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Baltimore Sun editorial board: City Council endorsements | COMMENTARY

With citywide posts up for grabs this year, the musical chairs of incumbents leaving their positions to run for higher offices has left five City Council races wide open. The good news is that despite the daunting problems facing Baltimore — from systemic poverty and drug addiction to the COVID-19 pandemic and violent crime — this year’s crop of candidates appears undeterred. They include an impressive array of hopefuls, many with experience in city government, or at least in community advocacy, that can prove just as valuable.

In many ways, this is no ordinary election. The untimely departure of Catherine Pugh and her malfeasance from the mayor’s office, the recent Gun Trace Task Force prosecutions of veteran police officers, and the inability to right so many of the wrongs and inequities identified during the Freddie Gray unrest has seemingly raised the stakes. Can’t Baltimore do better? One can hear that question on the minds of city residents from Brooklyn to Hamilton Hills, and from South Clifton Park to Franklintown. Much will be expected from those elected this year.

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And so the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board submitted questionnaires to all the candidates, combed over the results and interviewed those who stood out above the rest. Here are our choices in the selected races:

District 4

In District 4, the seat currently held by Bill Henry who is running to be city comptroller, we endorse Democrat Mark Conway, 32, the former director of Baltimore’s CitiStat program under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In that role, he sought to bring greater accountability and performance measures to city government. His deep understanding of the budget should come in especially handy right now amid plunging revenues, the unfortunate byproduct of an economic recession brought on by the pandemic.

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But there is more to Mr. Conway, a resident of Guilford, than numbers crunching. His most recent experience in running the non-profit Baltimore Tree Trust and his focus on schools, jobs and crime and safety demonstrates a clear, uncluttered take on the city’s priorities. The father of two young children says he decided to run for the council seat because he was frustrated by the city’s post-Freddie Gray response and the fact his children would soon be attending a public school where it was not considered safe to drink the water.

Yet, we would be remiss not to mention another Democratic candidate in this race. Nicole Harris-Crest, 35, of Penn-Lucy, chief of external affairs in the city state’s attorney’s office and the daughter of the late Kenneth Harris Sr., who served two terms representing the same district on the council, is also well qualified for the post and, as the former executive director of the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools, has been an advocate for education.

District 7

In District 7, which is vacant because of Leon F. Pinkett III’s decision to run for council president, our choice is Democrat Brian Sims, 37, of Reservoir Hill, a health care policy expert employed by the Maryland Hospital Association who has focused on reducing disparities on medical outcomes. That background may prove especially valuable as the pandemic continues.

Mr. Sims, who was born in Mississippi, grew up in Southern Maryland, but says he fell in love with Reservoir Hill’s diversity and architecture and is committed to seeing its economic performance improve. The first-time candidate is also mindful of the lessons of Freddie Gray and the growing impatience with the status quo. “My wife and I have always been people who look for solutions,” he says. “I think we need someone who understands what we’re experiencing in West Baltimore and the challenging health outcomes.”

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Also worthy of consideration are Democrats Tori Rose, 36, also of Reservoir Hill, and James Torrence, 33, of Ashburton. Ms. Rose, a teacher and former Social Security employee, has a passion for fighting gun violence born of personal losses and has been an advocate for adult literacy and finds a significant intersection between the two crusades. Mr. Torrence, who helps shape policy for Baltimore City Public Schools, has worked in city politics since he was a high school student in East Baltimore. His ideas about improved public education, job training and helping those convicted of a crime make the transition from prison back to society are commendable.

District 10

With the departure of Ed Reisinger, District 10 will have new representation for the first time in more than two decades. We think Phylicia Porter, 32, is the candidate who can bring new energy and ideas to the district, but also use established relationships to broker support for her initiatives. Already a familiar face in the district, she knows many of the political players from her role on the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee.

As a long-term member of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, and currently its vice chair, she has advocated for tens of millions of dollars to improve neighborhoods. Her public health background will prove valuable in addressing the health disparities associated with COVID-19 and taking a holistic approach to Baltimore’s incessant crime, substance abuse and mental health issues.

As a member of the City Council she hopes to focus on issues including crime, trash and economic inclusion.

District 13

In District 13, which is vacant because Councilwoman Shannon Sneed is also running for the City Council president post, we endorse Jackie Addison, a longtime advocate in the community and lifelong resident of Belair-Edison. The 57-year-old mother of two daughters has been a foster parent, served on multiple community groups, and been recognized as a “community champion” for her organizing work. On the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, she championed voter registration and engagement, and was chosen as the Sergeant at Arms. Youth opportunity is of particular concern for her, she says. She ran a day care for many years to offer a safe place for neighborhood children to go.

As a council member, Ms. Addison’s focus will be on improving police-community relationships and access to job opportunities, along with addressing the many vacant houses throughout the district. “I don’t do the work so that I can get a paycheck, I do it because it’s my passion,” she says.

Also of note in the District 13 race is Democrat Akil Patterson, 36. A community advocacy consultant, Mr. Patterson has fought for voting rights for citizens returning from incarceration, HIV reduction and healthy food options within the city. Mr. Patterson is frank about the challenges he’s had to overcome in his life, including dyslexia, homophobia and drug abuse. But he says each experience has served to deepen his empathy and understanding of himself and others, which gives him an edge in the council race.

District 14

In District 14, where Mary Pat Clarke is retiring after two separate 16-year runs on the council, we back Odette Ramos, whose advocacy work throughout Baltimore and Maryland is well known. Ms. Ramos has lived in the area since 1991, when she moved here from New Mexico to attend Goucher College. She’s worked with multiple politicians through the years, including Mary Pat Clarke, and has long fought to better the lives of city residents through legislative changes. She is founding director for the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, is a former chair of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is currently on leave (during her campaign) from her job as executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland.

As a council member, Ms. Ramos, a Democrat, says her community development experience will serve the city well, in addressing issues of seniors aging in place, vacant housing and the looming eviction crisis the pandemic has created. Her ideas are big, well-thought out, and they run the gamut, from fixing the city’s water bill debacle to improving the small business environment. She also notes that she’s of Puerto Rican descent and would be the first Latina elected in Baltimore City should she win the post. "A big deal,” the 47-year-old says.

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Challenger Joseph A. Kane II, 34, is someone we took a close look at as well, and expect to hear more from in the future. He’s extremely personable and deeply engaged in the Waverly community, where he grew up. He and his wife are raising their blended family of four kids there, and he embraces and understands the district’s diversity and needs.

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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