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12th District race to test political machine's power

If the pecking-order politics of the Eastside Democratic Organization were to prevail in Baltimore's Sept. 9 primary, City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young would easily defeat his council colleague, Pamela V. Carter, in the 12th District race.

The organization has long been East Baltimore's pre-eminent political powerbroker, and the group's endorsement helps -- though does not guarantee -- a candidate's chances of winning.

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Both Young and Carter have long been loyal EDO members, but only one of them can win in the newly configured council district. The EDO is supporting Young and has futilely told Carter to bow out.

"We have a pecking order inside the organization and Bernard was next in line and behind him was Pam Carter," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, EDO's leader. "This disloyalty piece is bothering me."

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Carter's break with the EDO offers a glimpse into the jockeying needed to win in a district race where a local political machine still holds considerable sway. The battle between Carter and Young is also one of the few face-offs between sitting council members in this year's Democratic primary, the first under the reconfigured council.

Voters last year approved shrinking the council from six three-member districts to 14 single-member ones. That has forced Carter and Young, two of the three current representatives from East Baltimore's 2nd District, to run to be the sole representative of the new 12th District. (Their 2nd District colleague and fellow EDO member Paula Johnson Branch is running in the new 13th District.)

Carter is conducting her campaign in clear defiance of EDO wishes. The group's leaders recently called Carter to a private meeting to tell her not to run. They said Young's seniority entitled him to run without her interference.

"I guess we're living in a new day," McFadden said.

It was a much different day Nov. 5, 2001, when Carter basked in the good graces of EDO's influence. Carter was appointed to council at the behest of Young and Branch. During the council's vote, Carter and McFadden sat side-by-side.

Five years earlier, Young enjoyed the same easy ascension, benefiting from EDO's support for his council appointment in 1996.

Loyalty may have its benefits, but disloyalty does not necessarily mean that candidates will lose. In state elections last year, the EDO did not endorse one of its founders, Del. Hattie N. Harrison. Harrison ran anyway and defeated another EDO member for re-election.

McFadden said the EDO is still influential and that Harrison's victory last year was an "aberration." He said a Young victory Sept. 9 would prove him right.

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Carter, director of a Healthy Start center in East Baltimore that works to lower infant mortality, is betting she can overcome the odds. "My constituents want me to stay," she said.

But she acknowledges that defying the EDO has impeded her campaign. "Some who said they were going to help financially must have disappeared," she said.

Carter is not the only one running in the face of EDO's opposition.

The four other Democrats in the race are Annie Chambers, Ertha Harris, Leon Purnell and Frank Richardson. All candidates have been addressing the same issues that Carter recently summarized as: "Drugs, crime, trash, vacant housing, unemployment, drop-out rates -- all the usual inner-city social ills."

Chambers, 61, is an advocate for rehabilitating housing and she has been active in the community for decades. Ridding East Baltimore of vacant housing is her No. 1 priority. She has bragged at several forums that she has 25 children. "Twenty-two are living," she said. She also says she has 106 grandchildren and 60 great-grandchildren.

She said she knows the EDO is influential, but added that it has strayed from its purpose of getting black candidates elected.

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"They became a favoritism group to just a few people in East Baltimore," she said.

Purnell, 50, is director of The Men's Center in East Baltimore. He dropped out of the EDO last year after the Hattie Harrison incident and said he wants more city money for substance-abuse treatment programs like his.

Harris, 43, works for an accounting firm in Arlington, Va., and is a local organizer of such events as the Million Man March. She said whoever gets elected from the 12th District should represent the people's interests, not those of EDO.

"They tell me I'm running against a political machine," said Harris, who ran in 1999 primary and came in near last out of 14 Democrats. "It does not really represent the people's interests if you only have a connection to a process to get elected."

Richardson, 30, taught English in Japan and recently returned to the United States. He lists his work in student government at Towson University as his chief qualification. He is also quick to mention that he has won awards for arm-wrestling.

Young, who works as a radiology clerical manager at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has established a reputation as a tireless council representative who rarely fails to attend dozens of community meetings and council committee sessions.

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"I'm the hardest-working councilman," Young said.

He said he is not hurt personally by Carter's decision to run, despite his backing of her appointment to the council.

"I'm a little shocked that she would run against me, knowing that I'm the workhorse of the district," he said.

Carter said she knows no such thing.

"He might be at every meeting there is, but he's not doing anything -- that's what I'm hearing," Carter said. "He's doing what he has to do, and I'm doing what I have to do."


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