The mayor’s race won’t be the only hotly contested election this season. While a large pool of candidates hope to shape Baltimore’s future as the city’s top elected official, others are vying for City Council seats in crowded races.
Betsy Gardner, who currently serves as the neighborhood liaison for the 5th and 6th City Council districts and as the citywide Jewish community liaison for the City Council president’s office, is running for the 5th District Council seat being vacated by longtime Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. She has worked as a community liaison for the past 14 years, including under the last three mayoral administrations.
She faces Democratic primary challengers Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, an Orthodox Jewish small business owner and community activist; Derrick Lennon, a transportation coordinator and former president of the Glen Improvement Association; Chris- topher Ervin, a criminal justice reform advocate; Sharif Small, a small business owner; Kinji Scott, a community organizer; and Elizabeth Ryan Martinez, an attorney. There are no Republican challengers.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot but have a lot more to accomplish,” Gardner said.
Spector, who endorses Gardner, tapped her to run when she was considering not seeking re-election. Gardner said she wouldn’t have run against Spector out of respect, and Spector said she would have run had Gardner not stepped up.
“I just couldn’t take the risk of my legacy not being maintained … Betsy is really so well prepared. She’s the right person for the job,” said Spector, who has partnered with Gardner on various projects over the last 14 years. Spector said she would help Gardner transition into the office.
Gardner, 49, a member of Shaarei Tfiloh Synagogue and Temple Oheb Shalom, moved to Baltimore from her native Charleston, W.Va., 25 years ago. She has worked for H&S Bakery, Alex. Brown & Sons and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
In her time at the City Council president’s office, Gardner has worked on a number of issues that affect the Jewish community. She has worked on Homeland Security grants for synagogues and worked in conjunction with the Baltimore Jewish Council to get security cameras installed on Park Heights Avenue. Each year around the High Holidays, Gardner has worked with police districts across the city to make sure synagogues have police coverage.
When Hatzalah of Baltimore, a volunteer medical services organization, formed, Gardner worked with the fire department and mayor’s office to make sure they were linked in to the city’s fire department and 911 system. She helped Chabad with their menorah car parade and public menorah lighting in the Inner Harbor. When the city’s chametz burning outgrew the parking lot at the Engine Company 45 parking lot on Glen Avenue, she helped relocate the burning to the parking lot at the Pimlico Clubhouse parking lot, where organizers starting taking food donations to feed needy families in the area.
She said public safety is one of her biggest concerns, and she expects to see more community policing under Baltimore City police commissioner Kevin Davis.
“You will start to see more officers in the community, and people need to get to know the officers and the officers need to get to know the community,” she said. Gardner and a police officer worked with Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, director of the Jewish Uniformed Association of Maryland, to conduct sensitivity training classes for officers and firefighters; the training is in its third year.
Garnder names education as a priority. In addition to wanting to provide affordable early childhood education and daycare, she would like to see the city provide tutoring services and career-related learning opportunities for students as well as expand job training opportunities for students who don’t plan to go to college.
She has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Asian American Merchants Association and Baltimore Construction Laborers Local 710.
While she faces six opponents, including another member of the Jewish community, Gardner is simply focused on her campaign.
“The community knows what I’m capable of doing,” she said. “I think my work speaks for itself.”