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Baltimore Sheriff John Anderson's re-election campaigns are getting harder

Van Smith

March 19, 2014

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In the 1990s and 2000s, longtime Baltimore Sheriff John W. Anderson (D) coasted easily to re-election, swatting down perennial challenges by the man he succeeded, Shelton Stewart, who was forced out after a 1988 obstruction-of-justice conviction. Those easy days are gone now. In 2010, Anderson's re-election campaign spent almost $125,000 in the year prior to the Democratic primary to best five challengers, including two with experience on his command staff, Deborah Claridy and Frances "Jean" Hamilton. Anderson's 40-percent performance at the polls, though, underscored that 60 percent of voters wanted someone else to take charge of the sheriff's office, which serves court documents, processes payments, transports prisoners, and protects courthouses.

This year's June 24 Democratic primary is shaping up to be another costly fight, and the 66-year-old incumbent's campaign spent $27,000 last year gearing up for it. The two-challenger field includes one-Richard Parker, a U.S. Army legal specialist, a longtime legislative aide to Baltimore politicians, and a stop-the-violence community organizer serving as president of the Citizens of Pigtown Community Association-who is entering the election year with $41,000 already in his campaign war chest. That's more than Claridy spent for her entire 2010 effort, which yielded a second-place finish with 24 percent of the vote. The other, Baltimore City schools police patrol supervisor Donoven Brooks, has less than $10,000 in his campaign account but appears to be buttressing his thin wallet with a high-energy campaign.

Anderson, who has spent a quarter-century as sheriff, expressed nonplussed self-confidence in the face of the new round of competition, saying in a recent phone interview that "the politics will take care of itself." The most recent round of campaign-finance reports-filed in January and covering activities in 2013-show his two key strategies for making that happen: salting the campaigns of fellow veterans of Baltimore's electoral game, and raising cash from his own staff at the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office.

In 2013, Anderson's campaign donated to a long roster of longtime Baltimore vote-getters: state senators Joan Carter Conway (D-43rd District), Nathaniel McFadden (D-45th District), and Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-44th District); state delegates Keiffer Mitchell (D-44th District), Peter Hammen (D-46th District), Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-10th District), and Maggie McIntosh (D-43rd District); Baltimore City councilmembers James Kraft (D-1st District) and Edward Reisinger (D-10th District); and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. While no politicians donated to Anderson's campaign last year, should he find himself in need between now and the primary, those he's supported will likely find ways to help.

Paying other politicians was not the Friends of Sheriff John W. Anderson's biggest expense last year, though. The biggest-ticket item, as one would expect, was the cost of raising funds, much of which was dedicated to renting two venues: Martin's East, a go-to catering hall for politicos, and Melba's Place, a tavern in Waverly. The bulk of the money raised from selling tickets to those fundraisers came from a loyal constituency-Anderson's own staff at the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office.

Campaign-finance and employee-pay data show that nearly $30,000 of the nearly $57,000 Anderson's re-election campaign brought in last year, or 53 percent, came from his 192-member workforce, nearly 60 percent of which made donations.

The amounts Anderson's campaign raised from 114 members of his staff seem to have little correlation to the size of their paychecks. Some of the bigger donors on Anderson's staff-people like majors Samuel Cogen and William Matthews, who together purchased $1,340 worth of tickets, and lieutenant Carla Lightsey, who spent $1,280 on tickets-were high on the office's pay-scale, earning in the $75,000-$85,000 range. The salaries of others bringing in high-dollar amounts to the campaign-court security lieutenant Spencer Giles ($1,070), and deputy sheriffs Bernard White ($1,280), Dwayne McNatt ($1,070), and Gideon Shifaraw ($1,700)-are in the $40,000-$60,000 range. But the office's top two earners last year-court security officers Roscoe Lewis and Christopher Cooper, who each pulled in over $100,000 in pay last year, the only people other than Anderson to do so-weren't among the generous: Lewis gave nothing to Anderson's campaign, and Cooper spent just $170 on tickets. Near the bottom of the pay scale, however, was notable beneficence. Anthony Armstrong, Joan McEntyre, and Unsolo Holley, who made in the mid-$20,000s working as community aides, together bought $410 in tickets, while six court security officers who made less than $20,000 last year accounted for $1,250 in re-election revenues.

