County Council candidate touts her religion
Baltimore Sun colleague Arthur Hirsch reports:
In the race for the Baltimore County Council in District 2, with its large Jewish population, identity politics is never far below the surface.
Candidate Sherrie Becker – one of six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the open seat being vacated by county executive candidate Kevin Kamenetz -- made a point of saying in upper case letters in a recent direct mail flier that she is the “ONLY JEWISH WOMAN CANDIDATE” in the contest.
“It’s who I am, I’m proud of who I am,” Becker, who is executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, said on Sunday. “It’s one of the things that people need to know about me.”
She quickly added that “I have always asked people to vote for me because I’m the most qualified candidate.” Because she mentioned her religion “does not mean I’m asking people to vote for me for that reason.”
She said the mailer went out in late August to Democratic voters in three district zip codes that have had the highest voter turnout in recent elections. She could not say how many households that would be.
She said part of the content of the mailer was dictated by the fact that the primary election falls between the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and was meant to wish voters a happy new year. That phrase in Hebrew, “L’Shana Tova,” appears on the mailer.
The religious dimension of the District 2 election was explored in The Baltimore Jewish Times in July. Because the seat has been held by a Jewish councilman since the districts were created 44 years ago, the Times reported that many people feel it should stay that way, especially with redistricting approaching next year. Some people feel without Jewish representation, the district could be carved up at the expense of Jewish political clout.
Of the five other candidates running for the office, two are women, three are men. The men, former state delegate Theodore Levin, community activist Alan P. Zukerberg and retired businessman Albert M. Harris, all of Pikesville, are all Jewish. The two women, Timmy Ruppersberger of the Bare Hills neighborhood and Vicki Almond, of Reisterstown, are not.
Almond has said she’s aware of the common wisdom that a gentile cannot win in District 2, but she said she does not believe religion matters that much in this race.
“I don’t think it does to a majority of people,” said Almond, of Reisterstown, a longtime community activist who also worked on the staff of Sen. Bobby Zirkin. She said she was not concerned about the Becker mailer.
“I don’t feel the need to respond to it,” she said. “I’m not paying much attention to these kinds of things.”
Ruppersberger, a cousin of Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a former Baltimore County executive, also took the mailer in stride.
“I’m trying hard to run my race and not be distracted by, or pay much attention to what the other candidates are doing,” said Ruppersberger, who worked for years as a lawyer with local governments on bonds and finance.
Asked about the significance of the religious dimension in the race, Ruppersberger said “More people tell me it doesn’t matter…It’s not the issue.”
Levin, a lawyer, said he was concerned that the mailer could arouse some hostile reaction from gentile voters.
“It’s in their face, it says this is a Jewish district,” said Levin. “So there’s a backlash against Jewish people. They're resenting they're being dominated by Jews.”