles St., which opened in 1991 and closed in 2012.
"What I realized is that I think everybody has something in their past that they're not proud of, something that's embarrassing or shocking or something they just would prefer to move past," he says. "If it weren't this, it was going to be something and I think that's only because we were pissing off so many people—and we were pissing off the right people."
Cross, who has raised over $13,000 for his campaign, would obviously like to focus on what he's done since he moved to the city five years ago. He's currently working to convert the now-closed Baltimore City Detention Center into something more positive—possibly a museum.
"I've been out here. We're literally out on the streets doing stuff every day; people see us doing things, they see us taking stands on issues," he says. "I think there's a lot of cowardice in Baltimore, a lot of go-along-to-get-along and back slapping and not trying to ruffle too many feathers and I've not been afraid to do that when I think that there's something that really needs to be addressed."
One way he did that, he says, is by fighting the Walmart that was proposed on 25th Street. "Everyone was saying it's a done deal. A lot of the community associations around were signing off. They were trying to give Walmart these tax incentives and all these breaks on licensing and regulations to come in to this location, and a lot of us looked back and said 'My God this is a terrible plan.' They're going to tear down this historic stone church, put in this massive one story strip-mall-type Walmart with a big surface parking lot, give us minimum wage jobs and say that that's economic development? I stood up and was really vocal and pulled together the right team of people who fought that development until we beat it back and I think people took notice and they appreciated it."
Cross says that he and his husband have been busy planting trees all around the Old Goucher neighborhood—both as a way to beautify the community and define this part of Baltimore as its own unique space in the city. "This wasn't really seen as a neighborhood, just kind of this area between Station North and Charles Village, and we really worked to create this sense of community," he says.
He'd also like to get some of the methadone clinics in the 12th District relocated elsewhere. He says they are a symptom of how the 12th District doesn't get as much respect as other districts—and that needs to change. "We've got eight [clinics] that have opened. One behind our house just opened a couple months ago and then another one just opened here last month and of course a few blocks down that's the two massive clinics," he says. Along with people in recovery come attendant issues. "So there's a lot of drug dealing, opportunistic crimes, lot of folks who are in the programs coming out selling their pills to people on the street; and the biggest problem is you can't get investment in when you've got that many methadone clinics."
The city has lots of work to do to better serve members of the LGBTQ community, he says, noting that a lot of trans women call the 12th District home. He links it to the fliers, saying that members of the community are on the receiving end of lots of fear and misinformation. "People take something small...they blow things out of proportion and start to play on people's fears."