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Council Write-In Candidates Face Long Odds In November
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October 14, 2011
Most of the campaigns for Baltimore City Council have gone quiet since the primary election was held last month. The ubiquitous campaign signs have disappeared. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a general election wasn’t being held in three weeks. That’s because, in a city that leans heavily Democratic, the Democratic candidate chosen in the primary almost always goes on to win the general election. But, there are still a few candidates for City Council who are in campaign mode.
“Write-in Sneed! Write-in Sneed! Write-in Sneed!”
Shannon Sneed, a 30-year-old former broadcast journalist, lives around the corner from where she launched her write-in campaign on Tuesday night in the Middle East neighborhood. Sneed lost the 13th District’s Democratic primary by 43 votes to incumbent Warren Branch.
After the primary, Sneed went on vacation and when she got back, she says she was deluged by e-mails and calls from supportive residents. Her husband encouraged her to run as a write-in candidate. She thought about it and decided, using a marathon metaphor, that she should “finish the race.”
“I think we can win this race in the general election is because we did what they call the grunt work, we knocked on the doors beforehand, and then having the neighborhood back me, having Antonio Glover who came in 3rd to back me, having Kimberly Armstrong who came in 4th to back me, that means a lot.”
But, even with that support, Sneed is facing an uphill battle.
“It’s very, very difficult. You know sometimes you’ll have a perfect storm of factors as we did in Alaska in 2010 for the US Senate.”
That’s Herb Smith. He’s a professor of political science at McDaniel College in Westminster, and a longtime city resident.
“Generally speaking, for City Council… it’s a low profile race, there’s not a great deal of media attention and unless the write-in candidate has a considerable amount of funds to publicize his or her effort, it’s very difficult to do.”
Sneed isn’t alone. The list of write-in candidates includes 7th District Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who lost to Verizon engineer Nick Mosby in the Democratic primary. Conaway was the only incumbent City Councilperson running for office that lost a primary race.
“I got calls after the election. Some of the people did not vote. Some of my supporters did not vote. And, what they said was, ‘Belinda we thought you’d be okay.’ I mean, what do you say to that? There’s nothing that you can say.”
Conaway says her father, Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway, Sr., received calls on his radio show asking her to run a write-in campaign. She held a meeting to gauge interest, which was attended, according to Conaway, by more than 100 people. Conaway says she would like to get 3,000 write-in votes. No 7th District candidate received that many votes in the primary election. Getting that many voters to the general election and having them write in a name is even more of a challenge. Just ask 10th District write-in candidate Adam Van Bavel.
“It’s tough because just getting people out to the polls is difficult and when you throw in something else like that to the layperson… they view it as one more thing that they have to do and when you’re struggling to get people to vote you need every benefit that’s available.”
Van Bavel’s path to a write-in campaign is long and full of twists. He says he began his campaign almost two years ago planning to run under a party that eventually folded. Then, he fell short of the number of signatures needed to get on the primary ballot. So, the 32-year-old Pigtown resident moved forward with a write-in campaign. He often gets asked how many votes he thinks he needs to win.
“It’s hard to say but I think if I can get a thousand people, I’ve got a really good chance of winning this race.”
The 10th District primary saw a little over 25-hundred total voters for the primary. The general election may draw an even smaller crowd. Van Bavel isn’t even the only write-in candidate running in the 10th District. Erica White, an attorney who ran as a Democrat in the primary, finished third with a little under 300 votes.
“Since I didn’t win the Democratic nomination, I wanted to make sure that people understood that there was still an option available to them.”
White, who has been unable to campaign because of work obligations, is realistic about her chances.
“I really don’t think I’m going to be successful this time around. Oftentimes, unseating an incumbent is difficult because they’ve already made so many connections over the years.”
Michael Johnson, another write-in candidate, finished fifth in a crowded 9th District Democratic primary. William “Pete” Welch, who replaced his mother, 9th District City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, after she retired late last year, won the Democratic nomination. Johnson did not respond to an interview request, but he recently told The Afro-American that he planned to campaign at community association meetings, pass out flyers, and organize robo-calls.
In the race for City Council President, Charles Smith, a Democrat, is also running as a write-in candidate.
And, there could be more. The deadline to file as a write-in is November 2nd. The general election will be held on November 8th.
Herb Smith has some advice for the candidates on that day.
“It’s not rocket science. I think the formula was well expressed by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. You find your vote and make sure it gets to the polls.”
Smith admits, that’s something easier said than done.
I’m Matt Purdy, reporting in Baltimore, for 88-1, WYPR.
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