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The big shift in the Baltimore City Council

P. Kenneth Burns

In less than a month, the Baltimore City Council will undergo its biggest change since 2003 when it went from multi-member districts to single member districts.

Eight new councilmen will take office on Dec. 8; replacing those who either sought different offices, decided not to run for another term or lost re-election.

University of Baltimore political science professor John Willis calls it a major generational shift not seen in Baltimore for a long time.

“New people, a different generation; some people who are not going to accept the standard answers,” he said.  “It will be very interesting to see how they organize themselves and what issues come to the forefront.”

Among the new class is Councilman-elect John Bullock of the 9th District in West Baltimore.

He said the younger council speaks to the potential of the city and “it also speaks to the fact that folks have gotten tired of business as usual.”

Bullock, 38, defeated incumbent Councilman Pete Welch, 63, in the April Democratic primary and Republican Kenneth Ebron in the general election last week.

In addition to offering great constituent services and work with small businesses in his district, Bullock says he wants to be responsive to his constituents.

“One of the challenges over time is that folks have not felt heard,” he said.

Councilman-elect Zeke Cohen, a former teacher, emerged from a crowded Democratic field in April to run for the 1st District seat left open by Jim Kraft.  Kraft, 67, started a race for Circuit Court Judge but pulled out.  Cohen, 31, defeated Republican Matt McDaniel to succeed Kraft.

While campaigning in O’Donnell Heights in October, Cohen said his priorities would be to improve education, see city agencies get regularly audited and push for community policing.

“In a place like O’Donnell Heights, it’s the same thing as it would look like in Canton,” he said.  “Its officers that are out of the car, walking the beat, engaging with people; that are getting to know the community.”

Both Cohen and Bullock say it’s important to not only make sure their districts are taken care of, but look at the city as a whole.

Cohen calls the district lines arbitrary.  And that people south of Fayette Street in his district should be concerned with what happens north of Fayette Street in the 13th District.

“We need to be concerned about the lives of all of our citizens and we need to see ourselves interconnected,” he said.

Bullock says the new council class recognizes that it’s not only about the district they represent.  It’s also an opportunity to work with his new colleagues on behalf of the city.

“I look at the 9th, but also the 7th and 8th that border it and how we can work together,” Bullock said.

But John Willis says that the new council class will need to look beyond the city as well; because they will be ambassadors regionally and statewide to get resources for Baltimore.

“They’re going to have to be aware of the regional impact that the city has in the minds of your audience and in the minds of many Marylanders,” he adds.

Baltimore’s image has been challenged for a long time.  The most recent event was the April 2015 riots in the wake of Freddie Gray’s in-custody death.

Willis said the region is going to be excited about the new council.

“The audience for the new council members is really broader than just the city,” he said, “It’s what is the image of the city and they have an opportunity as the new city council to remake the image of the city.”

Council President Jack Young – one of seven returning members – says he’s looking forward to working with the new city council.  And adds there is a consensus with new and returning members that the council needs to be a vehicle for positive change and growth in Baltimore City.

In addition to Bullock and Cohen, the new council members are Ryan Dorsey in the 3rd District, Yitzy Schleifer in the 5th District, Leon Pinkett in the 7th District, Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th District, Robert Stokes in the 12th District and Shannon Sneed in the 13th District.

Returning to the council, in addition to Young, are Brandon Scott in the 2nd District, Bill Henry in the 4th District, Sharon Green Middleton in the 6th District, Council Vice President Ed Reisinger of the 10th District, Eric Costello of the 11th District and Mary Pat Clark of the 14th District.

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