Three delegates compete for one seat in S.W. Baltimore
By By Luke Broadwater and The Baltimore Sun
May 10, 2014 at 3:00 AM
Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and his 11-year-old son, Jack, representing the third and fourth generations of a storied political family, are knocking on doors near Mount St. Joseph school in Southwest Baltimore.
A few blocks away, Del. Keith E. Haynes, the deputy majority whip of the House of Delegates, has an entourage of a dozen people clad in Baltimore black and yellow as he waves to passing motorists in the Irvington business district.
And Del. Melvin L. Stukes, who has 20 years of experience in elected office, is working the area's churches, week in and week out.
It's the smallest, and one of the poorest, legislative districts in Baltimore, but 44A is perhaps the most fiercely contested. Three candidates with a combined 48years in public office are competing for a single seat in Annapolis after redistricting left this corner of the city with two fewer delegates. They are colleagues who have worked together for years. They are candidates who are used to winning. And now they must face one another.
"It's the only situation in the state where you have three incumbents running for one seat," says Haynes, who has accumulated the largest campaign account and was the leading vote-getter in the district four years ago. "Undoubtedly, it is a competitive race. It's a situation no one wants to be in."
Between 2000 and 2010, Baltimore lost about 30,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census, including a large number from Southwest Baltimore. That meant fewer delegates to represent fewer people. State leaders combined the city's 44th District with Baltimore County, leaving only one delegate seat for the city.
Though they didn't ask for the situation, none of the three incumbent delegates is backing down from the fight for that seat.
On a weekday afternoon, Mitchell, 46, who works in admissions at St. Paul's School, is bounding up rowhouse steps on Athol Avenue with Jack trailing close behind studying a list of registered voters. If people here don't know them by now, they will soon.
"You're not one of the Mitchells, are you?" asks Pete Thompson, 41, an undecided voter who answers his door and begins bantering with the father-son duo. "I know your Uncle George."
Pleasantries are exchanged. By the time the Mitchells leave, Thompson has agreed to put up a campaign sign. Mitchell has agreed to look into fixing up the road. And Jack has noted all this in his files.
Down the street, Mitchell is not such a household name.
"Are you the lieutenant governor?" a woman shouts at Mitchell, who supports Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler for governor, not Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. "I'm a little taller than the lieutenant governor," Mitchell jokes.
After 12 years on the City Council, Mitchell immediately took an active role after being elected to the General Assembly in 2010.
"I came out early for same-sex marriage and decriminalization of marijuana," he says, citing a successful last-minute charge this year to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. "As a freshman legislator, you're supposed to sit back. But my record is about standing up and speaking out."
Mitchell is the grandson of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., a leading figure in the civil rights movement. His great-uncle was the late Parren J. Mitchell, the first black member of the House of Representatives from Maryland. His cousin is Clarence Mitchell IV, the WBAL radio show host and former lawmaker.
"I grew up in politics," Keiffer Mitchell says, as he gives instructions to Jack.
"It's cool to be a part of history," Jack says, marking down notes about each voter's concerns.
In addition to Mitchell's stances on marijuana and same-sex marriage, he's played a key role on other major issues in the city.
He was an outspoken critic of public financing for the city-owned Hilton Hotel, and an early investor in the now-defunct Baltimore Grand Prix. He introduced a bill extending taxbreaks to areas beyond Baltimore's harbor.
His opponents appear to have more yard signs posted, but that doesn't worry him. "Signs don't vote," Mitchell said.
A day later and not far away, Haynes, 51, is darting in and out of traffic, giving campaign literature to motorists. He tells them about the state money he's helped bring back to the district as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
An attorney with Orioles owner Peter Angelos' law firm, Haynes was a key advocate for a billion dollars in school construction money for Baltimore and an increase in the state's minimum wage. He also points to legislation he helped pass under which many arrest records are automatically expunged.
"At one time, we had a zero-tolerance policy for minor offenses in the city of Baltimore," Haynes says. "It was having a strong, negative impact on a lot of people. We were able to get 400,000 people's records expunged.
According to campaign finance reports filed in January, Haynes is leading the fundraising race. He had $32,000 on hand, compared with $24,000 for Mitchell and $10,000 for Stukes. In an eight-candidate field in 2010, Haynes received 26 percent of the votes; Mitchell, 24 percent; and Stukes, 18 percent.
Stukes and Mitchell point out that Haynes changed his address to continue to run in the 44th District after the lines were redrawn. Haynes denied that his switch of address was politically motivated. "I just wanted to move," he says.
Stukes, 66, was at home recuperating from illness when interviewed last week. Nevertheless, the veteran politician said he was campaigning hard and intends to win.
"It makes for a very awkward situation," he says of the race among incumbents. "All of us know how to campaign. What we're doing is what we've done before."
Stukes, who investigates complaints for the Maryland Transit Administration, cites as some of his strongest pieces of legislation measures that honor Negro League baseball players and the Juneteenth holiday, which marks the end of slavery in America.
He helped voted against the legalization of same-sex marriage despite having initially supported a bill in favor.
"That was probably the most divisive issue that happened in the eight years I've been down there," Stukes says of same-sex marriage. "I'm glad it passed so we could move on. I'm one of three from Baltimore that didn't vote for it. I stand on principle for strong spiritual grounds. I'm too damn old to change my mind now."