With more than 35 years combined in the books as a member and president of the Baltimore City Council, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District) has decided to close out her political career.
Clarke, who lives in Tuscany-Canterbury, informed neighborhood and community leaders in her district via email this morning that she’s not seeking re-election next year. The announcement wasn’t quite public—a copy of the email was posted to a local politics-centric Facebook group—but Clarke’s legislative director, Stephanie Murdock, confirmed she had sent out the notice.
“I regard the people of the great 14th as my extended and beloved family—and always will,” Clarke wrote. “But the time is right for a new generation to assume leadership and responsibility in our crucial corner of the City. The person we elect will contribute ideas and talents to the most progressive and diligent City Council I have ever had the honor to work with. The time is right to make the coming transition of 2020 the most promising possible.”
Clarke was in meetings and not immediately available to comment, Murdock said. She forwarded a copy of the letter Clarke sent out, which can be viewed here.
Councilman Ed Reisinger (10th District) also told Baltimore Fishbowl Monday afternoon that he’ll bow out in 2020 after serving on the council for 29 years. Reisinger represents a swath of South and Southwest Baltimore, including harborside communities such as Cherry Hill, Curtis Bay, Westport and others.
Reisinger said he began considering retirement in early 2018: “I talked to my wife and my family and friends, that I wasn’t going to run for 2020. I feel great, health-wise. I just want to spend time with my family.”
Reisinger chairs the council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee, and recently sponsored a new law to cap emissions on burning of trash from two South Baltimore incinerators, citing the resulting pollution and its effects on nearby communities in his district.
Asked for personal highlights from his nearly three decades as a city lawmaker, Reisinger kept it general, citing his committee leadership role, the council’s work to attract new business that would hire locally, and “the relationships I’ve had with people in my district–business people, faith-based—as human beings.”
The news about both longtime council members comes as primary fields are taking shape for 2020.
No one has registered as a candidate in the 14th District just yet, according to state elections board records, though community activist Joseph Kane has announced a run, and Odette Ramos, executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland, confirmed to Baltimore Fishbowl today that she’s also running to fill Clarke’s seat.
Several candidates, all Democrats, have formally registered in District 10, including Ray Conaway, Natasha Guynes and Kerry Eugene Hamilton.
Clarke, 77, is capping a storied career as a Baltimore lawmaker. A Rhode Island native, she moved to Baltimore with her husband, developer J. Joseph Clarke, in 1967, and was first elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1975 to represent what was then the 2nd District. (Baltimore re-worked its council districts in a voter-approved change in 2003, switching from multi- to single-member districts.)
She ran unsuccessfully for council president after two terms, losing to Clarence H. Du Burns in 1983. But four years later, after Burns was elevated to the position of mayor following William Donald Schaefer’s election as governor, she won a three-way race for council president and became the first woman in Baltimore history to hold the office. She presided over the council until 1995, when she lost a mayoral bid to the incumbent, Kurt Schmoke.
Out of office, she resumed a career as an adjunct professor teaching English and urban policy at Johns Hopkins University, UMBC and the Maryland Institute College of Art. But her second political wind came after single-member districts took effect in 2004. Clarke handily won the seat for the 14th District in North Baltimore, and has remained in office since.
Matt Stegman, president of the Hampden Community Council, said Clarke told the neighborhood association’s members last week that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election.
“She’s got some huge shoes to fill,” he said. Among her efforts to help the North Baltimore neighborhood, Stegman highlighted how Clarke ensured residents understood changes to the city’s zoning code that took effect with Transform Baltimore in 2017. He said she’s also been hyper-responsive for everyday issues, such as broken streetlights and water mains, by making sure they’re fixed, sometimes within a single day.
“I don’t think we’re ever gonna have another Mary Pat. That kind of energy, that kind of dedication is above and beyond what you can really expect from anybody.”
Waverly Improvement Association co-president KunSun Sweeley said Clarke “will be dearly missed.” He said she was particularly helpful when testifying before the city’s liquor board to address issues with what he called a “problematic liquor establishment” (the tavern in question wasn’t even in her district, but she represented neighbors when their councilman, Bill Henry, couldn’t attend, as the Brew reported).
“She always goes out into the area she represents, always listens to her constituents and used what she was told to inform her votes during her time in the City Council,” Sweeley said.
Among many other initiatives, Clarke championed a push by council members to raise Baltimore’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2016. Her bill won council approval, but then-mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed it, and Clarke could not amass the necessary votes to override Pugh.
Last week, when several of her more junior colleagues introduced a package of reforms to give the council freedom to impeach the mayor, add spending into the proposed city budget and more easily override mayoral vetos, Clarke pointedly begrudged Pugh’s veto of her minimum wage legislation.
With a lower override margin like what Councilman Bill Henry (4th District) has proposed—reducing the number of required votes from 12 to 10—Baltimore would already “have $15 minimum wage in a couple of years instead of, like, ages away from the state,” she noted.
She spoke glowingly of the new generation of lawmakers standing outside City Hall, calling them a “progressive, diligent and change-making council.”
“I am impressed with all of the new people who have come, and how us veterans have fallen into line,” she said, “and how pleased we are to be part of where we’ve always wanted to be.”
Reisinger echoed Clarke’s compliments today, celebrating the progressive changes sought by the council, including the proposed charter amendments. “I think they have a lot of energy, I think they’re committed to the city and I think they’re doing a great job,” he said.
Bill Henry (4th District) is also joining Clarke and Reisinger in not seeking re-election, albeit for likely different reasons. Henry has already telegraphed plans to run for city comptroller, an office currently held by Pugh ally Joan Pratt.
This story has been updated.
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