Baltimore City Council candidates poised to overcome write-ins

ElectionsPoliticsBelinda ConawayDemocratic PartyBernard C. YoungRochelle SpectorMary Pat Clarke

Two Baltimore City Council candidates were poised to overcome write-in challenges Tuesday, converting their Democratic nominations into general election victories.

Councilman Warren Branch of the 13th District was leading write-in challenger Shannon Sneed, widening a margin of victory from the September primary. Meanwhile, political newcomer Nick Mosby appeared to have turned back a write-in challenge from incumbent Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, whom he defeated in the 7th District's Democratic primary.

"It's very humbling for me," Mosby said. "It's truly a special moment. I'm just excited to get started serving the citizens."

Elections officials said they would be calculating candidates' totals until at least Thursday. They said they could count the total number of write-in votes cast, but couldn't say specifically whom they were for until later in the week.

"We have to do that by hand. There are hundreds of pages to go through," said Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., the city's elections director.

Voter turnout was predictably low, with less than 13 percent of registered voters casting ballots. About 23 percent voted in the primary.

Even some of the winning candidates were disappointed with the level of participation

"This is my first citywide election," said City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who was elected easily. "I'm not happy about the turnout. I wanted a mandate to lead. This is not a mandate."

The small number of voters appeared to approve two charter amendments: one that would put aside money for repairing and building schools, and another that would give residents as young as 18 the right to serve on the City Council. Currently, council members must be at least 21.

The rest of the Democratic nominees for City Council appeared to cruise to victory:

1st District Councilman James B. Kraft; 2nd District Democratic primary winner Brandon Scott; 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran; 4th District Councilman Bill Henry, 5th District Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector; 8th District Councilwoman Helen Holton; 9th District Councilman William "Pete" Welch; 10th District Councilman Edward L. Reisinger; 11th District Councilman William H. Cole IV; 12th District Councilman Carl Stokes; and 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

Comptroller Joan Pratt and 6th District Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton ran unopposed. Both are Democrats

John Willis, a political science professor and long-time observer of Maryland elections, called Sneed's performance "very impressive."

"It's very hard to be successful in a write-in campaign," he said.

Sneed's campaign complained about issues with voting machines. She declined to comment late Tuesday. Branch said he wanted to see the final tally before discussing the vote.

Kimberly Wiggins, a Sneed campaign organizer, said she had received three calls from Sneed voters who reported that their machines wouldn't let them vote for a write-in candidate.

"Those are just the people I know about, who could find the Sneed campaign number and called us," Wiggins said.

Jones said he'd heard no official reports of problems with machines and such voting issues are usually caused by "human error."

"It could be people don't know how to deal with the machines," he said.

Mosby and Conaway's mother, Mary, campaigned side by side throughout much of the day at Dr. Nathan A. Pitts-Ashburton Elementary/Middle School.

In a race that was sometimes contentious — with Mosby questioning whether Conaway lived in Baltimore County, and Conaway asking federal prosecutors to investigate Mosby — there was no acrimony on election day, the candidates said.

"She's a really sweet woman. It was a really great time," Mosby said of the campaign. "We were together conversing. We talked about the race, of course, and how she was there to support her daughter."

Belinda Conaway agreed. "Everybody got along," she said.

The Branch vs. Sneed campaign featured a similar up-close showdown election day. The two candidates shared a small patch of sidewalk turf outside the voting location at Fort Worthington Elementary on Oliver Street in East Baltimore.

They shook hands, gave out fliers and called out to the trickle of voters who headed into the school.

"It's been like they predicted — slow," Sneed said, as she handed out cards with directions for voters to complete a write-in ballot. "We want people to come out."

Andrew Ragsdale, 74, and his wife Gloria, 71, who have lived on Biddle Street for more than 20 years, said they felt compelled to cast their vote after Sneed came knocking on their door during her campaign.

"We need fresh blood," Andrew Ragsdale said.

He added however, "I'm disappointed by all of them."

Nearby, Sneed's mother, Linda Miles, didn't hesitate to say who she cast her vote for.

"She's the perfect candidate," she said of her daughter. She said she was proud of her daughter's extensive campaigning.

"Everyone recognizes her name," she said. She said she was there when the polls opened and would stay until they closed. As voters walked up to the school's entrance, she asked them to write in Sneed and introduced herself as the candidate's mother.

Diane Williams, who sat alongside Miles, was there handing out fliers in support of Branch. The climate was friendly, as the two woman chatted during in foot traffic.

"I'm trying to get him re-elected," Williams said of Branch, who she said understands the needs and concerns of the community, which include vacant houses and the need for after-school programs for children.

"Whoever gets elected has got to go in and do something," she said. "Nobody wants to live in a community with boarded-up houses."

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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