Five years is too many

Since 1794, the voters of Charm City have had the same political reality as most: a four-year ritual of choosing the most qualified mayoral and City Council candidates vying for their support, to serve a prescribed term understood by those very voters to be of a certain length. The reality that if you pick an official who does not live up to your expectations you would have to live with that public servant representing your interests for a four-year period has always been recognized and understood.

Most citizens would not expect their voter-approved contract to be breached by these officials based on selfish ambitions, seeking to extend said term to five years instead. But that is exactly what local and state officials have done in Baltimore City, justifying such a move by highlighting low voter turnout and discontent in past elections.


Yet, these officials, who are supposed to represent the interests of their constituencies, recently approved adding an extra year to their 2011 voter-approved four-year term, without so much as a community hearing, meeting or constituent-based input. In what can be seen only as an obvious snub to area voters, the Baltimore City Council, led by MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake, voted to approve the state-led shift in the city's election cycle, electing to have the odd-year election cycle aligned with the presidential elections of 2016.

Rather than listening to our recently formulated group of community, civil rights and election protection organizations — who lobbied for the change be aligned with the state's gubernatorial elections like the rest of the state, yet only after this particular term ends in 2015 — the members of the Baltimore City delegation in Annapolis chose to listen to the wants of the only supporter present testifying on behalf of the presidential cycle: Mayor Rawlings-Blake's administration. Members of the Baltimore Election Group were diligent in their protests against such a measure, consistently presenting election data that proved that moving Baltimore's election process with the rest of the surrounding 23 Maryland counties made more fiscal and political sense than did the city's proposal.


We presented factual evidence that of the past six gubernatorial and presidential elections, the primaries in the gubernatorial election clearly have higher turnout and more voter interest, as the primaries in Baltimore City have long been seen as having the effect of a general elections based on Democratic Party dominance. The data also showed that moving the elections to conform with those of the rest of the state would solve the long-term political problem that has allowed local officials run for state offices, and vice-versa, without being at risk of losing the seat they currently hold. We showed that the lame duck period from April to December in a presidential season for those who may lose proved worrisome to many — not to mention being a positive advantage to incumbents having challengers campaign during the winter months.

Yet, even as the group highlighted negative after negative to the members of the House Ways and Means Committee, along with the city delegation, the members of the City Council had already introduced a local bill in January to change our General Election cycle to be aligned with the state in moving the city's primary to the presidential election cycle, even before the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly had a chance to consider the competing bills before them. Thus, the newly elected members of this body, only weeks into their four-year term, seemed to be looking at increasing that term by one year without the approval of the same people who had so recently elected them.

However, we will have the opportunity to stop these officials in their tracks this fall, as this matter will be before us in the form of a ballot question (along with the more polarizing issues of gay marriage and the Dream Act). Yet, this issue transcends party affiliation, race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. For when local voters begin realizing the bad precedent this would set, allowing elected officials to increase their terms when they feel like it, without any community support or insight, we believe that when they arrive in the voting booths this November they will send a clear message — that "five years is one too many"!

Hassan Giordano is chairman of the Baltimore Election Group. Contributing to this article are Millie Tysowski and Flo Valentine, League of Women Voters; Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, National Action Network; Sharon Black, All People's Congress; Cortly "CD" Witherspoon, Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Tessa Hill-Aston, NAACP-Baltimore Branch; Mel Freeman, Citizens Planning and Housing Association; Michael Eugene Johnson, Paul Robeson Institute; Gail Sunderman and Del. Jill P. Carter, lead sponsor and advocate of the bill to move the city's elections to the gubernatorial cycle.