Baltimore Press

3rd Watch

One Green and One Republican Come Forward to Challenge Incumbent Councilman Robert Curran For His 3rd District Seat

City Councilman Robert W. Curran has, throughout his two-term career, steered a course between progressives and business interests. Just a month ago, for example, Curran derailed a City Council bill that anti-lead paint advocates said would have absolved landlords of responsibility in most lead-poisoning cases in the city. The bill itself didn’t mention lead, but Curran spotted the word in a committee report and called some activists, who raised the alarm.

“I do know there’s a tightrope we have to walk here,” Curran says. “But I’m not going to put children in harm’s way.”

In April, Curran took a stand against the Downtown Partnership by rejecting an ordinance that would have made it illegal for homeless people to lie down in public. “The sidewalk law will have a respectable death in committee,” Curran, chairman of the council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, told The Sun then.

Curran, who worked for Domino Sugar for 30 years, also tried to exempt city manufacturers from a new city energy tax this summer. He said he was trying to preserve some of the city’s 20,000 remaining factory jobs.

But Curran says he’s proudest of the $60 million of commercial revitalization he brought to his district last term.

With strong family ties to politics (his brother is Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., and his niece Catherine Curran O’Malley is the mayor’s wife and a District Court judge in Baltimore City), Curran was one of 10 council members to hire relatives for staff positions. Curran reportedly put a niece on the City Council staff payroll. Hiring a niece was legal, though the council found itself in ethical hot water because of it.

Curran called the successful push for single-member council districts an attempt to “gerrymander a district that a Republican could win,” and Carlos M. Torres, Curran’s GOP opponent, agrees.

“There is definitely a window of opportunity for Republicans in this race, given the way the election is set up,” Torres told City Paper before last year’s primary. Unfortunately, the campaign is going “slow,” he said last week. Torres says he has raised only about $1,500 for his campaign.

Torres, an assistant service manager for Pep Boys auto parts, says he’s running to bring fresh ideas to a council that has been unanimously Democrat for 60 years. He says he’d like the city to fight new federal laws that compel the siting of drug-treatment centers without neighborhood input. And he calls for a property tax rollback. “Baltimore already has a negative reputation,” Torres says. “Why would you want to increase taxes?”

Torres says he would seek more efficient government by privatizing some city services. The efficiency theme extends to his own campaign in order to stretch his campaign funds. “If you go and meet the community door-to-door, that’s more effective than money,” he says. “You need the money for signs and T-shirts. I saved some of my signs from the primary.”

Green Party candidate Bill Barry calls Curran a “pothole guy” and says the city needs a lot more than that.

Barry’s platform reads like he’s running for mayor instead of City Council. He says as a councilman he’ll “look at how the city raises and distributes revenue,” then cut the corporate welfare that he says has defined Mayor Martin O’Malley’s administration.

Barry focuses his ire on the city’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) programs, which exempt big institutions and developers from property taxes on the theory that they’ll benefit the city by creating jobs.

“The hotel jobs are low wage, no benefits, nonunion,” says Barry, who teaches labor studies at Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk. “The stadium is also a proven economic loser. The mayor says it’s good for civic pride, but my life is not better because we have a football team. I have two kids in public school, and the buildings are in atrocious shape.”

Barry says he would increase taxes on large downtown interests and direct the money into the neighborhoods. “According to the mayor’s message last year, the city spent only 5 percent of its revenue on neighborhoods,” he says. “This year it’s only 2.5 percent.”

September 1, 2004