Campaigning door-to-door in East Baltimore yesterday, city council write-in candidate Shannon Sneed struggled not so much to sway voters as she did to find them.
She was targeting only registered voters who had recently voted or people she’d spoken with before, a canvassing strategy for the weekend before Tuesday’s General Election.
In the struggling 13th – a district fanning northeast from Broadway along Gay Street and Belair Road and cutting back along Monument and Baltimore streets – that meant walking a long way through eerily quiet streets, many of them blighted with blowing trash, junked sofa cushions and boarded-up rowhouses.
After striding briskly past dozens of Ellwood Park houses, Sneed finally arrived at the door of one of the few people on the block with any history of participating in a city election.
“Don’t forget me on Tuesday! Remember me? I came and talked to you before. I live right around the corner from you on Fayette. I’m right in your neighborhood,” Sneed said to the woman who came to the door. “And drag some people with you. We have a big problem: 77% of people in Baltimore don’t come out to vote!”
The woman said she recalled her previous visit from Sneed, a political novice who came within 43 votes of beating incumbent City Councilman Warren M. Branch in the September primary and is in the home-stretch of a longshot write-in campaign to beat him in the Nov. 8 general election.
“I remember you! You got it! You’ll make it!” the woman said.
“Yeah, but we don’t know that,” Sneed replied. “It won’t happen unless people come and vote.”
Councilman’s Coffers Fattened by Developers
The 30-year-old first-time candidate is indeed facing an uphill battle as she attempts to take down a politically plugged-in and vastly-better-financed opponent.
Fundraising records on file with the state show Branch raised an impressive $96,823 war chest for the primary, with unusually large contributions from groups outside of his district.
For example, he received $5,250 from Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises and affiliates (prime developer of the controversial housing project north of the Johns Hopkins Medical Complex), $7,000 from out-of-district contractors, consultants and lawyers, and $2,100 from supermarket outlets and lobby groups that – like Branch – opposed a proposed bottle tax on soft drinks.
The councilman spent lavishly on the September primary, racking up more than $26,000 in costs.
These included $8,672 for printed campaign literature, $7,250 to IQ & Associates for “persuasion” and “pressure” calls to potential voters, and $7,000 to Rainier Harvey.
IQ & Associates is a Baltimore-based consultancy run by Iris W. Queen, while Harvey, of Windsor Mill, provided “consulting and strategy management,” according to Branch’s report to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Faced with a near-empty campaign treasury after the primary, Branch has had to return to the campaign hustings to defend his job against Sneed.
Who is Contributing to Branch Now?
Branch raised $9,800 between mid-September and Oct. 12, mostly in $500-plus increments. Among his benefactors: Maryland Soft Drink Association ($1,000), Loading Dock Liquors ($1,000), Baltimore Fire Officers Local 964 ($500), KBE Building Corp. ($1,000), United Iron & Metal ($500), Ram Consulting Services ($1,000), Finksburg (Md.) businessman Jackson Haden ($1,000), Harrison Development LLC ($500) and My Son Development LLC ($500).
He’s also gotten a last-minute boost from several politically connected players. Attorney William “Billy” Murphy Jr. kicked in $1,000. (Murphy has been involved in defending State Sen. Ulysses Currie, now on trial for bribery and extortion in Prince Georges County, regarding influence-peddling allegations at Mondawmin Mall, according to his website.)
Sean R. Malone, ex-aide to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O’Malley, added $250 to Branch’s campaign. Malone’s lobbying partner, Lisa Harris Jones, earlier contributed $250. She’s the wife of demolition king Pless Jones, whose P&J Contracting Co. has been paid more than $12 million to tear down rowhouses for the East Baltimore Development/Forest City project mostly in the 13th District.
The Brew asked via email to speak with Branch, but he has not responded. The Branch campaign number on file with state election officials (410-675-7245 at the Linwood Avenue address where he has said he lives one day a week with his mother) is “not in service.”
Sneed has raised $5,635 since the September primary, election records show.
The contributions came mostly in $25-to-$75 donations, but were recently bolstered by a $3,000 check from Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Sneed spent minimally in the weeks after the primary, leaving $4,000 in her campaign treasury as of Oct. 22.
“Tell the Children’s Mothers to Vote for Me”
Sneed began her Saturday morning at the Church of the Resurrection, joining about 30 volunteers for coffee and donuts before taking to the streets. Her first target: Ellwood, to the north and east of Patterson Park. Her campaign companion this day was Crystal Barksdale, a Baltimore County daycare provider who is with the Child Care Union of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Many of the voters she spoke with were women who run daycare businesses in their homes. “I won’t be on the ballot, you have to write me in,” Sneed told one of them. Another she reached by phone after standing on the woman’s porch and knocking, to no avail.
“I see your car is here, are you able to come say ‘hi’?” Sneed asked.”Okay, tell all of the children’s mothers to vote for me.” Turns out, the woman was out of town, but had left her car on the street so no one would know she was away.
“This street she lives on is very bad. She’s a rebel, she’s old school,” Sneed said. “She tells people not to sell drugs – to take that someplace else – and they, you know, don’t like her very much.”
Not all of the people Sneed encountered were so friendly, and one couple was downright hostile.
Angry, Cynical, Resigned
The man and woman Sneed encountered on the street, who said they do plan to vote, had never heard of the candidate. They quickly got into a discussion with Sneed about neighborhood eyesores.
After they sorted out which eyesore the woman was describing (“There’s a dead cat,” Sneed said. “You mean that one?”), her companion said sourly to Sneed: “Well, you people are never going to do anything about it.”
“Oh no, I live near you on Fayette, I’m your neighbor, I got involved because I cannot sit around and allow things like this to happen,” Sneed said, going on to list, rapid-fire, all the neighborhood organizations she has joined, the trees she’s gotten planted, the community clean-ups she’s hosted.
“Nobody stands up and does anything about this stuff,” the woman said.
Her statement was like a splash of accelerant – the normally gentle-seeming Sneed turned fiery.
“Please, give a young woman a chance. We want to make a difference. We want to make history,” Sneed said. “Your generation said we young people shouldn’t complain, that we should take our turn and do something. Well, I’m doing something!”
The woman accepted some campaign literature, but her companion was having none of it. “You can’t come in here the day before the election and expect me to vote for you,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re even who you say you are!”
“I Thought it was Mayberry”
In Belair-Edison, Kim Barlow turned down her music (Prince’s “1999”) and greeted Sneed at the door, hugging her. Barlow had warm words for the candidate, purple Baltimore Ravens slippers on her feet and a switchblade in her pocket. She said the neighborhood (by coincidence, her house is on Shannon Drive) is much more dangerous than when she moved there from Reservoir Hill in 1994.
“I thought it was Mayberry. When I came here I said ‘Whew, it’s safe!’ Now it’s not,” she said. “I’ve seen stuff happen. Crime. I mean murders. It ain’t just robbing homes.”
Leaving early in the dark one morning for her state job, Barlow was robbed by three men. She now always tries to carry a small amount of cash to appease robbers – and a knife for self defense.
Making the community safer, fixing traffic problems – these are things she’s hoping Sneed could deliver if elected, she said. (Barlow’s a Sneed supporter, with a prominent lawn sign.)
“We can do better if the community talks. If people see things and report them and push to get ’em fixed,” Barlow explained.
“I don’t think Warren Branch is doing that,” she added. “And I say that even though Branch has been a friend. I just think Shannon can really be good for us.”