As the rest of the country obsesses about the 2020 national elections, some folks in Annapolis are facing a more immediately pressing issue; filling the city council seat vacated by Shaneka Henson when she was sworn in to the House of Delegates seat long held by the late Speaker Michael Busch.
City officials have set a special election for July 2, but things aren’t going very well.
Of the four candidates who filed to run for the seat, only two supplied valid contact information with the city clerk. One listed a phone number that no one answers and that has no voice mail set-up. The only Republican listed a number that greets callers with the message it is “not in service.”
More recently, the list of candidates has shrunk by half, leaving Democrat Yiannes Kacoyianni and Republican George Michael Gallagher running unopposed in their respective primaries. Neither one, by the way, filed a working phone number with the city clerk’s office.
Add to all that the prospect of conducting what amounts to a neighborhood election just days before a long holiday weekend and it all but assures a poor voter turnout.
“To have the General Election two days before the Fourth of July, I think says it all in terms of turnout,” says Carl Snowden, a long-time community activist.
At issue is whether a district dominated by public housing projects and troubled by gun violence can win the clout it needs to survive in an era of sharp federal budget cuts.
”So, they really do need an effective leader to address some of the systematic issues that they are faced with,” Snowden said.
There’s also a question of whether the candidate who wins the seat will reflect the African-American majority in the district known as Ward Six. Two of the four candidates who signed up for the contest last week are African-American, but one was disqualified and the other dropped out for health reasons.
Prospects for the election of an alderman of color now rest with DaJuan Gay, a 22-year-old college student whose application to enter the Democratic primary was rejected because it was missing a signature from his campaign treasurer. Gay says he has decided to launch a write-in campaign, in which he would face both the Republican and Democratic nominees.
“I’m actively working that out with our team,” he said. “We want to make sure we have a strategic campaign in place that guarantees a win so that we aren’t causing conflict with the party or any other trouble.”
Former Alderman Kenneth Kirby’s decision to withdraw from the contest robbed the race of its most likely front-runner. He served two terms in the Ward Six seat before retiring in 2017 and has by far the greatest name recognition of the current candidates. He agrees that his prospects were good.
“So, I could have come out of the box pretty hard and land with it like a thoroughbred,” he said. “But considerations of family and health just have made me take a back seat for a minute.”
Kirby’s departure improves prospects for Yiannes Kacoyianni, a former member of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee who has worked in Kirby’s past campaigns. Democrats have a three to one majority in the Sixth Ward, Snowden said. And so far Kacoyianni seems to be leading the pack in lawn signs.
In a race that may draw no more than a few hundred votes, lawn signs could prove very handy.