One Baltimore #26, The 14th

12/2/19

People love to talk about the presidential election, and I certainly get why, it’s mind-bogglingly important. But what turns me off about focusing on it is that we have almost zero control over the outcome. Maryland is tied for 36th in the timeline of primaries, by which point the field will have narrowed drastically. Even then, our state only has 102 delegates, or just 2.5% of the total. If we’re just talking pledged delegates, people who are bound to vote as the electorate votes, we only have 79, or 1.9%. And of course, after the primary, we’re not much of a swing factor.

Meanwhile, there are SO many important elections this cycle over which we do exert control! The primary for the 7th district U.S. House of Representatives seat previously held by Elijah Cummings will take place on February 4th, with approximately a third of the votes coming from Baltimore City. And then there are the city-specific races — Mayor, Comptroller, and the ten out of fourteen City Council districts that are contested this year, all of which will almost certainly be decided on April 28th, the date of our Democratic primary (early voting April 16-23).

I wish that I heard as much analysis about these races as I do about the presidential one. Again, I get that the White House is a terrifyingly big deal and that it dominates the news. All I’m saying is, let’s put more energy where we can actually make a difference. Let’s all commit to taking a hard look at the local races, not just in the week or so before the vote (…yes, I’m talking to my past self here) but with enough time to really make informed decisions.

I probably don’t need to convince you why the Mayorship matters (holy effing hell, have you caught up on the details of Pugh’s corruption? worse than it seemed at first, and it already seemed real bad https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2019/11/23/pughs-bagman-operated-with-impunity-in-baltimores-political-culture/) and I’ll definitely get into those races in future columns. The Comptroller’s race, I already covered (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/09/18/one-baltimore-18-the-comptroller/). But man, these Council seats are a big deal too, especially as more and more people are talking about curtailing our strong-Mayor system of government to shift power in their favor (https://baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/with-legislative-package-baltimores-council-members-seek-new-checks-for-strong-mayor-system/).

Moreover, local elections are more of how we DO influence things at the national level. You don’t need to look back far to see someone jump from City Council to Mayor to Governor to the national stage. O’Malley may not have been a presidential candidate that anyone took very seriously, but that’s not to say that our next local-politico-gone-big couldn’t be.

It was with all that in mind that I attended, along with maybe 75 others, the 14th District Early Forum hosted last Tuesday by The Real News Network. Kudos to Real News and to host Jaisal Noor! The conversation was tight, thorough, and informing, largely featuring audience questions. You can watch a recording here: https://www.facebook.com/therealbaltimore/videos/563077327812472

So, ok, the 14th… which one is that again? The district covers a swath of central-north Baltimore City, from the eastern half of Hampden up through the fancy-detached-house neighborhoods of Guilford, Tuscany-Canterbury, and Oakenshawe just above the Hopkins Homewood campus, across to cover Waverly, Ednor-Gardens Lakeside (my home!), and Original Northwood, around to capture some of the houses on the east side of Lake Montebello, down through Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, and back to pick up Better Waverly, Abell, Harwood, and the upper halves of Charles Village and Remington.

Currently, the district is represented by the small but mighty Mary Pat Clarke. Clarke has served on the Council for over three decades, starting back when the districts were in a different configuration, gaining the City Council President’s seat for two terms, running for Mayor and losing, and then making a comeback to pick up her current position. She has a well-earned reputation for taking the small issues seriously, showing up, picking fights, and knowing absolutely everyone. Earlier this year, she announced that she would not seek another term, opening the district up for the first time in a decade and a half.

Vying for the position are Rita Church, Joe Kane, and Odette Ramos. So, what’re their deals?

Of Rita Church, I don’t wanna be dismissive, but I can say very little except that she doesn’t seem to me to be a likely contender. She’s the daughter of Rita R. Church, a community activist who served on the City Council from 1997-1999, and has had a variety of jobs ranging from correctional officer to school teacher to case manager. This isn’t her first race, and, in fact, the “Elect Rita Church” facebook page’s “About” section lists the 45th legislative district, 43rd legislative district, AND the 14th council district in various places.

Church’s website is short on policy details, but includes puzzling lines like “…the nature of the truth and not the falsity of non concrete ideas can become part of the political process interrelationship must foster and try and heal the deprivation of subversion that has taken preparation and concealed the economic and political injustices.” She did not attend the forum. In fairness to her, though, you can watch an earlier forum held by DMVDaily.news in which she did take part: https://www.facebook.com/DMVDailyNews/videos/586597125409901/

Then there’s Joe Kane, a large, affable man whom I’ve seen around at the Waverly Giant. He grew up in Waverly and Ednor Gardens, serving in the Army after high school. From there, he came home to study political science at Morgan State, where he got involved with the NAACP and Baltimore Algebra Project, organizing on issues like unionization for the JHU nurses, increased funding for Baltimore City schools, and the fight against the Hopkins private police force (which he spoke about at West Wednesday, which of course I’m happy to see a candidate attending: https://twitter.com/jkane146/status/1116033410345111552).

