By Hassan Giordano
(BALTIMORE – July 17, 2018) – The past two election cycles have shown a tremendous shift in the city’s political power dynamic, from the old guard to the new. The once prominent Eastside Democratic Organization, otherwise known as EDO, controlled by political power brokers such as Dr. Marie Washington and recently-ousted state Senator Nathaniel McFadden, is now being replaced by a younger version known as the BEST Democratic Club.From the elections of current council members Shannon Sneed in East Baltimore’s 13th Baltimore City Councilmanic district, to that of John Bullock in West Baltimore’s 9th council district – the BEST Democratic Club is starting to go beyond the East Baltimore streets it once called home. And this year’s election of co-founder Cory McCray, who defeated the “boss” of EDO, Senator McFadden, along with the victory of Antonio Hayes in the 40th district – who defeated Senator Barbara Robinson – now leaves the group even more powerful than ever.It now seems as if the group is also looking to control the politics of the recently elected Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee membership by trying to influence the upcoming election of the officers that will guide this 42-member body over the next 4 years. As reported last week, this body now will have twenty-seven newly elected members, some of whom aren’t even familiar with the roles and responsibilities that govern the positions they now hold.
However, others are quite familiar with the rules, regulations and by-laws that govern this semi-powerful body that is essentially the political army of the Democratic Party. And they seem to be trying to take full advantage of that knowledge, or lack thereof.
What was once shaping up to be a possibly all-white cadre of candidates looking to control the seven seats of the central committee’s elected officers has now grown into a large, racial and geographical ‘Battle for Baltimore’.
You now have four candidates for the most powerful position, Chairman, two of whom hail from the city’s 40th district (Monica Cooper and Ben Smith) and the other two from the 41st district (Kalman Finkelstein and Angela Gibson), all of whom represent Baltimore’s Westside. The position of 1st vice-chair is between the incumbent vice-chair from the city’s 43rd district in East Baltimore, Karenthia Barber, and a newly elected member from the 46th district that largely covers South Baltimore, Sharon Brackett.
The 2nd vice-chair contest seems to more reflective of the city’s geographical boundaries, as you have five candidates overall representing four of the city’s six legislative districts. Two candidates hail from the 40th district, Arlene Fisher and Phylicia Porter, one from the 41st district – Tessa Hill-Aston, one from the 43rd district – Angie Winder and the last from the 45th district, Antonio Glover.
Both the positions for recording and corresponding secretary only have one candidate vying for the seat, essentially meaning they’ve won before the vote has been cast (Tammy Stinnett from the 41st and Sylvia Williams from the 43rd, respectively).
There are three candidates vying for the position of Treasurer, that being Crystal Jackson Parker of the 40th district, along with Mike Ball and Mark Edelson, both representing the 46th district. And last but not least, there are three candidates for Sgt.-at-Arms; Lisa Henson of the 41st district, Kyle Berkley of the 44th and Jacqueline Addison from the 45th.
The current chairman, Scherod Barnes, did not win re-election in the June primaries, so he won’t be able to continue his leadership, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by many of the area political leaders who felt as if his leadership was partly responsible for making this position so popular during this political season. One prominent local political leader said that they felt as if the loss of Barnes at such a crucial time with the election of so many new faces and personalities will only lead to disaster for the group.
“When you have over half the body newly elected, with many of them unfamiliar with the rules and regulations that govern the central committee in what it can and cannot do, coupled with the fact that you’ll have a handful of folks jockeying for positions for their own political futures in this city and state, it’s a recipe for disaster, which is why you need a strong, principled leader like Barnes as chairman, a man who can accept the reality of wanting to change antiquated rules while counseling the newer members of what’s been tried before and what has or hasn’t worked in the past while clearly never wanting to use the position simply to ascend to higher office.”
One such rule that was once an issue for the past central committee was the fact that many newer members came in with a laundry bag of issues and concerns, including pointing out dually-elected members serving on both the central committee and in local or state elected office who rarely showed up to central committee members. However, many of those same new members found the steady flow of work too much, and they themselves wound up missing numerous consecutive meetings, which is cause for dismissal from the body.
Needless to say, most of those members are no longer on the central committee, while one or two of them were thrown off but recently got re-elected to the body last month. That group also tried limiting the number of meetings held during “off-election years”, which was also dismissed and the body voted to hold their monthly meetings on the third Wednesday of every month. This caveat cannot be changed simply by a chairman or a few members who suddenly find the task overwhelming, but rather can only be altered by a majority vote of the 42-member body.
And according to Chairman Barnes, that rule puts to rest the false rumor that this week’s July 18th meeting was scheduled to be cancelled or postponed due to the popular Tawes Crabfeast taking place that same day down on the Eastern Shore. So, members who will be in Crisfield that day and expecting to be in attendance at the regularly scheduled 6:30 p.m. meeting, where these elections will take place regardless of how many members are present (so long as they have a quorum), better leave early.
Barnes assured me that the meeting will happen, as will the election, which has many members raising issues of race and political posturing as it relates to the leadership of this body, and those vying for various positions. In a recent group chat, some members expressed concern as to having the top leadership positions going predominately to white members who don’t have the experience to lead them forward.
