Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young came under fire Wednesday as critics charged that he pushed his favored candidate through a committee appointed to fill a vacant council seat.
A committee of community leaders, appointed by Young, listened to more than four hours of testimony Tuesday evening from 14 candidates for the seat — and in less than five minutes agreed to nominate Federal Hill Neighborhood Association President Eric T. Costello, who was supported by Young.
"The decision was made weeks ago," Arthur McGreevy, a lawyer who applied for the job, complained Wednesday. He said he filed a public information request for documents from Young's office to investigate the process.
Young "played the 'House of Cards,'" McGreevy said, referring to the drama about a Washington power broker, "and did it in such an offensive way that everyone realized they got played."
Other candidates and their supporters were also critical. "I thought it would be a fair and open process, and it wasn't," said former City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, whose daughter, Melanie, applied for the seat.
For his part, Young acknowledged that he encouraged Costello to apply for the seat left open when Councilman William H. Cole IV was selected to lead the Baltimore Development Corp. Young also said he let committee members know that he "liked" Costello. But he denied lobbying them and said the selection process was fair.
"Basically, the guy is independent," Young said of Costello. "He's not in my pocket, and I hope and pray that definitely he's not in the administration's pocket." He said he met with other candidates, not just Costello.
Costello said he met last week with Young, but said he "absolutely" did not pledge to always vote with the council president.
"I'm just grateful that I was able to make the impression I did," said Costello, 33, an IT auditor for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. "I'm thrilled. It's truly humbling." He declined to comment on whether he thought the process was fair.
The council president said he balked at what he perceived as efforts from the Rawlings-Blake administration to support Gregory Sileo, the Locust Point community association president.
"They didn't get who they wanted, so no matter who got picked, I would have been criticized," Young said of those upset by the process.
Costello's nomination will now go before the full City Council on Oct. 6 for a vote. If approved, he could immediately take office representing District 11, which includes downtown, Federal Hill and Bolton Hill.
At Tuesday night's hearing, the 13-member nomination committee heard from all 14 candidates for the seat. The applicants came from a wide range of backgrounds, including lawyers, teachers and community leaders.
After the last presentation, committee member Adrian Harpool — who is Young's campaign manager — called for a vote on Costello. Another committee member, Michael A. Evitts of the Downtown Partnership, asked that Sileo's nomination get a vote.
Councilman Carl Stokes, who chaired the committee, said the panel would vote first on Costello, who was approved 11-2 with no further discussion.
Harpool said he recommended Costello based on a matrix he filled out during the hearing charting the candidates' answers to questions. Harpool said Young had asked him to select the candidate he thought was best suited for the job and one that would work well with the council.
"What he did was more so give me a sense of the person he was hoping to find," Harpool said. He said he couldn't recall whether Young had ever mentioned Costello to him by name.
The two city councilmen who sat on the committee — Stokes and James B. Kraft — said they voted for Costello because others did.
"It was pretty much over by the time it got to me," Kraft said of the vote. "I deferred to the people who lived there."
Both said they were "very impressed" with the field of candidates, and praised several of those who were not offered up for a vote.
Stokes said the committee received about three dozen letters opposing Costello — the only candidate to receive such opposition, Stokes said — but said the letters did not reach the committee until shortly before the meeting began Tuesday night.
"No one saw them in advance of last night's meeting," Stokes said. "Frankly, most people didn't see them until after they voted."
Stokes said a similar number of letters supporting Costello also were sent to the panel.
"I can't say enough about Eric. He is an amazing neighbor, a great leader for the neighborhood, and a wonderful friend," wrote Aimee Sanfilippo, Costello's next-door neighbor. "I know he has the drive and ambition that will help him if he is selected for city council."
But a petition signed by 35 residents accused Costello of "poor leadership" that "lacked transparency" in Federal Hill.
"Simply stated, we do not believe Mr. Costello represents the best the great city of Baltimore has to offer the citizens of the 11th District," the letter said. "We need a more well-rounded candidate who has demonstrated a keen understanding of such foundational issues as public safety, education and public welfare matters, and the ability to lead others."
Costello said those in his neighborhood who oppose him are blaming him for not stopping a proposed beer garden.
"What happened here is people were upset with the beer garden outcome and decided that was a result of my actions," he said. "I disagree, but I can understand where they're coming from."
Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said that after witnessing Tuesday's hearing and lack of deliberation by the nominating committee, he was disappointed.
"There could have been a better public process," he said. "It was too short. For four hours of testimony, I think there should have been a robust vetting among the committee members."
Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said she thinks the committee should have reviewed all the letters from community members before reaching a decision.
"When we vote on something, we should have all the information in front of us," she said. "This leaves a lot to scratch your head about. He was the only candidate I heard the chair say there were as many letters of opposition as support."
Terri Harrington, a Locust Point resident who watched the entire hearing at City Hall, called the process "appalling" in a Facebook post. "My first real experience seeing politics at work and it was disgusting," she said.
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