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4 battling for Rawlings-Blake's old council seat

The Baltimore Sun

Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's rise to the City Council presidency has sparked a spirited political battle in her old council district, where three candidates are campaigning to unseat her replacement in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary election.

Sharon Green Middleton has held the 6th District seat since February, when the City Council selected her to fill out the rest of Rawlings-Blake's term. She is a former teacher and the wife of Glenard S. Middleton Sr., a statewide leader in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Also vying for the seat are Elizabeth "Liz" Smith, Deborah B. Ramsey and Ramona Moore Baker. All say they do not view Middleton as a true incumbent. And Smith, who once worked for Glenard Middleton, is campaigning as if she has a political score to settle. She says she was positioning herself to be appointed to the seat when the rug was pulled out from under her.

"It's an open seat," said Smith, who has raised about $15,000, the highest total in the race behind Middleton, according to campaign finance reports.

Middleton, though, is championing herself as the recognizable name to beat, citing her work the past six months in the council as reason why she deserves a full four years.

"I've been in office and I think I deserve to be called the incumbent," Middleton, 53, said. "I've been to City Hall practically every day. I've met with the 30 community organizations and built partnerships with every department head."

The 6th District, in Northwest Baltimore, includes Pimlico, Park Heights and Cross Keys, stretching from Roland Park in the north to Howard Park in the west.

While a heated race is unfolding here, next door, the 5th District race lacks any drama. Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, the longest-serving member of the council, is running unopposed. She has held the seat since 1977.

The other candidates in the 6th, especially Smith, say they are concerned about the way Middleton was selected for the seat.

AFSCME represents many city workers, and Glenard Middleton wields considerable political influence. He served as a delegate at the 2004 Democratic convention, has close ties to Kweisi Mfume and he was among the supporters who stood with then-Mayor Martin O'Malley as he gave his victory speech in the gubernatorial race.

The relationship between Smith and Sharon Middleton predates this campaign. Middleton was Smith's middle school home economics teacher. More recently, Smith, 30, said she worked for Glenard Middleton and maintains that the union was all set to back her for the open seat before Sharon Middleton expressed interest in it. Smith said she then quit her job with the union.

Glenard Middleton "put a motion on the floor to endorse my appointment," she said. "He did support my candidacy. Midstream, he changed and supported his wife, who had no interest at all in government. He decided he wanted his wife to be in that district. I couldn't argue that. Therefore I resigned."

Sharon Middleton declined to comment on the circumstance surrounding her selection for the seat and the allegations made by Smith.

Middleton said she was about 15 months in retirement from a career primarily in education but felt a call to service with her son in college and husband working heavy hours.

"I am an individual," Middleton said. "I had my own career and my own individual beliefs. I'm a public servant in my own right. I'm proud of my husband and what he stands for. But I'm coming into this race as Sharon Green Middleton."

Middleton's first act as a council member, hours after she was sworn in, was to vote in favor of the smoking ban.

Since then, Middleton has sponsored a bill for a pilot apprenticeship program in partnership with the city's housing authority. Middleton said she views the program as an option for students who graduate from high school but do not want to go to college, allowing them an opportunity to rebuild some of the thousands of city-owned abandoned homes.

Middleton said providing jobs, building stronger schools and making the streets safer are the top priorities of her campaign, adding that she would support community schools and drug rehabilitation centers in her district.

In her first campaign for public office, Middleton has raised more than $56,000 as of the last campaign finance report.

"That's what it's about: reaching out, raising money and spending it to show people that I'm serious about this job," Middleton said.

Smith, too, is running for office for the first time. As the deputy director for Community Building in Partnership Inc. -- a nonprofit organization that specializes in economic development -- Smith says she is adding to a life marked by service. Smith has worked as a commissioner on the city liquor board, served a stint as an executive board member of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP and worked as a commissioner for the Baltimore City Commission for Women.

She identifies crime and education as her core issues. Smith said she wants to raise the dropout age to 18, and, like Middleton, she favors turning schools into community centers. Smith added that she draws strength from her experience as a teenage mother and now as a single mother raising three kids.

"The voters know I have the practical experience," said Smith, who lives in Ashburton. "I've been doing this for decades. I'm a working mom. I had kids before I got out of high school. But I went on to finish my degree. I beat those odds."

Ramsey, 56, lives in Cross Keys and works for as a bailiff in District Court. Focusing her platform on crime, Ramsey is pushing for radical change, including outsourcing murder cases to private detective agencies and doubling the number of officers patrolling the city.

Ramsey worked as a city police officer for nine years.

"There is a homicide backlog," Ramsey said. "And there is no shame in the game if you hire a bona fide detective agency to handle that."

Ramsey said she would push for programs aimed at cutting the truancy rate similar to the one she helped start at Hamilton Middle School.

She said the students were able to sell items and keep the money through a center at the school, learning practical business skills.

"Boys like to have money in their pockets," Ramsey said. "They're going to get it, whether they have to knock you and I in the head. At our center, they can make their own money."

Baker, 49, boasts of being the only candidate who is an elected official: She won a position on the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee last fall.

Baker, though, was criticized by the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee when she was a candidate for the Orphans' Court of Baltimore City last year. The committee chastised her for erroneously suggesting in official correspondence that she was a current member of the court.

That episode behind her, Baker said she was asked by community members to run for the council seat. Baker said she would make community policing a priority after having met with leaders in Park Heights and Garrison Park.

"The people in the 6th District need to choose someone not only with political experience but who has a rapport with the community," Baker said.

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