Dear friends and neighbors,
It’s been fascinating watching the primary election unfold around us over the past few months. A little frustrating, too, because I would like to be more involved than I have been–but work/family/community responsibilities are a bit overwhelming, and campaigns (even not your own) become all-consuming if you let them. It’s also been interesting because, for as fired up as people are about what is taking place in Washington or around the world, it feels as though relatively few people are paying attention to our local races, or even the governor’s race–though early voting starts THURSDAY! Just looking at the recent polls, where more than 40% of Democratic voters are still undecided, gives an indication of where the electorate stands these days.
I’m writing this e-mail on the chance that some of you might be still considering who to vote for in a few key races, and the even rarer chance that you might care how I’m approaching these races. Because I don’t imagine there will be a ton of interest in this, you’ll forgive me if I don’t edit it down too much but just let the thoughts flow. I hope that this may be helpful to you.
Let me also encourage you to do the same. That is, if you are particularly passionate about a few of these candidates, be sure to reach out and let your neighbors know your thinking–not because we all need to be pushy about such things, but because many people are still trying to figure things out and your thoughts might really benefit them.
It is important to note that the views expressed are solely my own as a Baltimore native, city resident, and politically-engaged person. They do not in any way represent the views of my family, Breath of God Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and, most definitely, God. ha.
What do I value most in a candidate: experience which reassures me of their being an effective governor; electability in the fall campaign against Governor Hogan; policy positions which I feel will be best for the city and state. I also value people that I know or have met personally (if it was a positive interaction).
As such… I’m most strongly considering State Senator Rich Madeleno. I’ve met him several times, and have followed his career in Annapolis for a few years. He is intelligent, effective in governing, progressive in policy, and has a great sense of humor such that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Other people I would like to consider because I know and respect their running mates: Jim Shea (because of Brandon Scott) and Rushern Baker (because of Elizabeth Embry). They both have plenty of good things to commend themselves on their own merits, it’s just that I particularly value the personal experience I’ve had with their running mates.
And then there is Ben Jealous, whom I respect deeply. He’s strong on the issues, but I expected him to campaign more vigorously and pull away a bit more in the race.
Krish Vignarajah and Valerie Ervin also have great strengths.
There is a reason that 40% or so of voters are still undecided. Partly it’s because they aren’t paying attention–partly it’s because there are a number of good options with no obvious great one or obvious frontrunner.
State’s Attorney Race
What do I value most in a candidate: effectiveness in the job, including intelligence, energy, administrative skills, and a team-building approach. This is a really difficult job from a leadership and an administrative standpoint, and few people have the mix of gifts to serve effectively.
My go-to strategy for this election, and previous ones, is to speak to good friends who are prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, and others who are working in the circuit court on a daily basis. They are experienced and smart enough to sort through the outward political posturing and say 1) this person is a strong lawyer; and 2) this person does or doesn’t have the gifts to manage the office and the team; all based on my years of experience working alongside them.
When you speak with your lawyer friends and neighbors, you may hear a different answer. What I hear most often is a strong recommendation for Ivan Bates.
I would share my thoughts on Ms. Mosby, but I don’t see much point. As I speak with people, most folks have strong opinions one way or the other and aren’t inclined to be persuaded. I will only say this–given the importance of this position in our efforts to create a more peaceful city (especially with the levels of crime we’ve been experiencing), the priority I place upon effectiveness is all the more important to me. Most people I speak to who work professionally in our courts think that there is great room for improvement in that regard (see this piece by an acquaintance of mine, public defender Todd Oppenheim). But you may hear differently when you seek out those conversations–as I encourage you to do!
House of Delegates–46th District Race
The first thing to note is that we have five Democratic candidates running for three slots on the ballot this fall. You may vote for one, two, three, or none of those candidates during the primary election.
The second thing to note is that all five candidates have the intelligence, commitment, communication skills, and other gifts necessary to be effective in the position. That is not to say that they are all equally qualified, or would serve equally well. But it is to say that there are no “bad” choices–none of them are duds. Quite the opposite, actually. So, for that we should be grateful.
