February 11, 2016 at 10:39 am EDT | by Steve Charing
Baltimore could get its first openly gay Council member
Kelly Cross, gay news, Washington Blade

Kelly Cross is hoping to become Baltimore’s first openly gay Council member. (Photo courtesy of Cross)

In 2007, Fred Mason III announced his candidacy for Baltimore’s 11th Council District. Had he succeeded in the Democratic primary and won the general election, he would have been the first openly gay person to be elected to the Council. Jason Curtis, another gay man, made a similar bid in 2011 for the 12th District but also came up short.

On Jan. 29, a day before his 37th birthday, Kelly Cross, who is also gay, filed to enter the Democratic primary in the 12th. In a district that for years has been represented by Carl Stokes, Cross will have plenty of company as no fewer than six other Democrats are currently vying for the seat in the primary as well as one Republican and one Green Party candidate. Stokes is leaving his Council seat to run for mayor.

Cross was raised in a working-class family in West Virginia. He earned admission to Princeton University and followed his undergraduate education with a law degree from the University of Virginia. After living in Washington, D.C., and Europe, Cross and his husband, Mateusz Rozanski, decided in 2010 to make Baltimore their home.

Baltimore’s 12th Council District is a jagged swath of territory that runs north and south through the city. It touches such diverse neighborhoods as Waverly, Cold Spring-Homestead-Montebello, Old Goucher, Station North, Broadway East, Barclay, Oliver, Charles Village, South Clifton Park and Jonestown.

In announcing his bid, Cross notes that “the 12th District is home to some of the most important cultural, institutional and infrastructure assets in the United States.” Included in this district are Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School, Maryland Institute College of Art, the historic neighborhoods of Oldtown and Mount Vernon, and “the CSX and Amtrak lines that provide the transportation backbone of the Northeast.”

“I’m running for this seat because I love Baltimore,” Cross told the Blade. “It pains me to see that with all the amazing assets we have — some of the most beautiful architecture in America, world-class institutions and museums, prime location and a diverse economy — the city still struggles.”

Cross and Rozanski reside in the Old Goucher neighborhood. He has been active in local politics as a board member of the Charles Village Civic Association and currently as president of the Old Goucher Community Association.

“As a community association president for the last several years, I’ve seen that our city government is not forward-looking and proactive,” said Cross. “City government has been incredibly reactive, seeking short-term fixes without advancing Baltimore as a whole. I’m running because I want to be one of several new voices on City Council who will alter that dynamic.”

During the campaign, Cross will present how transit and education can be improved, how to create jobs, and restore the dignity of Baltimore, which he refers to as “one of America’s first, and greatest, cities.” He intends to discuss how these goals can be achieved without making bad decisions between higher taxes and fewer services.

However, he distinguishes himself from the other candidates not so much by issues but more in experience and vision.

“From my work in the private sector — both domestically and abroad — to my work as a community activist, I understand that Baltimore must do a better job of opening itself back up; of inviting resources and residents back to the city,” Cross said. “I recognize that we have to deal with issues like grinding poverty, poor education systems, violence in our streets. But we need to do so in a holistic way, in a way that makes Baltimore a magnet for talent and investment again.”

Cross also believes that City Hall needs to work diligently to make Baltimore a more open and accepting place for its LGBT residents. “We need to recruit and encourage more small LGBT businesses, and reestablish centers of LGBT life throughout the city,” he said.

“My neighborhood, Old Goucher, has one of the highest concentrations of transgender women of color in the country, and I’ve seen firsthand many of the struggles these women endure. The city can do more to be inclusive and supportive of the incredible LGBT diversity Baltimore has.

“Finally, we definitely need City Hall to take Baltimore’s HIV crisis seriously. While Leana Wen and the Health Department have made great strides, I have not seen the City Council openly acknowledge the havoc HIV is wreaking on the city.”

But can Cross make history and succeed in this election as an openly gay man where others before him have not?

“I believe times and attitudes have shifted from previous election cycles,” he said. “It’s worth noting that gay candidates who have run for City Council in the past have done fairly well in their districts. But I think that in the age of marriage equality and more general acceptance of gay lives, a broader constituency of people is ready to accept an openly gay candidate.”

We’ll find out on primary day, April 26.

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