Council candidates raise thousands ahead of 2020 election

In what is shaping up to be a crowded field of mayoral and city council races across the City of Baltimore in 2020, yesterday’s annual campaign finance report deadline gave us a glimpse into who may do what over the next year and a half. And while the total numbers combined for the candidates said to be running for council seats across the city were miserable, there were a few shining examples of possible powerhouse candidates.

One such candidate was 33-year old Phillip Westry, an East Baltimore resident who has worked as a housing attorney for the poor and disenfranchised for years, who brought in a total of over $15,000 in only two months of fundraising. The first-time candidate, who is represented by the political consulting firm known as Politicom Strategic Solutions – a firm formed in the 1970’s and led for years by political analyst Art Murphy; is looking to knock off the first-term council incumbent in the 12th council district, Robert Stokes.

Stokes barely squeezed out a victory in 2016 in a crowded democratic primary that witnessed six other challengers in a race to fill the seat being vacated by another Stokes, Councilman Carl Stokes (no relation) – who decided to run for Mayor. The councilman seems to have only made headlines while in office for all the wrong reasons. He was caught on a police body-camera in February of 2017 – only two months after being sworn-in as the district’s newly elected councilman – where police stopped him for reportedly running a stop sign.

While stopped, the officer said that he could smell alcohol coming from the councilman, who immediately introduced himself as such when the officer asked him for his license and registration. Stokes, who first said he had one beer before minutes later saying he only had one glass of wine, was ordered to park the car and walk to his destination which he said was right down the street. No field sobriety test was performed, and the officer decided not to give Stokes a ticket for the violations. But the camera footage that went viral tarnished the reputation of the councilman before he ever got started.

And it appears that Mr. Westry is quickly looking to capitalize off the recent election of a half dozen young and energetic activists that were successful across the city in 2016. His fundraising totals make him the current front-runner in the race, having outraised other potential challengers by almost 14-to-1, while Stokes has yet to release his campaign finance report. Other challengers either rumored to be running in the 12th district, or who have announced their intentions, are two candidates from the 2016 election – Kelly Cross and Gary Crum.

Cross, a local community activist, came a few thousand votes short of defeating Stokes in the 2016 race. However, while he may have greater name recognition than Westry across the district, he has only been able to raise a fraction of what Westry has brought in and he announced his intentions in September. Cross has raised roughly $1300 with only $800 left on hand, while Mr. Crum’s account appears to be inactive, and was sent to the Office of the State Prosecutor due to past campaign finance violations.

Westry on the other hand raised over $8,000 in less than sixty days from friends and family, while he and his husband Michael loaned the campaign another $7,000. The only hefty expenditure on Westry’s report is the money paid to Politicom to get the candidates website and social media pages created, along with some political clout.

However, if the race remains crowded like we saw in 2016, it will certainly favor the incumbent, Councilman Stokes. If they truly want to see a change in their community, and on the council, it appears that someone needs to drop out of the race and they will have to coalesce around one candidate.

Another likely council candidate in the city’s 10th council district, Phylicia Porter, also hauled in a nice little bundle of cash. The current member of the 40th district’s democratic state central committee, Porter brought in roughly $10,000 over the past few months, gearing up for a race that looks to be an open seat. It’s been rumored that the longtime district incumbent, Councilman Edward Reisinger is said to be retiring after his term ends, which appears likely since the once formidable fundraiser appears to have done no serious fundraising over the past year.

In fact, Reisinger only has roughly $2,800 cash-on-hand, having brought in a mere $1,000 in the past year. And while Porter has dominated that district’s money haul, it may come down to exactly how many people enter this race as well, especially if the former front-runner, Charlie Metz, decides to throw his name back in the ring. Metz, a small business owner and Morrell Park resident, came less than 150 votes short of defeating Reisinger in the 2016 race, and would be seen as the front-runner if he decided to get back in the race in 2020.

However, his campaign finance account is closed, which makes people wonder why a formidable opponent who has ran several times prior would not start raising money early on – or during the entire Reisinger term – if they planned on running again. Other rumored candidates are another past challenger, Erica White, who received 11% of the vote in 2016, as well as the popular Westport Community Association President, Keisha White – neither of which have an active campaign finance account.

Joseph Kane, a recently announced council candidate in the 14th council district, where incumbent Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is rumored to be retiring; has been actively campaigning after helping newly elected State Senator Mary Washington knock off the 43rd district incumbent Senator Joan Carter Conway just last year. However, Kane’s fundraising numbers have only brought in $1,300 over the past few months; but that’s roughly $1,275 more than his rumored opponent, Odette Ramos.

