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Unprecedented number of Black candidates vying for Baltimore County Council

Shafiyq Hinton
Sixth district County Council candidate Shafiyq Hinton announces endorsements from County Executive Johnny Olszewski and retiring Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. Credit: John Lee

This election year there is a sea change in Baltimore County politics. Black candidates are running for county council seats from Middle River to Catonsville.

This may mark the end of an era, when only one Black candidate has been able to get elected to the seven-member Council.

Shafiyq Hinton, a Black candidate running for the Democratic nomination for the sixth district county council seat, recently landed a key endorsement; County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

“I’m excited to support Shafiyq because I think he’s the right person and also there’s an opportunity to make sure we have diversity on the county council,” Olszewski said.

Hinton said the sixth is a diverse district.

“Every resident needs to make sure that they have their voice heard, and I’m the one to do that,” Hinton said.

A Black candidate has never won in the sixth, which hugs the county’s northeast boundary with the city. It used to be a solidly-white district. Now the sixth is just over 50% white.

“When you look at district six, that’s one of the fastest growing populations of African Americans,” said County Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, and currently the only Black member of the council.

A Black candidate has never won a county council race in a majority white district.

But the county’s demographics are changing. 20 years ago Baltimore County was nearly 75% white. Today whites make up just over half of the county’s population but control six out of seven council seats.

This year, Black candidates are running in five of the seven districts. Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown Branch of the NAACP, said that is unprecedented.

He gives credit to both the changing demographics and the bruising political battle over the past year on how to redraw the council districts to make races more favorable for minority candidates.

Coleman said, “That fight over the redistricting really has inspired people to come out and run.”

Redistricting made the biggest difference in the second district, which includes Pikesville. A legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Baltimore County NAACP forced the County Council to make the second a majority-minority district, which means all minorities together make up a majority of the district’s residents.

Once that happened, Tony Fugett, the former head of the county NAACP and a plaintiff in the suit, entered the race to challenge incumbent Izzy Patoka for the Democratic nomination.

Former County Executive Don Mohler said having a choice is good for voters in the second district.

“There’s an example of a race because of the new maps, because of the increasing diversity, the second district is stronger because of that race,” Mohler said. “The second district becomes sort of the poster child for the new diversity of the maps in Baltimore County.”

Another new majority-minority district is the first, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus. For months, the Democratic nomination there was a two way-race between white male candidates. After the lines were redrawn, Danielle Singley, who is an officer with the Randallstown NAACP, filed to run.

Singley said she decided to run in part because being a Black woman means she offers the voters an alternative.

“I would be disingenuous if I said that was not part of it,” Singley said. “And it’s also meaningful for other women and other Black candidates, other minorities, whomever, to see that even if the odds seem to be stacked up against you, that you should still try.”

Both Singley and Shafiyq Hinton in the sixth said they bring more than their race to the campaign. For instance, Singley has led the effort by the NAACP to revitalize Security Square Mall. Hinton runs a small business.

Council Chairman Jones said to get elected, any candidate has to have a winning message.

“Because a majority of the people are not going to vote for you because of your race or because of your gender,” Jones said.

If Hinton wins the Democratic primary July 19, he will square off against Republican Tony Campbell. If that happens, two Black candidates will compete in the general election for a seat that has always been held by a white council member.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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