Of the 42-members that make up the central committee, 32 of them are African American, which makes up almost 80% of the body in a city that is 67% black, says one member. “How does it look that our first act as a collective group is to vote in our ‘Great White Hope’ making it appear as if we can’t find someone more reflective of the city and this group to lead us forward?”
Others were more concerned with the fact that three of the four candidates running for chairman are newly elected members with no real understanding of the rules and regulations that govern the body. Some preferred that the new leadership be a reflection of old and new alike, suggesting that if the chairman was a newly elected member, that they elect an incumbent member to be 1st vice-chair, or vice versa, in order to balance it out. Problem with that scenario is the ballots will be given to each member at the same time, to be filled out and turned in before being counted; therefore, members won’t have an opportunity to see the results of one position before casting their vote for another.
It’s also been reported that everyone’s vote will be made public by having each central committee member’s ballot read aloud for the entire audience to hear and see who they voted for – making the usual, backstabbing, double-crossing, backdoor political maneuvering a lot harder to prevail. However, it seems as if some of that political wheeling and dealing is occurring, as it’s been reported to me that members of BEST have been calling on members to support their slate of candidates, which has caused many to be skeptical of their intentions.
According to various committee members, the clear cut favorite for chairman by the BEST political leaders is a club member, and the principle partner of their political firm The Tidemore Group, Ben Smith. It’s been said that they have made promises to quite a few members in order to get Smith elected. However, they may have divided loyalties as it relates to their candidate for 2nd vice-chair, as Mr. Glover is a founding member of BEST and a McCray loyalist, while his opponent Ms. Porter is a Hayes loyalist, and it seems each senator-elect has been trying to whip the votes for their candidate.
A letter to the members from Ms. Cooper not only introduces her to the group, while explaining what she would do as their next leader; but it also touches on the fact that she’s a lifelong resident while others are not, as well as hitting on the issue others have been discussing the past few days, as to the intentions some may have for running and others have for secretly pushing their candidacy behind the scenes.
“Good morning fellow Central Committee members. I would like to ask for your vote for the Chairmanship of our Committee. I am a lifelong resident of Baltimore, and was able to bring unlikely voters out to the polls during the primaries and I am not using this platform for any political or career gain. I am genuine about helping our people become more active in our party…For me it’s not about my next political move so I do not owe anybody any favors. I am straight up, straight forward, and I cannot be bought.”
Her message seems to be in direct contrast to her opponent for the Chairmanship position, Mr. Smith, whose message seems to speak directly to his relationships with the elected officials that are supporting him, and his ability to organize and run successful campaigns. “I am running for chair because I believe the central committee should be focused on year round voter engagement and turnout…and though trained as a lawyer, my professional career has been spent in political advocacy and organizing,” says Smith in a written correspondence.
He goes on to say that he wants to put his political and campaign skills to use for the central committee by helping to organize and train organizers in various communities to implement voter contact campaigns that ID voters while helping to increase the central committee’s fundraising operations. Cooper and her allies say that Smith and his elected allies “want to use the central committee as their own personal political organization”; and have said that they are focusing their advocacy on growing the party by targeting the unlikely voters who have been disproportionately disenfranchised for generations.
Both seem energized and ready to hit the ground running on Day One, but whether or not they will have the allies on the central committee committed to their plans and their leadership, enough to ensure success over the next four years, is still anyone’s guess.
At a recent political event organized by members of VOICE, new and old central committee members alike discussed the upcoming central committee election, as well as the history of the old school political organizations such as Stonewall and EDO, and the good they provided their community back in the day before they went astray following their own personal ambitions; thereby allowing for groups like BEST to intervene and get members of their group elected by highlighting to voters how ineffective they’ve become and promising them a better way.
However a good portion of the members and non-members in attendance also warned of groups like BEST following that same path of unchecked egos and perceived political power, essentially becoming the very virus they recently stamped out in the past two election cycles.
“Many of these young, progressive candidates – who campaigned against the establishment and their suppressive and selfish political machines – are now doing exactly what they described as the problem with the “old school politicians”, controlling the politics of their community by trying to intervene in our election,” said two recently elected members. “Elected officials should stay out of the upcoming central committee elections, and let us begin learning the process of counting votes and making deals with our colleagues to try and secure leadership positions.”
“You can’t speak about how ineffective, selfish and controlling Senators McFadden and Conway were, and how their undue influence on their central committee members didn’t benefit the community as a whole, and then turn around and do the exact same thing they did behind closed doors. That is hypocrisy at its highest form, and will ultimately come back to bite those who do that in their butt.”
It seems as if this next generation of leaders are ready to step up and take what has been withheld from them for some time now. Question is: Will they make the same mistakes as their predecessors and let the perceived political power corrupt their true intentions OR will they take advantage of lessons learned and begin a new generation of political leadership that will truly Make Baltimore Great Again?
**This week’s Baltimore City State Central Committee meeting and election will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, July 18th at 6:30 p.m. at the Humanim Building located at: 1701 N. Gay Street 21213