Nine candidates on Monday called the selection process to chose a new City Council member for Baltimore's 11th District an "insult" — and demanded a new vote.
In a letter sent to the members of the City Council, nine of 14 candidates said the committee selection process for the vacant City Council seat was "tainted" and weakened the public's trust in Baltimore's government.
"Ultimately, the selection process has caused residents across Baltimore City to question their trust and confidence in our political system," the nine wrote. "It is bad for the 11th District and the entire City that this selection process is tainted. We ask that the City Council send back the current nomination to the Nominating Committee so that the Committee can give full consideration to all candidates.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young came under fire last week as critics charged that he pushed his favored candidate through a committee appointed to fill a vacant council seat. A committee of community leaders, appointed by Young, listened to more than four hours of testimony Tuesday evening from 14 candidates for the seat — and in less than five minutes agreed to nominate Federal Hill Neighborhood Association President Eric T. Costello, who was supported by Young.
Costello, 33, is an information technology auditor for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. He was the only candidate with as many letters of opposition as support sent to the committee.
Young has acknowledged that he encouraged Costello to apply for the seat left open when Councilman William H. Cole IV was selected to lead the Baltimore Development Corp. Young also said he let committee members know that he "liked" Costello. But he has denied lobbying them and said the selection process was fair.
Council district 11 includes downtown, Federal Hill and Bolton Hill. The full City Council is slated to vote on Costello's nomination on Oct. 6.
City Councilman Carl Stokes, who chaired the committee, said he rejected arguments that the process was unfair. He said the committee made up of 11 community and business members and two councilmen was not unduly pressured by Young or anyone else.
"The most disappointing thing is the inference that 11 community member conspired to put in a fix," Stokes said. "They came to a decision after seeing all the resumes. I know for a fact that people were not coerced."
Stokes added that there was a considerable behind-the-scenes lobbying effort in favor of Greg Sileo, the president of the Locust Point Civic Association. Young, too, said last week that allies of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were lobbying for Sileo.
"There was hard lobbying for one of those nine, and he knows that was happening on his behalf," Stokes said. "If he wants the full story out, then lets have a hearing a get the full story out."
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said he "understands that individuals are disappointed." But Davis said Young "put a lot of thought and care in the process. He believes the integrity was maintained."
The nine candidates who signed the letter are: Melanie Ambridge, a former board member of the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association; Jon Kucskar, a deputy legal counsel to Gov. Martin O'Malley; Rob LaPin, a former teacher and House of Delegates candidate; Arthur McGreevy, a lawyer and former campaign manager for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman; Harry Preston, a teacher of the year at Edmondson Westside High; Bill Romani, founding board member of non-profit One House at a Time and former House of Delegates candidate; Sileo; Benjamin Smith, student body president at University of Maryland School of Law; and Shannon Sullivan, board member of the Riverside community association.
"We are deeply concerned that Committee members did not have a legitimate opportunity to review letters from individuals that supported or opposed individual candidates," the nine wrote. "At least 250 people in the 11th District offered their views in the public record. Many residents unaccustomed to joining the political process wrote letters supporting candidates, under the belief that their letters could have an impact. As even some Committee members recognized, it is an insult to these individuals that their views were not considered before the final vote."
City Councilman Nick J. Mosby, who uses the same fundraiser, Colleen Martin-Lauer, as Rawlings-Blake, said he believed the only way to please the constituents was to hold a special election to fill the next vacant council seat.
The selection committee was made up of community and business leaders chosen by Young. This was the first time the council has used the selection process it created in 2011 after council members chose the successor to Councilwoman Agnes Welch, who retired. The council voted to appoint Welch's son, William "Pete" Welch, to her seat.
Council members were criticized for not having sought more community input and subsequently established the process being used now.
"In 2010 there was a huge amount of outcry and now we have this, where there's a huge among of outcry," Mosby said. "I don't think there's way to get away from the controversy unless there's a special election."
The full text of the nine candidates' letter is below:
September 29, 2014
Members of the City Council
100 North Holiday Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Members of the City Council:
We write to express our disappointment with the recent 11th District vacancy nomination process.
Three years ago, the City Council received significant public criticism for the manner in which it filled a Council vacancy. To avoid the appearance of impropriety when the next vacancy occurred, the Council created new rules, which explicitly provide that all Nominating Committee deliberations occur in public sessions.
The lack of public deliberation in this instance causes us – and the people of the 11th District – to question the integrity of the selection process. Fourteen candidates spent over four hours discussing their backgrounds and priorities. Yet the Committee voted on only one nomination without meaningful discussion of that candidate's qualifications. Only one of eleven committee members supporting him provided reasoning for his vote. It is impossible for us to believe that all Committee deliberations occurred in public – as the Council rules require.
In addition, we are deeply concerned that Committee members did not have a legitimate opportunity to review letters from individuals that supported or opposed individual candidates. At least 250 people in the 11th District offered their views in the public record. Many residents unaccustomed to joining the political process wrote letters supporting candidates, under the belief that their letters could have an impact. As even some Committee members recognized, it is an insult to these individuals that their views were not considered before the final vote.
We write not to disparage the current nominee. We hope the Committee fully considers him for the vacancy, just as we hope that the Committee would fully consider all nominees.
Ultimately, the selection process has caused residents across Baltimore City to question their trust and confidence in our political system. It is bad for the 11th District and the entire City that this selection process is tainted. We ask that the City Council send back the current nomination to the Nominating Committee so that the Committee can give full consideration to all candidates.