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Donald G. Hammen, former Baltimore City Council member, dies

Donald G. Hammen, former Baltimore City Council member, dies
Colleagues recall Donald Hammen as a conscientious member of the council. (Baltimore Sun)

Donald G. Hammen, who represented Southeast Baltimore in the City Council and who later served in the Maryland House of Delegates, died of kidney failure May 18 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Perry Hall resident was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised on South Clinton Street, he was the son of William Hammen, who worked at the Atlantic Southwest Broom Co., and his wife, Rita Reynolds. He attended Sacred Heart of Jesus School and was a 1957 Calvert Hall College High School graduate. He earned a history degree at what is now Loyola University Maryland and studied at Morgan State University. He served in the Maryland National Guard in the 1960s and was sent to Cambridge on the Eastern Shore in 1963.

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After working for the Bethlehem Steel Co., he joined the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., later Bell Atlantic, in 1966 and worked in commercial sales. He retired from the telephone company in 1999.

Mr. Hammen was a neighborhood activist who became involved in the opposition to an Interstate highway planned through Southeast Baltimore. Several blocks of Canton homes adjacent to Boston Street — not far from his family home — were condemned and demolished.

“The road fight inspired him and galvanized his interests,” said his son, Pete A. Hammen, the deputy chief of staff for human services at Baltimore’s City Hall. “He was really a political maverick. It was part of his upbringing — to do the right thing.”

In a primary election in 1975, he lost a bid for a seat on the City Council. An opposing political group ran another candidate by the name of Hammen and split the vote. A year later, when then-1st District City Council member Barbara A. Mikulski was elected to the House of Representatives, the Baltimore City Council named Mr. Hammen to fill her seat.

“Don was a standout councilman compared to others at the time,” said Wilbur E. “Bill” Cunningham, a former City Council member who now sits on the city zoning board. “He was interested in policy and I understand he was excellent with constituent services.”

Mr. Hammen won City Council re-election until 1987, when he lost the office in an election. He was then named to fill a vacancy in the Maryland House of Delegates’ 46th District when American Joe Miedusiewski left the chamber and moved to the state Senate after the death in 1988 of Joseph S. Bonvegna. Mr. Hammen served in Annapolis until 1990 and did not seek re-election.

“I respected him as a City Councilman,” said Mr. Miedusiewski. “Don had an amazing memory and could recall small details. He could recount what went on in City Council chambers and behind the scenes too. He would have his friends in stitches with these stories. “

Colleagues recalled Mr. Hammen as a conscientious City Council member who proposed legal measures to curb slum landlords and neighborhood movie theaters that exhibited pornography. Known for his patriotism, he chose to stand at City Council sessions until the U.S. hostages were freed in Iran in 1981. He was a member of the of the City Planning Commission from 1979 to 1982.

“He was one of the few people in City Council who actually read the bills,” said Fred Lauer, who was a staff member of the City Council Urban Affairs Committee and a friend. “He was independent and he once voted against a bill sponsored by William Donald Schaefer. Schaefer called him every name in the book. He went ballistic. He harangued Don for 15 minutes on the phone.

“Don ended the call by saying, ‘Mr. Mayor, respectfully, I am sorry we couldn’t get together on this one. I am sure we will get together in the future.’ Don Hammen was the kind of guy who could let things roll off his back,” Mr. Lauer said.

In the middle 1980s he introduced a bill to permit the Baltimore Police Department’s use of stun guns. He later appeared the NBC “Today” show and was interviewed by Frank Gifford about the devices.

His daughter, Suzanne M. Lewis, said her father was a student of U.S. history and became fascinated by World War II when, as a child, he read letters mailed overseas from members of his family serving in the military. He later visited Munich, Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, and the beaches at Normandy.

He was also fascinated by the history of Highlandtown and Canton, where his German grandparents settled. He also enjoyed cooking and made batches of crab soup and sour beef and dumplings.

Mr. Hammen was a gardener and hired an architect to create an oasis in his narrow, but long, rowhouse backyard. He filled it with a beech tree, magnolia, and crabapple tree.

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In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife of 58 years, Gloria J. Nawrocke, a former computer technician for the National Institute on Aging.

A memorial Mass was offered Friday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Fullerton.

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