City Council election rivals see fund gap

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It might be a new day in terms of the configuration of Baltimore's City Council districts, but it is a familiar story as far as fund raising goes: Incumbents are getting the lion's share of campaign contributions.

Council members running for re-election in the Sept. 9 primary have outpaced their nearest rivals in raising money by margins ranging from roughly 2-1 to nearly 50-1, campaign finance records show.

Incumbents not only benefited from contributions from businesses, unions and political committees in the latest reporting period of January to Aug. 5, but many also have hefty balances from previous years, records show.

Whether the financial disparity between incumbents and challengers will prove to be as much of an advantage as it has in the past remains to be seen, now that the council is made up of 14 single-member districts rather than six three-member districts.

'The jury's still out'

"In these smaller districts, how much money do you need to win? The jury's still out," said Mitchell Klein, a staff member with the political action group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

The grass-roots social and political action group helped lead the ballot initiative to change the composition of the council, to loosen the virtual stranglehold on re-election that incumbents had under the old system, where they would almost always run as a three-person ticket. Of the 11 districts in which council members are running, ACORN is backing incumbents in two of them.

Klein said incumbents with lots of cash might be inclined to spend it on radio advertising, but the best strategy in the compact districts might be to campaign door to door.

"We win things all the time with less money," he said.

Arthur W. Murphy, a political strategist advising candidates in four of the council races and the at-large contest for council president, agreed challengers don't need to match incumbents dollar for dollar. But he said money is important even in smaller districts where races could be decided by as few as 6,000 votes.

Murphy said challengers generally need to make contact with voters at least half a dozen times - by mail, phone or in person - to make the case against an incumbent.

"If you can't do between $25,000 and $35,000, you're not competitive," he said.

Only two challengers to incumbents have reached that threshold, according to campaign reports.

One is Nicole Pastore-Klein, an attorney with the downtown firm of Saul Ewing who is the best-financed of four Democratic challengers to Councilman Edward L. Reisinger in the 10th District of South and Southwest Baltimore.

Pastore-Klein has raised $26,905, mostly from downtown businesses and law firms. But since January, Reisinger raised nearly twice that much, $48,395, and reported a cash balance of nearly $16,000 to about $2,000 for Pastore-Klein.

The other is Charese Williams, a schoolteacher challenging Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake in Northwest's 6th District. Williams reported raising $24,396, although $10,000 of that is a loan she made to the campaign.

Williams received $1,000 from the campaign committee of City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, but she said most of her money has come from family, friends and constituents responding to requests for donations from her literature.

"We're constantly raising money," she said. "I realize what I'm up against."

The amount Rawlings Blake has raised is unknown because she has yet to file the campaign finance report that was due Aug. 12.

But last month, she received $30,000 from The Future of Baltimore Committee Slate, a campaign financing committee led by her father, state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, and funded with contributions from his campaign committee, records show.

Two other incumbents failed to meet the Aug. 12 filing deadline: Councilwoman Agnes Welch in West Baltimore's 9th District, and Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch in the east side's 13th.

Welch's last annual report, filed in early January, showed her campaign with a balance of $9,529; the most well-heeled of her four Democratic challengers, Wendy Foy, reported raising $4,685.

Branch's campaign also failed to file January's annual report - and has yet to pay its $250 fine - but none of her four challengers has raised more than $6,205.

In the three districts where two council members are running for the same seat, wide gaps in money exist not only between incumbents and challengers, but among incumbents as well.

In East and Northeast's 2nd District, council members Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. and Lois A. Garey reported respective balances of $130,141 and $30,620, swelled mostly by surpluses from previous years. By contrast, Cheryl D. Glenn, a former union leader and organizer, reported raising $7,800 and had slightly more than $1,000 in unspent funds.

Glenn says voters' overwhelming support of November's ballot initiative to restructure the council will help overcome the difference in money.

"I don't think, after voting for Question P in November, people will waste their vote on the incumbents," she said.

In the 8th District in Southwest, Councilwoman Helen L. Holton has raised $47,750, nearly three times that of her council colleague Melvin L. Stukes. In the 12th in East Baltimore, Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young reported receiving $45,605 in new contributions, plus $69,772 from a previous account. Councilwoman Pamela V. Carter raised $2,350.

Democratic challengers in the 8th and 12th reported raising little or no money.

Among other races involving incumbents, in Northeast's 3rd and 4th Districts, Councilmen Robert W. Curran and Kenneth N. Harris Sr. raised $25,720 and $36,430, respectively. Their challengers raised less than $2,100 each or did not file reports.

In Northwest's 5th District, Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector reported raising $47,270, while her sole Democratic challenger, Leonard J. Kerpelman, filed an affidavit promising to raise and spend less than $1,000. And in the 11th, comprising downtown and parts of the west side, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. reported raising $45,815, compared with $13,305 for principal challenger Michael Seipp.

'Credible campaign'

Seipp said he has raised $5,000 more in the past two weeks and is relying solely on volunteers rather than paid staffers. "We felt we needed $20,000 to put up a credible campaign," he said. "We're close to our goal."

The 14th District of North and Northeast is one of three where no council members are running. But former Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who has been out of office for eight years, has been outpacing challengers in fund raising in her bid for a seat. Clarke reported raising $55,365 in the past several months, compared with a total of less than $12,000 for her two principal challengers.

The other two districts with no incumbents are the 7th in Northwest and the 1st, which comprises the waterfront in Southeast.

In the 7th, Ashburton Area Association President Shawn Z. Tarrant raised $20,675. Belinda K. Conaway had $9,600, all but $500 of which came from loans from her father, city Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway and his campaign committee.

And in the hotly contested 1st, attorney James B. Kraft has raised $54,128, nearly half of it in loans, while fellow lawyers Art McGreevy and Benjamin A. Neil raised $29,360 and $19,470, respectively.

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