Donoven Brooks-who says that he currently oversees 18 school police officers assigned to 33 schools in Northeast Baltimore and that, as chief of police in Fairmount Heights, Md., from 2011 to 2013, managed a force of less than five and a $200,000 budget-is in a particularly weak financial position compared to Anderson's well-stocked coffers. He says he finds it "an affront to voters that the only conversations people have about John Anderson are about three things: his relationships, his money, and his tenure," rather than his "vision and accomplishments in office." To overcome his funding shortage, Brooks says he's running a "grassroots campaign" that has "reached a lot of voters" by keeping a packed schedule of attending community meetings, knocking on doors, passing out campaign literature, and utilizing social media.

"I've actually been out talking to people, reaching people, and that's not easy work," Brooks says, while acknowledging that "money is important, and we continue to raise funds."

Richard Parker, though, has nearly matched Anderson's staff-driven fundraising prowess with a demonstrated ability to garner support from his own loyal constituency: backers in the military. Nearly $27,000 of the $50,000 Parker raised last year came from 15 donors listing their employer as the U.S. Army, where Parker, 36, says he is a legal specialist with a background as an operations manager, handling a $40 million budget and overseeing 200 soldiers.

"I've cultivated that," Parker says of the donations from his Army friends. "They said, 'Hey Parker, we're behind you, what can we do?' And I devised a plan where we would accumulate as much money as we could."

Parker also claims to have made inroads among Baltimore's political class and among Anderson's staff. "I have any number of sheriff deputies who are on this campaign," he says-some impressed, perhaps, by Parker's promise to unionize the office should he be elected-and adds that his political ties, built as a longtime legislative aide to the 44th District delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, mean "I'm able to tap into the ground games and contacts" in seeking electoral support. "Some of the state senators will surely be going with Sheriff Anderson," Parker says, "but not so much this year as in the past, and some city officials who are not up for election this year are going to help me." He predicts that "we are going to lighten the edge that Sheriff Anderson would normally have," while admitting that "it's an uphill battle."

Another important Parker supporter is Claridy, who sued Anderson for $2.5 million in September, claiming she suffered workplace retaliation for exercising her free-speech rights as a candidate in 2010. During that race, Claridy dubbed Anderson a "fiscally irresponsible" sheriff who "hires friends and cronies who don't work hard. I want people to know that, and question that, so the courthouse will be cleaned up." Today, Claridy says Parker's "military and management background" will bring the "discipline" the office needs, adding that he is "upfront and honest" and will bring a "fresh, new administration" that will hire "people who are qualified rather than just friends or their families, and they need that there."

Anderson has not yet filed a response to the allegations in Claridy's suit, which recaps many of the detailed critiques she aired on the campaign trail. Two motions to extend the filing deadline have been granted by U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander, and the answer is currently due by April 11. Anderson and two of his colleagues at the sheriff's office-chief deputy sheriff Henry Martin and a sergeant, Jason Gruzs-also were sued in 2012 for sex discrimination and retaliation by Juanita Gaines, a former sheriff deputy who worked on Claridy's 2010 campaign and who is seeking $3 million in damages. A motions battle over its dismissal is pending before U.S. District Judge James Bredar.

The two ongoing lawsuits expose Anderson and his office to questions about management, but that's not a new problem for him: Over the years, Anderson has survived revelations of accounting problems, nepotism, and abuse of vacation time and leave in his office. Parker and Brooks, meanwhile, have their own image issues to contend with, since Parker missed three court dates recently-two involving child-support issues in cases filed by one of the two mothers of his children, and the other over a traffic ticket-and Brooks last fall was released on $500 bail, later returned to him, in one of the two child-support cases filed by the two mothers of his children. Brooks says confusion over the name he shares with his son caused court-notice issues, while Parker says his military-travel orders prevented his appearances in the child-support cases, and both men say the failure-to-appear issues have been resolved by the courts-though Parker says he knew nothing about the traffic case until asked about it by City Paper.

Anderson, though, declines to talk about the competition. "I just stay on point with what we do here at the sheriff's office," he explains, which he says has a $15 million budget and a fleet of 70 "nice-looking vehicles." He rattles off his talking points: Thirty to 40 sheriff's deputies are regularly deployed to high-crime areas in coordination with the Baltimore police department; an average of 30 domestic-violence peace orders are served a day since the office recently took over that function from the police; and the office made 30 arrests last year of "really serious hardcore people" associated with gangs as a result of its participation in the multi-agency Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force.

"I don't really think about retiring," Anderson says, when asked, adding that "I love the work that I do. The office is strong, I'm strong. I love this office."