Council committee picks Welch for his mother's seat

A Baltimore City Council committee chose William A. "Pete" Welch Jr. to replace his mother on the council, despite concerns about his past criminal offenses.

Nine of the 12 council members on the committee voted Thursday for Welch, who worked for nearly 30 years as a legislative aide to his mother, Agnes Welch, who retired last month after 27 years on the council. The full council's 15 members are scheduled to make a decision Monday.

Welch's candidacy sparked an outcry from community leaders and political observers. He pleaded guilty to handgun violations in 1999 for firing a gun amid a group of angry poll workers and, the following year, was convicted of paying poll workers, which was illegal at the time.

In 2004, he pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to file campaign finance reports while treasurer of his mother's campaign and one count of perjury stemming from an affidavit he signed that the filing was accurate and complete.

Councilman Robert W. Curran nominated Welch, saying that his "longtime relationship" with the 9th District made him the best-qualified candidate for the job. Nicholas D'Adamo seconded the nomination.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Vice President Edward Reisinger, and Warren Branch, William H. Cole IV, Belinda Conaway, Sharon Green Middleton and Carl Stokes voted for Welch.

After a lengthy pause, Councilman James B. Kraft nominated Abigail Breiseth, a teacher who helped found a charter school. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke seconded the nomination and Councilman Bill Henry also voted for Breiseth.

The other candidates to apply for the position — political science professor John T. Bullock and nonprofit director Michael E. Johnson — were not nominated Thursday.

Clarke said that she had decided against voting for Welch because of his record.

"With all due respect for years of service, I was very impressed with the other candidates," she said.

Young declined to answer questions after the vote, calling instead on a spokesman: "Where's the statement? Get the statement."

In the statement, Young said that "Welch's criminal past is well documented and much discussed.

"The fact of the matter is he has long since paid his debt to society and should not continuously be penalized for his past lapses in judgment," he said in the statement.

Welch was given a three-year suspended sentence and three years' probation for the handgun charges. He was sentenced to three years' suspended sentence and two years of unsupervised probation for the campaign finance filings and fined $5,000.

Cole held his forehead in his hands and paused before signaling his support for Welch.

"I anguished over this decision for the last few days," he said after the hearing. Cole said he had doubts about the other candidates' positions on property taxes and a living-wage bill. And a stack of letters from residents convinced him that Welch had broad support.

"If the man has paid his debt to society and his district seems to be in significant support of him, I don't know where it's written that you aren't deserving of some kind of second chance," he said.

Welch shook the hands of council members after the vote and said, "Thank you for having faith in me."

"I'm a different person now than I was then," he said in an interview. "I'll prove it in the way I approach the residents of the 9th District."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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