With close to 50 senator and delegate candidates running in the 11th, 40th, 41st and 43rd (districts that encompass much of Jewish Baltimore), not to mention the four County Council District 2 candidates — what’s a voter to do?
The Baltimore Jewish Council’s May 16 “Candidates Carnival” meet-and-greet brought candidates to the voters, instead of the other way around. Two rooms at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC were set up with tables to accommodate dozens of candidates and staffs, who spread out postcards, flyers, lawn signs and other campaign materials and engaged voters about issues important to them, including education, public safety, property taxes and healthcare.
District 41 voter Sandy Love of Cross Keys is a former teacher of children with learning disabilities and adults with illiteracy. The 79-year-old is worried that Baltimore children aren’t getting a quality education and that teachers don’t have the required training and supplies.
“Children with learning disabilities are not helped. They are just pushed forward when they really don’t know anything,” she said. “There are children that are not helped, they get bored, they go out and get into trouble. It’s horrible, but it’s because they can’t do the work and they’re totally ignored.”
Love said she didn’t go to the event for any specific candidates, but asked a number of them about their education platforms and their education records, including District 41 Del. Sandy Rosenberg and candidate Tony Bridges. She preferred the meet-and-greet to the standard forum, where candidates talk and voters listen.
George Faber grew up in Carroll County, but has lived in the 11th District for 20 years. A Republican, he knows he’s in the minority in Maryland politics, but came to talk to his candidates and check out who is running in adjacent districts.
“I’m a homeowner. Like anybody else, I’m interested in property taxes. Obviously crime is an issue. I’m a little less exposed to it than others because I’m on the county side,” he said. “But it’s all one community. And that’s what I’m really concerned about. I want to make it a better place.”
He said he didn’t remember attending a similar large-scale meet-and-greet for years.
“I think it’s terrific. They did this one time in the ’94 election. It was at Pikesville Hilton,” he recalled. “You had all the candidates together, from Mickey Steinberg on down.”
Alex Lazerow lives in Mount Washington in the 41st District and appreciated being able to talk to unfamiliar candidates and to familiarize herself with candidates running in other districts.
“Particularly Dr. [Richard] Bruno because I had heard him speak at a forum here at the JCC a few weeks ago,” she said. “I have spoken a few times with Del. [Angela] Gibson and Del. Rosenberg, but I have the opportunity to reconnect with them.”
“I am concerned about education in the city and about affordable housing, as well as public health,” she added. “There are some good, well-meaning initiatives on the part of all the candidates I’ve heard speak. All the ones I’ve talked to have had really good ideas and seem very genuine.”
The BJC’s executive director Howard Libit said the meet-and-greet was conceived to get voters more up-close-and-personal with the candidates and for candidates to meet likely voters.
“If you’re in a neighborhood where people aren’t knocking on doors or you missed candidates, here’s an opportunity to come out and just meet and talk to them. Ask them the questions you want to ask them, as opposed to hearing them speak at you with their prepared speeches,” he said.
Benjamin Dubin is vice chair of Baltimore County’s Commission on Disabilities and is an 11th District resident and voter. Dubin was anxious to talk to candidates about the Home Act, which seeks to reduce housing discrimination by helping low-income residents via public subsidies.
“There shouldn’t be discrimination because of somebody’s financial sources of income. Several candidates were favorable toward it,” he said. “The other issue is employment for people with disabilities. For housing for people with disabilities, the issue is affordable and accessible. In our district, or Baltimore County-wide, there’s a big void in that stock of housing.”
He said the format of the event allowed him closer and deeper contact with candidates.
“You definitely get one-on-one feeling whether they’re listening to you or they’re not listening to you,” he said. “They have to give an extemporaneous response to a question, because they don’t know what’s going to be asked. It could be anything that affects the community’s life.”
Lenore Meyers, an 11th District voter from Pikesville’s Ralston neighborhood, came out with specific questions for incumbents about their General Assembly voting records, while hoping to connect with new candidates.
“I’m concerned about criminal justice issues and votes that were taken in that regard,” she said, including the crime bill and mandated sentencing.
“I met Amy Blank six months ago, nine months ago and I got her flyer in the mail. I was pleasantly surprised to see all the reproductive rights issues. So I wanted to talk to her,” she said. “This was great. Truly. Because I could pointedly, one-on-one, ask the questions that I wanted to ask and get a one-on-one answer and not some refined answer that didn’t speak directly to what I had just asked.”
Lyonswood resident Ora Graham said that meeting candidates was far superior to assessing them only through brochures and television because with a “two-way” conversation she could get a better feel for who she wanted to vote for.
Graham is concerned about overpopulation and over- building in her district, especially where she lives in Owings Mills, a county-designated growth area.
“Where there were green trees you got now, condos. I understand about communities growing, but it’s also overdoing it, taking away,” she said. “And the delegates, the candidates, they represent the people. They’re our voices. It’s that you not only need to say what you’re going to do, you need to do it. You have to do the work. Not just be elected.”