When Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger leave their long-held City Council seats, having both announced Monday they would not seek reelection in 2020, more than 50 years of experience will exit a City Hall already in flux after Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh’s recent resignation.
But both say they’re leaving the council in good hands — and much younger ones, after a 2016 election that brought eight new members to the 14-person body. All of the council members are Democrats.
“It’s time for the new generation to take us forward,” said Clarke, 77, who is now on her third stint on the council and previously served as its president.
“I’m very proud of this council. It’s diligent. It’s progressive. That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided now is the time to leave. I want to make sure the 14th District is part of this new, younger generational energy and seriousness,” said Clarke, who represents North Baltimore.
Still, there are those for whom the veterans’ announced departure brought sadness. Clarke, in particular, is “an institution,” said Democratic Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore, a friend and political ally.
McIntosh remembered how Clarke proved to be her “secret weapon” on the campaign trail when, after a round of redistricting, McIntosh found herself running in a part of town where she didn’t know many people.
“People loved her. They just came outside and hugged her and said, ‘If you’re for her, I’m for her,’” McIntosh said. “She has meant so much to so many people.
“Constituent services has been the bedrock of her career,” McIntosh said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Reisinger, 69, has not been as vocal a presence as Clarke. But the 10th District councilman, who represents parts of South and Southwest Baltimore, said working with and for his constituents has been the best part of his 24 years in office.
“The community meetings, meeting people, developing the relationships … It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be a councilman in the district,” he said.
Reisinger said he is proud of a clean-air bill he introduced and saw through to passage earlier this year, which applies stringent emissions limits on the city’s biggest source of industrial air pollution and could end the burning of trash across the region. Now, he too is ready to pass the torch to newer members of the council, while he plans to spend more time traveling with his wife.
“They care, they’re committed,” he said of his council colleagues. “They’re ready to make changes.”
Matthew Crenson, author of the book, “Baltimore: A Political History,” said the departure of two veterans likely will continue what the 2016 elections began, ushering in younger and more activist council members. And the council, which already flexed its muscle by unanimously calling for Pugh’s resignation, may wield even more influence as the fallout from Pugh’s resignation continues.
Pugh left office last week in the wake of a scandal over her sale of self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books to individuals and companies with business before the city and, previously, the state (when she was a state senator). She is under investigation by federal and state officials. Democratic City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young replaced her, although Young has said he plans to run again for council president in 2020.
“This sets things up for an even-younger council,” said Crenson, a retired Johns Hopkins University professor of political science. “What they represent is a new generation, and also potential mayoral candidates of the future.”
With two of the past three mayors having resigned under a cloud of scandal, the council may move to curtail the powers of the city’s chief executive, Crenson said. Already, members are seeking a city charter amendment that would make it easier to remove a mayor, as well as one that would increase the council’s budgetary powers.
“Given the experience of the last several years, there might be more popular support, as well, for reducing the powers of the mayor,” said Crenson, who disclosed he has contributed to the campaign of Odette Ramos, who is running for Clarke’s seat.
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Joe Kane also has announced he is running for Clarke’s seat.
The State Board of Elections website shows three people have filed candidacies for Reisinger’s seat: Ray Conaway, Natasha Guynes and Kerry Eugene Hamilton.
Both Reisinger and Clarke said they’d decided not to run earlier, but announced their decisions Monday to give candidates time to make their cases to replace them. Neither said they have a favored successor at the moment.
“I trust the voters — God bless them, they’ve reelected me so many times,” Clarke said with a laugh.
Clarke served on the council from 1975-1983, 1987-1995 and since 2004. She ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1995. She said she is proud to have successfully passed the nation’s first living-wage law in 1994, as well as a $15 minimum-wage measure in 2017, which was vetoed by Pugh.
For Jessica Kupper, until recently the president of the Original Northwood Association, Clarke’s legacy will be her responsiveness to residents.
“Mary Pat is steadfast on everything. She’s a bulldog,” Kupper said. “There’s a reason she’s been in office for a long time. I think she is not afraid of the tough work. She truly builds relationships. I think she really cares about constituents.”