Experience vs. new blood in 5th District primary race

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A longtime city councilwoman faces a former attorney who won a landmark court case in a race to represent the city's northwest corner.

Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, who has served on the council for 26 years, is running in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary against Leonard J. Kerpelman, who represented atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair in the 1963 Supreme Court case that outlawed organized prayer in public schools.

Elliott Cahan is unopposed in the Republican primary in the 5th District, which stretches from Charles Street to the Liberty Heights corridor and includes Pimlico Race Course.

Spector, 66, was appointed to the council in 1977 to finish the unexpired term of her husband, Allen B. Spector, who had been appointed to a District Court judgeship. He died in 1990.

Spector says she has won re-election ever since because of her good service to constituents.

"I am able to make government work for people," she said.

"You really are where the rubber meets the road," she said. "And when your constituents have a problem, they don't know if it's a city problem, a state problem, a federal problem or private sector. But they look to you to help them find a resolution."

Kerpelman, 78, said it is time for new blood.

"We have an incumbent who is a nice lady, but she's been there too long," he said. "She has gotten set in her ways."

He said the No. 1 issue in the district is "keeping a strong leash on slots and the gambling people."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had proposed bringing slots to Maryland's racetracks, but that idea was killed in the state legislature this year. The proposal could, however, be revived.

Kerpelman said he is personally opposed to slots but would not seek to impose his view if elected. Instead, he would conduct a poll to find out what a majority of the district wants and then lobby the legislature accordingly.

Spector said she would support slots if the community shared in the financial benefits. She does not think the issue will be pressing, however, given the proposal's failure this year. She said she is more concerned about getting Pimlico to make promised improvements.

"I feel that is a large anchor that is very important to take care of so it stabilizes the homeownership in my community," she said.

There is a huge disparity in the candidates' treasuries.

Kerpelman will raise and spend less than $1,000, according to an affidavit he filed with state elections officials.

Spector has a campaign treasury of $63,800 and has spent $9,700 on the race so far.

She says the new council will have to rethink how it conducts a lot of its business as a result of redistricting, and calls that one of the most pressing issues looming for the next term.

Ballot Question P shrunk the council from 19 to 15 members by replacing the elective body's six three-member districts with 14 single-member districts. The president will continue to be elected citywide.

In the past, for example, every council committee had a representative from each district, Spector said. When there were three council members per district, that responsibility could be divvied up among them. Not so with single-member districts.

"We're going to have to get used to dealing differently," she said.

Spector has lived in Baltimore her entire life and resides on Park Heights Avenue. She owned an Israeli gift shop, which she sold when she joined the council.

Another lifelong Baltimore resident, Kerpelman lives in Mount Washington - just outside the district. If he wins the primary, he will have until November to move into the district.

Kerpelman gained national prominence by representing O'Hair before the Supreme Court. He was disbarred in 1991 after state bar officials found his conduct unprofessional in two criminal cases. Kerpelman declined to discuss his disbarment, except to suggest that it was retaliation for his success in the highly controversial school prayer case.

"It happened on account of my representing an atheist," he said.

In his retirement, Kerpelman has turned to video journalism, using a hand-held camera to film Board of Estimates meetings and Mayor Martin O'Malley's weekly news conference for a public access channel.

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