Here are some resources for evaluating the five candidates.
Baltimore Sun Voter Guide (all candidates participated, but some declined to answer questions in specific policy areas)
League of Women Voter Guide
Bikemore: “I Bike, I Vote” campaign (three candidates participated)
Housing Policy Watch questionnaire (four candidates participated)
Some observations on the overall situation of the race: we have three incumbents. Delegate Luke Clippinger has served for eight years. He lives in Riverside with his husband and works as a prosecutor in Anne Arundel County. Delegate Brooke Lierman has served for four years. She lives in Fell’s Point with her husband and two children and works as a civil rights attorney. She was the top vote-getter as a first-time candidate in 2014. Delegate Robbyn Lewishas been a delegate for two years. She lives in Patterson Park and works in health care, focused on insurance access. She was selected by the state central committee late in 2016 to take the place of former Delegate Pete Hammen, who now works in City Hall. Challenger Dea Thomas lives in Otterbein, where she grew up. She works in health care for Johns Hopkins, and formerly worked for a large union and for Senator Cardin. She ran in the 2016 cycle for City Council in the 11th district, finishing second to Councilman Eric Costello. Challenger Nate Loewentheil has lived in Highlandtown since January 2017, when he returned to Baltimore from serving in the Obama White House and, previous to that, studying at Yale for undergrad and a law degree. His primary work since moving to Southeast Baltimore has been to campaign for office while also creating a new non-profit organization, Baltimore Homecoming.
What I value most in a candidate: servant-leaders with genuine roots in their community who have demonstrated community-based leadership over time, have earned the trust of their neighbors, and have made the effort to learn about and understand the communities where they live and serve. It is important that people have “good” positions on the issues (from my perspective), but also that they be accessible and open to reasoned arguments from their constituents. As a community member, I appreciate delegates who are collaborative, responsive, and creative–who are willing to do the real work of making change in communities and who don’t always need to see their name or their photo at the top of the list of partners.
I think the first question in any race which features incumbents is to ask whether they have been effective delegates for us over the years. The answer there is a distinct yes, particularly in the case of Clippinger and Lierman (simply because they have had more opportunities to contribute over their years in office). While we certainly haven’t agreed on every single issue, they have proven to be capable legislators who are able to identify clear priorities for our district, city, and state, and who are also able to build coalitions to advance those goals by legislation. That they are able to be effective even while being relatively new to the General Assembly, and with a Republican governor these past four years, is a further testimony to their value as our representatives.
Given that those two delegates are doing very good work with us here and on our behalf in Annapolis, and given that they are still early in their legislative careers, I see no good reason for losing either of them from our delegation in Annapolis. I appreciate their service to the district and I enjoy working with them when we have the chance to collaborate on various projects or issues. You, of course, may have different opinions or a desire to change course away from our current delegates. I’ll proceed, though, as if we retain both of them.
That leaves Delegate Lewis, as well as challengers Thomas and Loewentheil, for our third and final seat. As I would like to think was true with the city council race two years ago, we have several good people but only one opening. So, how do we determine who would best serve our district?
I know each of the three to varying degrees, and have appreciated knowing them. That is to say… I met Delegate Lewis back in 2003 when I was working in the neighborhood as part of a team research project at the University of Maryland. Even then she was a passionate, engaged, visionary leader in a community which was just beginning to turn around from a decade of disinvestment, neglect, and residential turnover. I was glad to meet her again when I returned to the neighborhood as a pastor some five years after I had left. Dea Thomas and I grew up together in the same neighborhood, often hanging out with our siblings at her house, in the park, or at the pool in the community. Our parents were friendly and were connected not only by profession (nursing) but by the shared experience of being original homesteaders in Otterbein. Their commitment to the city, and to family, was a lesson imparted to both sets of children. After some years of little contact, it was good to meet Dea again three years ago as we both were running for City Council. Nate Loewentheil and I do not go back nearly as far, but he made a point to introduce himself as he was settling into our great Highlandtown neighborhood early last year. He worked quickly to get to know the leaders in our community and to integrate himself into some of the great things happening here–though it is challenging to really settle into a neighborhood while engaged in the all-consuming process of running for office at the same time. I don’t envy him the task he set for himself!