Ramos was a former 14th district resident before moving into the 12th council district years ago to run for city council in this East Baltimore district. She was considered the front-runner for Carl Stokes’ seat in 2011 after he announced his intentions to run for Mayor, only to see her campaign rebuffed when Stokes backed off the mayoral bid and decided instead to run for re-election in his council district. Now Ramos has moved back into the 14th district, reportedly to run for Clarke’s council seat, as it’s been rumored that she is looking to become Clarke’s chosen protégé and successor.

The only other potential council candidates to have any sort of impact financially over the past year are the candidates down in the 1st council district. The incumbent, Zeke Cohen, raised over $140K in the past year and has over $200K cash-on-hand. However, he is expected to be considering a run citywide, either for Mayor or City Council President, which would leave his seat open for what is expected to be another large contingency of candidates running to replace the first-term councilman.

The front-runners, given the 2016 election numbers, would have to be Scott Goldman, Mark Parker and current 46th district democratic state central committee member, Mark Edelson. They each garnered 20% (Goldman) or 17% (Parker and Edelson) of the vote in 2016, though Edelson has been the most visible of the three since 2016. However, another central committee member has been raising a considerable amount of money and is poised to make an announcement regarding her possible run for the seat later this month.

Paris Bienert, a 26-year old Butcher’s Hill resident who previously volunteered for the Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign, has raised close to $40,000 according to the latest report, and has roughly $45,000 cash-on-hand. This total is more than all the previously mentioned candidates combined, as Mr. Goldman filed an affidavit claiming to have raised less than a $1,000, Mr. Parker’s campaign is closed, and Mr. Edelson has about $6,000 in the bank. However, each of these candidates (excluding Bienert) were able to raise over $100,000 in the 2016 council race, making the first district the most expensive race across the city.

Other rumored candidates that have raised eyebrows are that of J.D. Merrill, the son-in-law of former Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley – who recently lost a state senate bid in 2018 – who is expected to run for city council in the 6th district, taking on longtime incumbent Sharon Green-Middleton. Merrill hasn’t began actively raising money, having only $1,800 in the bank versus the nearly $60,000 that Middleton currently has. However, Merrill showed his ability to raise a tremendous amount of money quickly in last year’s contest, so that certainly won’t be a problem.

Another outgoing councilman, Bill Henry, who is retiring after this term, leaves open a seat that it appears nobody has really begun raising money to ensure their success. Henry’s 2016 challenger, Brian Hammock has no money and hasn’t been heard from much since the last race, while longtime community activist Karen DeCamp – who many expect to get into the race – doesn’t even have a campaign finance account. Neither does Danielle McCray, the sister of recently elected state senator Cory McCray, who is said to be running for what may be an open 2nd council district seat; as their BEST Democratic Club colleague, Councilman Brandon Scott, is said to be considering a citywide run.

First-term incumbents Lean Pinkett (7th district) and Dr. John Bullock (9th district), haven’t raised much money to-date, with Pinkett bringing in roughly $10,000 giving him $22,000 cash-on-hand; while Bullock brought in a meager $450, leaving him vulnerable with less than $10,000 cash-on-hand. And it’s rumored that both are set to have one, if not multiple challengers in 2020.

Another first-term councilman, Kristerfer Burnett also has little money, having raised less than $2,000, leaving him with less than $8K in the bank. But it appears that he has fended off most challengers with his consistent advocacy and tireless work on the council. The two biggest hauls on the council were from the two council members expected to run citywide, Councilmen Cohen ($145 raised with $200K+ on hand) and Councilman Scott, who brought in over $80,000 to give him close to $150K in the bank.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey (3rd district), raised over $22,000 giving him almost $70K cash-on-hand, while Councilwoman Shannon Sneed has yet to file her report, having had almost $50,000 in the bank in last year’s annual report. But the biggest haul from a councilman that doesn’t appear to have citywide ambitions (at least not yet), is the first-term councilman from the 5th district, Yitzchok ‘Yitzy’ Schleifer, who brought in roughly $40,000, giving him more than $160,000 in the bank.

The controversial councilman, whose representation of the Jewish community in his district at the expense of other communities, according to some of his critics; showed anyone daring to challenge him in 2020 that he won’t be an easy target. Rumored challengers, local activist and the owner of Lazarus Right, Christopher Ervin, filed an affidavit with almost no money in the bank; while Schleifer’s main challenger in 2016, Betsy Gardner, also filed an affidavit having roughly $5oo in the bank. Those numbers don’t fare well against an incumbent who will likely exceed a quarter million dollars in campaign cash by this time next year.

*Stay tuned for DMDaily’s next article breaking down the citywide races, how much Mayor Pugh, Council President Bernard ‘Jack’ Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt have; and what it will take to defeat either one of the three most powerful local elected officials. We will also be discussing the council races on tonight’s DMVDaily Radio Show and inviting in incumbents and challengers over the next few weeks to discuss their plans for 2020.

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