Today, Kane is back in Ednor Gardens, where he serves in a couple of positions in the local community association. He was also the president of the Waverly Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization and serves on a city-wide parent advisory board for City Schools. His day job is in IT with the Coast Guard. He’s been endorsed by State Senator Mary Washington and by State Comptroller Peter Franchot (not entirely sure why he’s involved, but cool?).

Finally, there’s Odette Ramos, a very busy woman whose name I’ve seen in a number of places over the years. Raised in New Mexico, she came to Baltimore to attend Goucher, where she developed her own Social Justice major. She owned a small consulting firm for many years and has been very active in local community and political issues. She was the first Director of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (a great source of local demographics information and analysis) and helped found the Village Learning Place (a free community library in lower Charles Village). She’s worked on campaigns like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and founded Baltimore Women United, a local political organizing group.

Ramos currently runs the Community Development Network, which advocates for and supports groups doing small development projects throughout the state. She’s been involved in state politics for some time, serving as the chair of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce from 2007-2009 and currently serving as a member of the Democratic State Central Committee (charged with overseeing state-level party activities and nominating people to fill vacant seats) for the 43rd legislative district. She has been endorsed by Mary Pat Clarke and by State Delegate Maggie McIntosh.

On many points, the two participating candidates agreed with each other. They both talked about things like tipping the balance of the Board of Estimates, which oversees city spending, away from the Mayor, getting wealthy non-profits like JHU to put more resources into the city, taking back control of our police department from the state, the importance of schools. They’re both clearly highly competent, hard-working people who are invested in the city, and I think they’d both give the role their all. The main difference that emerged between them was their approach — Kane’s was squarely on community organizing, bringing more people to the table, and addressing systemic racism, whereas Ramos’s was more on solutions within the system, tweaking programs, and working connections in Annapolis.

It’s a tough call, but I walked out of the forum on team Kane. Crucially for me, he gave more details about how our out-of-control police department could be reined in and seemed more serious on the topic. I think he would represent a real and needed change, and I found myself agreeing with him when he said that Ramos would make a great State Delegate, whereas his strength is more on the ground. He concluded the forum by encouraging everyone to “find someone who inspires you and work with them,” and it was a good line, because he did in fact inspire me with his passion and humor.

An additional wrinkle — after the forum, it was pointed out to me by a friend (to be fair, a Kane supporter) that, as recently as last year, Ramos’s address was in the 12th district, where she previously ran for City Council. According to this person, her spouse and child still live at that address, and neighbors were confused at the idea that she’d be running elsewhere. Ramos addressed this issue in the DMV Daily debate linked above, saying that she moved because of family issues and pointing out that she has lived in multiple locations in the 14th at various times, and was even president of the Abell Improvement Association at one point. Not to muckrake — people move a lot, and it’s not like I know a thing about her personal life — but the timing does seem convenient.

In Baltimore For Border Justice news, we’re holding another Advocacy Gathering this Thursday, 12/5, to plan for an action in January around gag orders and local police control — please join us, your voice would be a huge help as we work to move the needle (plus there’ll be snax!): https://www.facebook.com/events/564131721072299/

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Event of the Week: Tonight, Monday 12/2, the Baltimore Boom Bap Society hosts their 77th session of live, improvised hip-hop. Their goal is to provide a space for experimentation and collaboration, and to bring hip-hop into conversation with other forms of music. I’ve been lucky enough to wander into their performances before and been extremely impressed. Catch them at Keystone Korner Baltimore, a new jazz club / restaurant in Harbor East.

https://www.facebook.com/events/616450922226476/

Green Event of the Week: At noon on Friday, 12/6, Sunrise Movement Baltimore, Clean Water Action Maryland, the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, and Our Revolution Baltimore City/ County are hosting a Baltimore Climate Strike at City Hall. People around the world, mostly children, who have the most to lose, have been striking on Fridays on a regular basis. The changes needed are so immense that it’s hard to have hope, but refusing to go on as if everything were fine is an important start. I’ll be there, hope to see you as well.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403781533206840/

I’m cutting the song of the week. It was fun at first, but finding new relevant tunes got to be a chore.

Candidates Joe Kane and Odette Ramos with host Jaisal Noor at the 14th district City Council forum last week.

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