Based on the values I mentioned above, my order of preference is Delegate Lewis, then challenger Thomas, then challenger Loewentheil. Here is why I have Delegate Lewis at the top of my list of good options.
Robbyn Lewis is the consummate community leader. She has been committed to the success of our neighborhood and of all the people living in it for the long term–at least the fifteen years I’ve been associated with the neighborhood, and probably longer. She is passionate about whatever initiative(s) is before her. She identifies challenges, devises solutions, finds resources, and mobilizes people to address the issue at hand. She does all of it with a collaborative, team-based approach, always putting the good of the community as the highest priority for the group. She is intelligent and fierce, using her knowledge and her voice to persuade neighbors and to lobby in Annapolis or in City Hall for our priorities. Whenever I would stop by to visit our delegation over the past few years (before Robbyn was a delegate), I was never surprised to turn a corner in Annapolis and run into Robbyn preparing to meet with a representative or testify before a committee about mass transit, healthcare, the environment, or a number of other issues.
Robbyn is not a “natural” politician in the way that we so often think of politicians here in Baltimore. She didn’t grow up here in this city which she has made her home, so she doesn’t have those family ties which can set someone up for electoral success. She didn’t attend City, Poly, or one of our local private schools like me and so many others. She has spent her considerable personal and professional energies focused on advocating for our communities and for people who are so often left behind by our political and economic systems. She hasn’t spent her time currying favor with political leaders or the donor class in order to position herself for an inevitable run for office. To be blunt… she also happens to be African-American in a part of our city which unfortunately struggles with racism and has never elected a black state senator or delegate to this point. And, unlike me, she hasn’t ever seen much of a point to pushing her own name out into the community via social media–which is one of the reasons why her name doesn’t “ring out” quite the way I think it should. She simply works with her neighbors and her colleagues to get things done, every single day.
In short, Robbyn is the kind of elected official we say we want but we so rarely wind up voting for. We stumbled into our good fortune of having her as our delegate for these past two sessions. I say we recognize a good thing when it happens to us and we send her back to Annapolis again to continue to put her considerable gifts to work as our delegate.
Saying all of that, of course, puts the challengers Thomas and Loewentheil in a tough place. They have run spirited and energetic campaigns. In the case of challenger Loewentheil, it has been a remarkably well-funded campaign, too–he has raised at least $421,000 for his campaign alone since the beginning of 2017, while all three delegates together raised less than $400,000 in total over that time. But even solid candidates, plenty of funds, and well-run campaigns don’t guarantee success when lined up against incumbent delegates who are generally doing a very good job in their positions. That may be why some of the messaging coming out from challenger Loewentheil is heavy on fear of crime (a base if at times effective motivator) and contains such gems as “Our state delegates have done next to nothing to make our streets safe”–a statement so hyperbolic as to be quite untruthful were it not so vague. Perhaps our city would have been in a better position if challenger Loewentheil had moved back to his home district in West Baltimore to run there instead, as there is one completely open delegate seat and a tremendous amount of upheaval in leadership. His talents and his vision might have been just what the 40th district was looking for this election cycle. Certainly we all agree that we need as many good people as possible serving all of the districts in our city, not just our watery corner of it.
None of that is to say that he or Dea might not both win here in our district! It’s certainly possible. And if they did, I know they would serve us well. Still, I can’t help but think that the current delegates we have, our current team, are some of the best in the city. For this election cycle, at least, it seems prudent to move forward with them as our delegates once again. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Delegate Lewis have the opportunity to put her talents to work on our behalf for a full term.
Democratic State Central Committee–46th District Race
There are many fine people in this race. I encourage you to look them up on social media and on their websites. I just want to mention three of them in particular because I know them well.
I commend to you Mike Ball, Mark Edelson, and Nick Frisone.