By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, July 12, 1995
First District politics has a long history of feistiness, and this year’s race promises to live up to the legacy. None of the three City Council seats are open, but at least one incumbent – Lois Garey, who was appointed this year to the seat vacated by now-state Senator Perry Sfikas – is seen as vulnerable enough that 12 challengers have entered the race. The outcome could continue to alter the district’s political landscape, which has been undergoing a sea change since before the 1991 election.
The crowded field of Democratic challengers includes scions of the district’s old-school political organizations (whose candidates lost their seats in 1991), new-school candidates whose appeal derives largely from their ties to community groups, and a retired entrepreneur/Ross Perot campaign organizer.
Last time around, the “Fightin’ First” District was the scene of political upsets. Progressive, community group-oriented newcomers John Cain (running again this year) and Sfikas wrested two of the three seats from six-termer Mimi DiPietro and five-termer John Schaefer (no relation to former Governor William Donald Schaefer). Nick D’Adamo kept the third seat, but the upset was a clear sign of the decline of old-school First District politics.
The old school’s demise was linked partly to the 1991 redistricting of the city’s councilmanic districts. The new boundaries added the South Baltimore peninsula to the First’s traditional hub in Southeast Baltimore, and also attached a chunk of Northeast Baltimore while removing an area north of Patterson Park.
But Schaefer and DiPietro were more than just victims of redistricting. Press accounts of the race noted new levels of voter discontent with the aging incumbents and their fixation on workaday constituent service. Instead, many First District constituents, young and old, expressed concern about larger political issues, such as waterfront development, environmental problems, and city management.
In the aftermath of 1991, the days of the pothole politician in the First were seen as coming to an end, while the role of community groups as the dominant political force was firmly established. This year’s appointment of the Harbel Community Association’s Garey to serve out Sfikas’ term was further indication of the district’s new politics.
Still, the 1995 First District race has a certain old-school flavor to it. Nick D’Adamo, who started in politics as part of a political organization but won office independently in 1987, is very popular in Highlandtown. He appeal is districtwide, though – he took 85 of 91 precincts in 1991. Garey is running on a ticket with D’Adamo, in the hopes that his electoral strength will rub off on her.
D’Adamo is not a John Schaefer/Mimi DiPietro protege, but neither is he a New Turk a la Cain and Sfikas – D’Adamo’s political style is less issues-oriented, more focused on providing basic constituent services. “This is a service district,” he says. “It is what is in your own backyard that these people [in the First District] are concerned about.”
The heart of the old school is still beating loudly in Joseph Ratajczak, who mounted unsuccessful council bids in 1987 and again in 1991, when he ran with John Schaefer and DiPietro. He’s back again, he has name recognition, and his record of First District involvement (particularly as aide to John Schaefer from 1975 to 1985) goes back 25 years. Constituent service – which Ratajczak defines as “taking care of the people who take care of you” – is 85 percent of a council member’s job, he says.
Charles Krysiak, who manages the truck fleet for the contracting firm of Potts & Callahan, Inc., has old-school political roots as well. His father, Charles Sr., was a state delegate in the 1960s and 1970s, and now heads the state Workers’ Compensation Commission. His mother, Carolyn, is a state delegate who, along with DiPietro, was a member of the now-defunct Proven Democratic Team political organization of ex-state Senator American Joe Miedusiewski. “I feel our family has served the community proudly for many years,” the younger Krysiak says, “and that is an asset.” He sets himself apart from his mother, though: “I am more aggressive, and she is more liberal.”
Cast in the Cain/Sfikas mold, on the other hand, is Kelley Ray. Ray works in the Office of Communications for Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering. Her community involvement began about a decade ago with volunteer work for the Belair-Edison Community Association. But it was the battle over the Pulaski incinerator in the early 1990s (which ultimately led to a Cain/Sfikas-sponsored incinerator moratorium being enacted in 1993) that pulled her into politics.
In 1994, Ray ran for state delegate in the 45th District on a ticket with Carl Stokes, who is now running for City Council president, but they both lost. She says she wants to be a council member so “I can move more mountains instead of molehills,” expressing frustration at the limitations of volunteer community activist.
Ray has adamantly denied speculation in First District political circles that she would form a ticket with Cain. “If there is anything I learned from running last fall, it is that you don’t run with a team,” she says. “I am running as myself.”
The other Democrats running as themselves are:
- Mark S. Burke, who works in Patterson Park for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, and is part-owner of A&M Costume Gallery in Parkville.
- Anthony Florence, a tavern owner from Highlandtown.
- David Franklin, a retired entrepreneur and former organizer for 1992 independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.
- Charles J. Morgan, Jr., a South Baltimore resident who withdrew from last fall’s state delegate race in District 47A.
- Dennis O’Hara, a city employee and Canton resident.
- Gary L. Thomas, a Locust Point resident who won a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee in District 47A last fall.
Two candidates have riled on the Republican side: Tisha Dadd-Bulna (who could not be reached for this article) and Donald Carver.
Carver, who kicked off his campaign on St. Patrick’s Day and has been running hard ever since, thinks the First is ripe for a Republican council member. In the same breath, though, he emphasizes that party affiliation shouldn’t matter. “There are too many important problems to concentrate on donkeys and elephants,” he says. His campaign organization is equipped with a corps of 45 volunteers and a committee staff of 10, numbers he cites as evidence that he will be a force to contend with this year.
So what are the prospects for the challengers? If you ask D’Adamo, he says, “I predict the three of us [D’Adamo, Cain, and Garey], will go back [to the council].” If you talk to challengers, they often point out that the existing members are too divided – especially D’Adamo and Cain, who in May came to fisticuffs in Jimmy’s Restaurant in Fells Point – to provide strong representation. Only time – and the voters – will tell.