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Incumbents Ignore Cash-Strapped Challenger’s Call for a Debate in the 40th District

August 25, 2010

Though state Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-40th District) has a free pass in this year’s elections, she has nearly $200,000 in her campaign kitty. That makes her a key player in her district’s delegates’ race (“One-Man Stand,” Aug. 18), in which she and the incumbents—Frank Conaway Jr., Barbara Robinson, and Shawn Tarrant—have formed the District 40 Team slate to underwrite efforts to defeat their challenger, Will Hanna. What the slate has raised and spent won’t be known until after its first campaign-finance report is due Sept. 3, but it’s a safe bet that Pugh, with such electoral wealth, is giving it a goodly sum.

As for the delegates themselves, it’s only possible to see what Robinson has raised and spent. She filed a timely campaign-finance report that’s available online, showing a balance of a little over $7,000, but Tarrant has yet to file one (resulting in late fees), and, oddly, Conaway Jr.’s is not available online. Also uncertain at this point are the financial dealings of Conaway Jr.’s family slate—which supports him and his father, mother, and sister, all of whom hold elected office, along with a handful of Democratic State Central Committee candidates—which also has not submitted its report and is accruing late fees.

Hanna, meanwhile, reports a balance of less than $1,000, after having raised $5,220, $3,400 of which he donated himself. His next largest contributor, giving $450, is Diamond Bail Bonds—though the downtown nightclub the Velvet Rope provided an in-kind donation worth $2,500, for letting him hold a fundraiser there. Hanna has a hired gun—Power Politics Consulting, a new enterprise of public-relations professionals Karyne Henry and Caprece Jackson-Garrett—which he’s paid $2,500 to help him gain traction.

The incumbents’ efforts to beat him back aren’t daunting Hanna though. Yesterday, he pulled a tactic that may help get his name bandied about in what may be the busiest locale in the 40th District: Mondawmin Mall. That’s where he’s asked the incumbents to come debate him on Sept. 4. So far, they haven’t responded—and he says he doesn’t expect them to.

“Good afternoon all,” Hanna wrote in an Aug. 24 e-mail to Conaway Jr., Robinson, and Tarrant. “In the interest of letting the people of the 40th District know what their candidates views are on various issues, I am asking each of you to participate in an open debate on Saturday, September 4th from 5pm-7pm at Mondawmin Mall in the heart of the community and where the people are. As incumbents, you should be more than willing to let the residents of the 40th District know where you stand on the issues that matter to them right now and what you have done for them over the last 4 years that you have been in office.”

City Paper asked each of the incumbent delegates if they’ve responded, or if they plan to, but Robinson and Tarrant hadn’t answered as of this posting; Conaway Jr.’s assistant phoned to say he wouldn’t make the debate. Hanna, in an Aug. 25 e-mail exchange with City Paper, was asked if he expected any response from them, and he wrote: “Not at all. I think they know where I am on the issues and where they are not.” He adds that “it may not be in their best interest to” respond to the invitation, much less show up at the appointed time and location.

Meanwhile, the available data about the incumbents’ campaign finances reveal some interesting features. Robinson, for instance, recently lent her campaign another $15,000, bringing her total debt still owed since 2006 to $97,500. Her top donors this year were her daughter, with $2,000, and Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Akron, Ohio, which gave $700. Almost all of the $26,871 that Robinson’s committee spent this year went to campaign consultant Julius Henson’s two election-management companies, Universal Elections and Politics Today.

Pugh, too, has unpaid campaign debt dating to 2003, when her public-relations company, Catherine Pugh and Company, lent her campaign $52,000. Of the $53,400 Pugh raised this year, political action committees (PACs) provided more than $21,000, more than half of which came from two Maryland trial-lawyers PACs.

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