City Councilman Robert Curran | Image by Jefferson Jackson Steele
Michael Hamilton | Image by Jefferson Jackson Steele
and don't know who Robert Curran is, you're either new to the neighborhood or out of touch with city politics. Curran isn't just a three-term councilman who now serves as council vice president. He won the seat vacated by his brother, Martin E. "Mike" Curran, who was appointed after their father, J. Joseph Curran Sr., died in 1977. Curran men have been serving the 3rd District--the northeasternmost district in the city, bordered by York Road, Harford Road, and Sinclair Lane--since 1958.
Curran also led the noisy and contentious fight for the city's newly minted smoking ban. "I'm the poster child for smoke-free Baltimore," he says proudly. He remembers receiving kudos from Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch after the state passed a similar ban. "He said, `You know why we passed it. It was all you.' And that made me proud."
Curran isn't afraid of controversy. He's called for "virtual lockdowns" in high-crime neighborhoods--closing liquor stores, limiting the number of people on the streets, and stopping traffic for two-week intervals. And he helped close the Cameo, a popular nightclub on the 4700 block of Harford Road.
"It was causing problems for years," Curran explains. Complaints included double parking, public urination, and helicopters dispersing huge crowds in the wee hours of the morning. "The Cameo is not going to be a problem for us in the northeast district anymore."
Curran loves solving problems. He tells stories of responding to sewer breaks in other districts, getting a crew on site in a matter of hours. And the next item on his to-do list is boosting Harford Road, the main artery of his district.
Still, Democratic challenger Michael Hamilton contends the 3rd District could benefit for better constituency care. He knows what he's up against--he ran against Curran in 2003--but is committed to affecting change. (Green Party candidate Bill Barry will challenge the winner of the Sept. 11 Democratic primary in the general election in November.)
"I'm not naive," Hamilton says. "It's an uphill climb all the way." Yet, he adds, "It's time for change. We need to be proactive, not reactive."
Hamilton is a former banker and independent businessman who now teaches special education on a contract with the Baltimore City Public School System. For six years, he served as the president of the Baltimore City Council of Parent-Teacher Associations. He says he remembers moving to the Stonewood neighborhood, in 1992, and his wife noting that it was just the right mix of suburban and urban--a fusion that depends on the health of the Harford Road corridor.
"We need to see more stable businesses and an improvement of the businesses that are already there," Hamilton says. "Giving them the same attention that we give to the Inner Harbor. Giving them the same resources as we give to the Inner Harbor. I think we can have an Inner Harbor uptown. I think it would continue to stabilize the community."
Curran has a different comparison to make--Park Heights. "Where was [the City Council] when Park Heights started to go down?" he asks, referencing the multimillion-dollar Park Heights master plan, designed to decrease crime in the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood. Curran doesn't want to see the same delayed reaction to decline happen in his neck of the woods.
"The Baltimore Development Corp.? I ride them like Zorro," he says. "We don't get our bang for the buck when it comes to our district." Curran says that he hears comments about his district not being impacted by violent crime compared to other parts of the city, but he sees the writing on the wall. "Do I wait until an area is `impacted' before I start screaming?" he asks. He notes that he was able to convince Mayor Sheila Dixon to increase the number of police academy grads assigned to his district. "We're now getting the intensity that I think we should get," he says.
Hamilton agrees that increased police presence "is a must," and backs a plan to put pairs of police officers on foot throughout the district. But he says that it shouldn't take an election year to get an increase in officers on the street. And the causes of crime--poverty and drug use--are issues that take a more comprehensive approach.
"We have a lot of bright people in this city," Hamilton says. "Let's come up with a strategic plan. It's got to be a holistic, targeted plan. We can't be selfish about it."
Education is a root problem that both Democratic candidates acknowledge. Even without direct oversight, Hamilton notes that the council holds some fiscal power--it could allocate city funds to better the public schools. "I do believe we have influence in terms of closing schools," he says, remembering the angry debate over the closure of Samuel Banks High School last year. "We continue to play politics with our children, and that affects the rest of their lives."
Curran acknowledges that it is "hard for a councilperson to make a difference in city schools." Maintaining the current level of school excellence is the key, he contends. "And how do we do that?" he asks. "We keep taking care of those other things," such as crime and business development. According to Curran, the 3rd District is home to a large number of families, who are attracted to low crime rates and healthy businesses. "And that helps the schools, too."
As for the state-city school partnership first instituted in 1997, Curran is increasingly hopeful "now that we have a friend [in Annapolis]," referring to Gov. Martin O'Malley, the former Baltimore mayor who is married to Curran's niece, Katherine Curran O'Malley. "The partnership--now that we have a true partner--may work now."
Even if powerhouse politician Curran can't be beaten this go around, there's reason for Hamilton and other prospective candidates to hope for the future. Curran has promised that this will be his last City Council election. "I want one more term," he says. "I feel I can get everything done in one more term. And then I want to groom someone to follow in my footsteps."