There are a few generational battles for state Senate seats on tap in the Baltimore area this year.
But the Democratic primary battle in District 43, between state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Del. Mary L. Washington is a little different.
It isn’t quite a grudge match, and it isn’t quite a generational battle – though Washington is 55 and Conway is 66. But it is, to a degree, a question about the old way of doing business in the diverse district, which runs from the Baltimore city/Baltimore County line south to North Avenue, and east to Harford Road to westward along Charles Street, University Parkway and portions of Falls Road, versus something new.
In the primary, Conway has the support of the district’s other two delegates, Maggie L. McIntosh (D), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Curt Anderson (D), the chairman of the Baltimore city House delegation.
Conway seems fired up for the race, though that may not have been the case last year.
Conway had previously considered not completing her current term or running for reelection due to health issues in her family. In the final days of last year’s General Assembly session, she hinted that she might not even stick around for Sine Die.
But she officially announced her decision to seek a sixth full term – she was appointed to the seat in 1997, after two years on the Baltimore City Council – by filing to run in January.
“I said, ‘Well maybe it’s time for me to dedicate and devote this time [for] my family,’” Conway said. “And then everybody was like, ‘No, Senator, we understand but we want you, we need you. … We see you as the advocate, we see you as the voice for Baltimore city.”
Conway also said she wanted to keep her position as the chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee because “it will be a while before we have another chair from Baltimore city.” She was the first African-American woman to lead a standing committee in the state Senate.
While Conway’s experience may be an advantage in the race, Washington claims the senator’s tenure has left the citizens of the district wanting more accessibility and transparency.
“I think that the time of backroom deals is over,” Washington said. “The constituents of the 43rd District want transparent, progressive [and] engaged leadership.”
Washington joined the House in 2011, when she became the first openly lesbian African-American elected official in the state. She ran against Conway’s ticket in the 2010 election though joined it in 2014.
“The seat belongs to the people of the 43rd District,” Washington said. “The district deserves someone who’s present, someone who’s accountable and someone who’s transparent, and I’m that person.”
Conway said Washington previously told her she would only run for state Senate in 2018 if Conway decided to retire.
“It’s America, and it’s a democracy, and if people want to run, they can run. The only thing that bothered me about the challenge [was] the lack of integrity,” Conway said.
Washington suggested that her record as a delegate has been “much more grass roots”-oriented than Conway’s. However, there do not appear to be major differences in their platforms.
Washington said that while she had “always” been an advocate of a ban on fracking in Maryland, Conway had opposed the ban “for a very long time.” The proposal passed the legislature and was signed into law last year.
Washington said her No. 1 priority is to bring more funding to city schools, and she will also focus on the issue of city residents losing their homes due to unpaid water bills. She also mentioned that she will introduce a Homeless Youth Act to “bring more funding to addressing the issue of homelessness.”
Conway also claimed education and funding for Baltimore city schools as her top priorities, while listing neighborhood stabilization and crime as other areas of focus.
Conway, however, said the platforms of the two candidates are not different.
“My platform has never differed from that of Del. Washington. If anything, hers is a carbon copy of mine,” Conway said. “The problem is that she does not have that networking capacity or the influence to get many of the things funded as I can.”
McIntosh said she’s endorsing Conway because the senator has done “so much” as a leader on education, health care and environmental issues.
“Senator Conway has done an outstanding job, not only as a senator of the 43rd [district] but also as chair [of the Senate committee]. She’s been really good and very close to community leaders and to the community,” McIntosh said.
“Her endorsement of me has helped me a great deal in many communities [and] I hope my endorsement of her and running with her helps her,” McIntosh added.
Conway also said she is “very confident” about winning the race.
“People know who I am. They know that I’m very vocal about those issues that negatively impact my district and minorities. They know I’m very vocal and outspoken about our issues in Baltimore city as it impacts education and our children,” she said. “I’m confident because I know I work hard, I know I will work hard [and] I will not take anything for granted.”
McIntosh said she feels “fairly good” about Conway’s prospects in the race and her “robust campaign.” She noted that both she and the senator “did very well” on the fundraising front.
Conway raised $118,000 in the past year and reported $195,000 in her campaign account as of mid-January. Washington raised $95,000 and had $94,000 on hand.
“Being a delegate is very important to me, and I would not give that up if I did not believe that we have a pathway to victory,” Washington said.