(Updated 4/4/2014) With the end of the 2014 session of the General Assembly next week, and as legislators return home to focus more energy on their districts, a hotly-contested battle is shaping up in Maryland’s 40th legislative district in a 10-person race that is pitting veteran incumbents against a long list of motivated challengers.
The district is represented by State Sen. Catherine Pugh, Del. Frank Conaway, Del. Barbara A. Robinson, and Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant.
According to 2010 Census data, the 40th district remains predominantly African American at almost 70 percent compared to 72 percent in 2000. However, there are more African Americans living in the district – 81,000 in 2010 compared to 80,000 in 2000. Redistricting has resulted in the loss of such neighborhoods as Roland Park, Charles Village, Remington and parts of Hampden, and the addition of other communities such as Carroll Park, Pigtown, Ridgely’s Delight and Camden Crossing.
Although Pugh is unopposed, Conaway, Robinson and Tarrant, who are running as a unified ticket, must fend off seven Democratic contenders that include well-known civil rights leader Marvin “Doc” Cheatham and Bill Marker, whose slate is known as the Diversity Team, and community activist and public servant Antonio Hayes, a familiar face in city and state political circles, and who at age 36, is the youngest candidate.
Del. Frank Conaway, Jr., who has represented the 40th District since being sworn into office in 2007, perhaps has the strongest name recognition of anyone in the race. He was the top vote getter during the last election in 2010 with 19,028 votes or 37.5 percent of the vote.
According to Conaway’s official online biography in the Maryland Manual, he has served on the House Judiciary Committee since being elected to the House of Delegates.
But the Conaway family website, which provides biographical details on the public service careers of the well-known Conaway clan – including patriarch Frank Conaway Sr., currently the Clerk of the Circuit Court – inexplicably and incorrectly states that Frank Jr. has “admirably served on the powerful Appropriations Committee.”
Del. Barbara A. Robinson, a resident of Bolton Hill, received 15,988 votes during the previous election, making her results the second highest total. Robinson has served as a member of the Appropriations Committee since she was first sworn into office in 2007.
She is the author of five books, with a sixth entitled “Bend in the Road” due for release later this year. A small business owner and advocate for small business and under-privileged women who are heads of households, Robinson describes herself as “un-bossed, un-bought, un-intimidated, and unafraid.”
She says she isn’t too worried about the upcoming election. “When you do your work and do it well, you don’t have worries. Those who are running against us can only talk about what they will do. I can talk about what I’ve already done.”
Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant, a community leader and regional director of a pharmaceutical company was also first elected in 2006. He serves on the Health and Government Operations Committee, and has focused on education, quality health care for low-income people and seniors, and community issues as president of the Ashburton Area Association.
He has introduced legislation to stiffen penalties for those who ride dirt bikes and off-road vehicles on public roads giving police across the State the power to stop these drivers and empower courts to revoke the driver’s licenses of violators, and legislation banning the sale of gas to users of unregistered dirt bikes.
“Leadership isn’t something you just decide to take up one day,” says Tarrant, “it takes skill, commitment and practice. You can’t learn it by watching, you have to do it.”
“Doc” Cheatham’s leadership on civil rights issues includes past president of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the National Action Network, the Baltimore City Chapter of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He believes strongly that a district’s political representation should mirror the characteristics of the population. According to Cheatham, the district still has among the highest concentrations of unemployed, disproportionate numbers of former felons and substance abusers, and a noticeable segment of Baltimore City’s vacant homes.
Cheatham’s vision for the district includes the acquisition of a vocational school that will train district residents, particularly ex-offenders, to rehabilitate boarded up houses and repair aging infrastructure.
The change in the district’s neighborhoods is but one of the reasons why he and Bill Marker, who is White and a resident of Pigtown, decided to team up to reflect of the new district.
Marker is an attorney at the Maryland Dept. of Assessment and Taxation, and serves as secretary of the Maryland Professional Employees Council, AFT-MD and AFL-CIO.
Says Marker, “In a situation where multiple candidates win and anticipate working relationships with one another, it’s important to get together. That’s an important part of being an effective legislator. [Doc] and I are showing through our ticket that we understand that.”
Marker currently attends and reports back to Pigtown on meetings of the Economic and Workforce Development Committee of the Local Development Council, which makes recommendations to the Mayor on casino-related community issues.
Cheatham believes that the incumbents are vulnerable because they’re running in a new district in which residents are sending the strong message that they’re displeased with their current representation. “The question is to what degree. Why would so many be running if people were satisfied with the status quo.”
Hayes is focused on providing more educational choices, safe neighborhoods, and passing legislation that will provide a living wage as opposed to a hike in the minimum wage. He is the chief of staff to the director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.
In 2006, he lost his bid for a 40th District seat to Tarrant by fewer than 100 votes. He also was legislative aide to former 40th District Del. Salima Siler Marriott and former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon.
Hayes grew up in Penn North and graduated from Frostburg State University. He credits the time he spent working in the community to mobilize against drug activity as an experience that shaped his public service career and his subsequent decision to run for elected office.
There are a total of 50,000 registered voters in the 40th District, and by Hayes’s estimates, some 9,000 are newly registered voters. About 70 percent of the new voters are between 18-23 years old, and according to Hayes, they’re looking for “someone younger they can relate to, who is real and down-to-earth.”
Hayes says he encounters too many residents who haven’t ever met their representatives in Annapolis.
“They’re just happy to finally see somebody and so they just let loose,” he says. As he knocks on doors, “some of them react as if I’m Ed McMahon showing up with a check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. They’re completely open about sharing their concerns and dissatisfaction.”
Others in the race include:
* Douglas R. Barry, a real estate broker, Army veteran, and a leader of the Medfield Community Association;
* Quianna M. Cooke, a city educator for more than 35 years, elected to the Democratic State Central Committee in 2008, ran for the City Council’s Ninth District seat in 2012, is an active member of the West Baltimore Strategic Alliance (WBSA), and treasurer of Bridgeview Greenlawn Neighborhood Association;
* Rob “Bobby” LaPin, a 35-year-old Army veteran, military trainer and consultant, co-founder of the international nonprofit Full of Hope, a former city teacher, and winner of the Reginald F. Lewis Outstanding Teaching Award; and
* Perennial candidate Timothy Mercer.