The deadline to file to run for office in Baltimore City’s Sept. 13 primary election is six days away, and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young faces little competition from well-known, well-funded candidates.
It's a vast departure from the last two elections for the city's second-highest elected position.
In 2007, then-President Rawlings-Blake fended off serious challenges from Michael Sarbanes and the late Kenneth Harris. Four years prior, Catherine Pugh gave up her council seat and Carl Stokes came out of political retirement to take on incumbent President Sheila Dixon.
So far only two challengers have filed to run against Young: Leon Hector Sr. and Charles U. Smith.
Who? ... Exactly.
Between them, Hector and Smith garnered less than 1,200 votes in their last-place campaigns—Hector for District 43 delegate last year, Smith for council president four years ago. The most recent wild card is the possible entrance of former Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber, who recently barged to the front of council chambers to stand beside the president's chair to chastise council members.
Young, who was appointed president in 2010, has never won a citywide election, let alone run for such a post—making him possibly vulnerable to a serious challenger.
Julius Henson, a political consultant, said that a viable contender to Young would need considerable name recognition and money to unseat the incumbent. But a tough economy makes it hard for candidates to muster the funds needed to compete, Henson said.
“So we get who we get and we got what we got,” said Henson, who worked for Young as a political consultant until last year.
Young fired Henson after The Sun revealed that he had orchestrated a robocalling campaign on behalf of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. during the governor's race that the Maryland State Prosecutor's office has said violated election laws. Henson was indicted earlier this month by the state prosecutor on charges of violating election laws for ordering the automated calls that told voters Martin O'Malley had won the election. Henson has denied the charges.
Raising enough money to take on Young will be difficult for challengers, especially those who have no name recognition.
According to the campaign finance report filed in January, Young had $234,953 on hand to start the year. That’s slightly more than Rawlings-Blake had just prior to her 2007 primary election victory.
Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a former city councilman and mayoral candidate, said Young enjoys the power of incumbency having served in the role since 2010 and on the council since 1996. But Mitchell said the position might be drawing fewer serious challengers because it has lost some luster since it’s no longer viewed as a steppingstone to the mayor’s office.
Mitchell pointed out the defeats of former council presidents Lawrence A. Bell III and Clarence “Du” Burns in mayoral primaries. The obvious outlier is former Mayor Sheila Dixon who defeated Mitchell in 2007. But Dixon, a former council president, had been serving as the appointed mayor after Martin O’Malley was elected governor.
Mitchell said the dearth of interest could also be related to the lack of power the council president actually has.
“I never expressed any interest in running for City Council president because you become a citywide council person,” Mitchell said.
Herb Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College and a Baltimore City resident, said the lack of interest in the council president's race could be due to the city government's power structure.
"It's a strong mayoral system. That's where the power is in Baltimore City," Smith said.
Smith said the lack of candidates is part of a general decline in the past 25 to 30 years of competitiveness for political offices in the city.
He also said issues such as greater economic pressure on residents, such as working longer hours just to keep their jobs, may dissuade them from seeking office.
Smith said the Internet's ability to give everyone a voice may give people who would have run for office a different outlet.
"Instead of running for City Council you can be a blogger today," Smith said.
Councilman Robert Curran, D-District 3, is a Young supporter, but said the council president can’t take his opponents for granted.
“Any candidate for any office is not to be taken lightly,” Curran said.
He also said there might be some last minute surprises at the filing deadline, but said a citywide election isn’t something you can just jump into. When the council was considering who to appoint as president when Rawlings-Blake became mayor in February 2010, Councilman William Cole pushed for the job. Young prevailed, and Cole has already filed to seek reelection to his council seat.
“If someone is going to be running you have to do it six months out, not six weeks,” Curran said.
(Editor's Note: This article has been changed from an earlier version to include information about Julius Henson's indictment.)