Baltimore City

City Council president gives reporters tour of home

The block is shaded by pear trees laden with clusters of pale flowers. The homes are immaculately tended — brass door knockers gleam in the sun, and tulips sprout from tidy planters.

But around the corner, on the 1500 block of East Madison Street, the homes are somewhat dilapidated. Snack food wrappers and empty cigarette packs are scattered on the sidewalk and a heavy stream of traffic thunders past.

It was on this block that City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and his wife, Darlene, bought their first home in 1978. And it is this address that he lists on city documents.

But for the past decade, the Youngs have spent the majority their time in a home on the quieter, tree-lined 900 block of Central Avenue. Young says he visits the Madison Street house once or twice a week and lists it as his address because he always has.

"It's my home," said Young. "I can use any one of my addresses I choose to."

Young led reporters Wednesday on tours of the two properties to assuage rumors about where he actually lives. WBAL-TV reported this week that the Madison Street home's low water bills could indicate that it is not inhabited.

The council president reports owning both homes on city ethics forms. And both are located in the 12th district, which Young represented until he succeeded Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake as council president in February.

Young says he keeps the Madison Street home primarily to host out-of-town visitors and sleeps there once or twice a month.

"It's my first house and I'm attached to that house," he says. "But I don't want people to think it's vacant. And I don't want to be a landlord."

In the living room of the house on Central Avenue, family photos adorn the shelves. The freezer is stocked with his favorite ice cream, Ben and Jerry's pistachio. The bedroom closet is crammed with Young's signature tailored pinstripe suits and the top of a dresser with a messy jumble of aftershave bottles and prescription vials bearing his name.

On a bedside table sits a book titled "The Words for Any Occasion."

Exasperated by the flap about his address, Young asked reporters, "Do you want to see my underwear? Do you want to see my damn underwear?" and pulled a handful of briefs and boxers from a drawer.

Young said he maintains two addresses because it makes him feel more secure.

"I want to keep people off balance. I don't want people to know where I am at all times," he said. "As a council person dealing with drugs and stuff in the neighborhood, I've been threatened before."

Young said he had a permit to carry a weapon, although he currently does not carry one.

He drives himself in a city-owned SUV unlike predecessors Rawlings-Blake, who hired a retired Natural Resources police officer with money from her office budget to drive her, and Sheila Dixon, who was driven by a retired city policeman.

Young said that he was told that there was not enough money for hiring a security detail for him. Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said that the council president traditionally has not had one, and that the financially strapped city can't afford it.

Young is not the first city politician to draw questions about where he hangs his hat. And this isn't even his own first housing controversy — from 1993 to 2005, he owned another home in Harford County on which he claimed a homestead tax credit even though it wasn't his principal residence.

At a 2007 council hearing, Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, who represents Northwest Baltimore, was accused of living in HarborView by a resident — and State Sen. George Della. While Spector admitted to spending "a lot of time" in her boyfriend's HarborView condominium, she said her official address remained in the 7400 block of Park Heights Avenue.

And in 1998, a judge ordered then-State Senate majority leader Clarence W. Blount off the ballot after a private detective showed that he spent most of his time in Pikesville, not the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood he was elected to represent.

But the Court of Special Appeals overturned that decision, despite acknowledging that Blount did not live in the city home, where he had no telephone and kept only a futon and a few other belongings.

"The requirement is that one must be domiciled in the district, and domicile is not synonymous with primary place of abode," Judge John C. Eldridge wrote.