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Politics

Backers of Baltimore term-limit ballot question kick off campaign to sway voters

The Rev. Alvin Hathaway speaks during a news conference to promote a ballot question appearing on Baltimore ballots this fall that would limit city politicians two terms in office.

A coalition of Baltimore leaders backing a ballot question that would establish term limits for the city’s mayor, comptroller and City Council began a campaign Tuesday to promote the idea to voters ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Standing in front of City Hall, a group that included the Rev. Alvin Hathaway, Marvin “Doc” Cheatham and former mayoral candidate Robert Wallace stumped for the ballot question, arguing it will offer young talent a chance to run for office and give voters the ability to hold elected officials accountable.

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“It’s time to give power back to the people of Baltimore,” said Jovani Patterson from behind a lectern marked with a sign reading “Vote OK on Question K.”

Patterson, a former Republican candidate for City Council president, chairs the People for Elected Accountability and Civic Engagement, which pushed to get the question on this fall’s ballot with $385,000 in assistance from David Smith, chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Hunt Valley-based owner of TV stations, including Fox 45 in Baltimore.

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The ballot question would ask voters to amend the city’s charter to limit the mayor, council members, council president and comptroller to two terms of four years each. The cap would not begin until 2024, and the count of terms would start that year — even for longtime officeholders. Also, officials could serve in different offices over the course of their careers, as long as they abide by a two-term limit for each office.

David Nevins, a public relations professional working on the effort, said Tuesday’s news conference begins a six-week campaign to get the ballot question passed that will include rallies, public information sessions and advertising, both on social media and television — if funding will allow.

Nevins said backers especially want to reach the city’s Black voters, who represent the majority of the city’s electorate, to make sure they and others get accurate information about the ballot question.

The committee backing the ballot question raised $387,000 for the initiative, almost all of which came from Smith, campaign finance records show. By August, all of that money had been spent, the majority going to consulting firm Rowland Strategies. A report filed in August showed the group was more than $1,600 in the hole.

Nevins said Tuesday that the group is fundraising again and hoping to secure funding from a number of sources, including Smith.

History suggests the spending may be unnecessary. Since 2004, hundreds of ballot questions have been put to Baltimore voters and only one — an effort to lower the minimum age to become a member of the Baltimore City Council — failed to pass.

Organizers at Tuesday’s rally said they have seen no organized opposition, although some city elected officials have spoken out against the proposal.

Mayor Brandon Scott, who favors term limits, told The Baltimore Sun he’s troubled by Smith’s involvement in the effort. Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who served three terms, spoke out against the plan on radio station WYPR last week. Schmoke noted there have been only three Baltimore mayors since World War II who have served more than two terms.

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Smith did not attend Tuesday’s news conference, but it was organized by Mitchell Schmale, who has served as his spokesman.

Carville Collins, an attorney with the law firm DLA Piper, spoke at the news conference to dispel what organizers dubbed “misinformation” about the ballot question. Elected officials would not be barred from graduating from one elected position to another. They would be limited to two terms in each, he said.

Wallace, who ran for mayor as an independent candidate in 2020 and lost to Scott, said the installation of term limits would “change the DNA of our city.”

“We create an environment where the system is responsive to the needs of the city,” he said.

Hathaway said term limits will get more people with fresh ideas involved in city politics.

“There are people sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the opportunity to be engaged and be involved,” he said. “Term limits allow that to happen.”

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The term limit question is one of 11 local questions that will appear on the ballots of city voters this fall. Voters also will be asked whether they want to return to local control of city police, whether they want to reorganize the board that oversees the city inspector general and to create a fund to supplement rewards for crime tips.


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