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Councilwoman Helen Holton announced her plans to retire after 20 years in the council.
Councilwoman Helen Holton announced her plans to retire after 20 years in the council. (Yvonne Wenger / Baltimore Sun)

Longtime City Councilwoman Helen Holton announced her retirement Monday, citing health reasons.

Holton, who turns 55 on Tuesday, said she will serve through December 2016, after the general election of a new City Council. She was elected to serve West Baltimore in 1995, and serves as chairwoman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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"I have health challenges that I need to face," Holton said following the council's Monday meeting, where her announcement took many by surprise.

"I am not as young as I used to be and there comes a point in time when you've got to look at your life. It doesn't mean my voice is going to go away. It just means creating more balance in life to take better care of myself."

Holton declined to elaborate on her health challenges.

She said she will continue to be an advocate for her community. Among her goals for the rest of her term is to push for legislation to help small locally-owned businesses better compete.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Holton demonstrated "steady leadership and advocacy" over the last 20 years.

"Councilwoman Holton has used her mastery of the budgeting process to fight for increased funding for programs that have helped countless families gain employment, secure affordable child care, have access to quality educational and recreational facilities," Young said in a statement.

Young said it's too early to know which council member could be a suitable replacement for Holton as budget chair.

During her tenure, Holton faced allegations of bribery and perjury that were dismissed by the state's highest court in 2011. The Court of Appeals upheld a Baltimore judge's decision to dismiss most of the serious charges against Holton, stemming from an accusation that she accepted $12,500 for a campaign poll from developers in exchange for voting on tax breaks for their Harbor East project.

She called it a "public persecution" at the time, and pointed to her faith in God as her guiding force through the situation. She had been indicted by a grand jury in 2009 as part of the corruption scandal that led to then-Mayor Sheila Dixon's resignation.

Holton pleaded no contest in 2010 to a campaign finance violation and paid a $2,500 fine.

Holton, a Democrat who lives in the city's West Hills neighborhood, is a certified public accountant and an ordained minister.

"I care about my community and I love my city, and to be of service is one of the greatest honors," Holton said. "My one voice and my one vote has been about, how do we help all the boats rise with the tide."

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