polia s193151_31955.shtmlTEXTttxt-ſſ Heavyweights slugging it out for District 40 seat

Heavyweights slugging it out for District 40 seat

Seven aim to succeed retiring Ralph Hughes in the state Senate

Friday, July 28, 2006

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
‘‘People who know me know I’m an elbow-to-the-grindstone, hardworking person,” Del. Catherine E. Pugh (far left) says of her campaign to succeed Sen. Ralph M. Hughes in District 40. The West Baltimore politician, who has Hughes’ blessing, faces five other Democrats, including Del. Salima Siler Marriott and City Councilwoman Belinda K. Conaway. Pugh attended Wednesday's fund-raiser for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. along with (from left) Del. P. Sue Kullen, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden.

The state’s most contested state Senate race is taking place in West Baltimore as six Democrats and a Republican seek to succeed the longtime office holder, Sen. Ralph M. Hughes.

The District 40 Democratic field — which includes two sitting delegates, a city councilwoman and a former mayoral candidate — is the largest either party is fielding in any state Senate race.

‘‘It’s a donnybrook,” said Del. Curt S. Anderson (D), from his perch in neighboring District 43.

As Anderson sees it, the race comes boils down to a contest between Dels. Salima Siler Marriott and Catherine E. Pugh — the two most recognizable names.

Marriott has served four terms in the House of Delegates and become a passionate voice for prisoners’ rights. She has been chairwoman of the Baltimore city delegation in the House since 1999.

Pugh served five years on the Baltimore City Council before she was appointed to the House to fill the vacancy caused by Tony E. Fulton’s death in 2005.

Marriott said residents will appreciate her experience when they enter the voting booth. ‘‘I bring the continuity to the ticket.”

To her, education — specifically, the state’s attempted takeover of certain city schools — will be on the minds of voters.

Marriott said she has been meeting weekly to come up with an improvement plan for Frederick Douglass High School.

One of her supporters is Sen. Verna L. Jones (D-Dist. 44) of Baltimore.

‘‘Marriott has courage and integrity that I don’t see in any of the other candidates,” she said. ‘‘I think you have to look at who’s a true Democrat. Some Democrats are Democrats in name only.”

Although she has less experience than Marriott, Pugh remains confident.

‘‘People who know me know I’m an elbow-to-the-grindstone, hardworking person. I expect me to win this race. It’s me and my record and my relationships within the community.”

Part of Pugh’s platform is to increase the age when students can quit school from 16 to 18. Fifty-nine percent of Baltimore’s high school students graduated last year, the lowest percentage in the state, according to Maryland State Department of Education statistics.

Pugh has Hughes’ backing. ‘‘She’s just truthful, and it’s difficult to find truthfulness and sincerity,” he said.

Hughes cemented his support for Pugh on Sunday when Pugh joined Hughes and his wife at church, said Doni Glover, who operates the Bmorenews.com Web site.

Although Hughes is a soft-spoken Democrat who has avoided media attention, he can be a ‘‘beast on the campaign,” Glover said.

Pugh and Marriott may have name recognition, but other candidates are also well known in the district.

Belinda K. Conaway represents Baltimore’s 7th District on the City Council. Her father, Frank, represented District 40 in the legislature in the 1970s. Her brother, Frank Jr., is seeking one of the district’s three House seats.

‘‘The issue is [the district] getting its fair share, getting beyond its fair share. It’s getting what it desperately needs. It’s not getting it, not at a level that it should,” Conaway said.

Rats are a problem, she said, as is a vacant building damaged by neglect. The city won’t demolish the building for lack of money, Conaway said, even though City Hall is pushing through a taxpayer-financed hotel.

‘‘The hotel is still a sore issue with some of my constituents,” she said.

The Democratic primary also includes Lawrence A. Bell III, who ran against Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D) in 1999, and Tara Andrews, a civic activist. Bell was City Council president. But Andrews has not run for office before.

Glover called Andrews’ Senate bid a sign of ambition.

‘‘I’m not sure people appreciate such ambition, especially since protocol says pay your dues,” he said.

The winner of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary will face Stephen George, a Republican who wants to reform the city’s liquor board.

Staff Writer Alan Brody contributed to this report.