Sheriff John Anderson may not be a household name, but in every election since his 1989 gubernatorial appointment, he’s won handily. Thanks to five challengers in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, Anderson is picking up the pace of his efforts this time. By early August four years ago, he had spent about $17,500 on his re-election bid; as of Aug. 10 this year, campaign-finance reports show he’d already spent more than $55,000.
“There’s a lot more money spent because there are a lot more challengers,” Anderson says.
The race’s unusually thick competition attracted early attention (“Battle for the Badge,”
, Feb. 17). In addition to Deborah Claridy, one of Anderson’s lieutenants who’s on leave to concentrate on unseating him, the Democratic challengers are: Frances Hamilton, an ex-Baltimore Police officer and a former lieutenant under Anderson; Mike Schaefer, a Baltimore landlord who for decades has made sport of running for political office; Carlos Torres, who has run before for Baltimore City Council as both a Democrat and a Republican; and Alfred Wainwright, a high-school biology teacher and community-association president in Wilson Park.
In the 2006 Democratic primary, Anderson beat Shelton Stewart—his erstwhile boss and perennial opponent at the polls—60 percent to 40 percent. The math this year means, conceivably, the victor could walk with less than 20 percent. With Anderson’s name appearing first on the ballot—a favored position, which electoral research shows is good for anywhere from five to 15 percent, right off the top—and a large field of challengers splitting the votes that Anderson doesn’t get, the incumbent’s chances of winning look pretty good. But that’s not how most of the challengers see it.
“You can quote me: Anderson’s not winning this year,” Hamilton says. “It’ll be different this time,” Claridy says, adding that, in the course of campaigning door-to-door since last fall, she “cannot find anyone saying, ‘Yes, I am a supporter of the incumbent.’” Schaefer boasts that he’s “the 2000-pound gorilla in this race,” and asks that the other challengers bow out in his favor. Torres did not respond to phone calls, but Wainwright, who only recently saw that six Democrats filed to run, is taken aback by the electoral math: “Six,” he says, “that’s a lot for one post.”
Anderson says he’s confident that his long presence on Baltimore’s political landscape will be an advantage. “In 30 years,” he says, “you develop friendships, mutual interests, and trust” among the city’s political class. In particular, Anderson says he and the city’s state senators have a long tradition of engaging in mutual endorsements during elections. “The city senators support me, and I support them, and I expect it to happen again” this year, he says.
Claridy’s campaign manager, Julius Henson, is a veteran of many Maryland political campaigns. Anderson, he predicts, “is going to be destroyed,” and to assure that happens, Henson will “discourage senatorial candidates from backing Anderson.” If he’s successful, then Anderson’s name will not appear on their election-day literature, as it traditionally has—and as Anderson currently expects.
Though Henson acknowledges that it is “normally true” that incumbents tend to prevail in races where numerous challengers split the vote, and says that “Anderson will get something, being first on the ballot,” he insists that “when you bring some experience to these races, when you have somebody in the race who knows what they’re doing, it’s a different story.”
Each of the challengers has ideas for reforming the office, which is charged with serving court papers, executing arrest warrants and peace orders, keeping prisoners safely in custody during trials, securing courtrooms, collecting court-related money, suppressing crime, and enforcing traffic laws.
Wainwright, who contends that the office “has not done nearly enough” to combat witness-intimidation problems under Anderson’s watch, says he’d like to coordinate with other law-enforcement agencies to make sure “potential witnesses know we’ll be here, and we’ll be watching” to keep them safe. He would also dispatch deputy sheriffs to community meetings around the city, in an attempt to shift negative perceptions of law enforcers so that people instead will start to see them as helpful, cordial preservers of the peace for law-abiding citizens.
Schaefer says he’s the “landlords’ candidate,” and tossed his hat in the ring because, as a landlord himself, he’s experienced first-hand what he perceives as a “pro-tenant attitude” at the Sheriff’s Office. He’s penned a “Landlord’s Bill of Rights,” proposing a series of hard-line changes that would tip the balance at the sheriff’s office in favor of landlords instead. Over the decades, he has run in Maryland and other states for a variety of offices, attracting attention due to his legal problems and various controversies as both a landlord and a candidate, but this is his first stab at the sheriff’s post.
Hamilton has ideas for combating witness- and juror-intimidation at the courthouse, including providing escorts and taking a hard-nosed approach to controlling courtrooms. She has proposals for helping tenants faced with eviction, so that they won’t fail to pay their rent in the future. And she proposes that the sheriff’s office actively intervene to help protect domestic-violence victims as they come to courthouses seeking protective orders.
With 20 years in the sheriff’s office under her belt, and several as its administrative lieutenant, Claridy is the best-positioned challenger in terms of understanding the nitty-gritty of how the office operates—and therefore gauging its frailties. “The sheriff is fiscally irresponsible,” she says, and “hires friends and cronies who don’t work hard. I want people to know that, and question that, so the courthouse will be cleaned up.” She says that, of Anderson’s 10 top-ranked personnel, she’s the only woman. Her main proposals—to reform hiring practices so that more personnel are qualified for providing security and to allow for “fair and equitable promotion of women,” she says—have prompted blow-back from Anderson, who has responded by commissioning studies that challenge Claridy’s claims.
Anderson says that Claridy’s contention that the office has court-security officers that are not qualified to provide security is a “misconception,” and that he’s been deploying resources in a way that “frees up our sworn officers” so that they aren’t tied up with “clerical duties.” As for the climate for women in his office, Anderson says, “we have some ladies around here on sergeant and lieutenant slots, and you’ll see these ladies move up.”
The primary winner will face Republican David Wiggins in the Nov. 2 general election.