Claudia Towles was supposed to appear at an event in Fells Point on Thursday night to kick off her campaign for the City Council seat in Baltimore’s 1st District.
Instead, she was processed at the Central Booking & Intake Center and held overnight by police. She was arrested in Federal Hill earlier that day protesting a move by Baltimore Gas and Electric Company to shut off gas service at several homes that refused to let contractors install hotly contested external gas regulators.
Towles said she was released just before noon on Friday. Speaking with The Banner, she said the situation “was unnecessarily escalated.”
“We were peacefully protesting and trying to impede BGE from acting illegally, and unfortunately they bullied their way through, and used the police force to get their way,” she said.
Asked about her stay at Central Booking, she said: “Don’t recommend it.”
Towles and two other residents who were detained Friday are charged with interfering with the material, equipment and facilities belonging to BGE; failing to obey a police officer and disperse peacefully; and acting in a disorderly manner in disturbance of public peace, according to charging documents.
They are part of a citywide group that has decried BGE’s plans to replace more than 11,200 indoor gas regulators with external ones by the end of 2031, citing safety, accessibility and aesthetic concerns.
The three women gathered along with several other residents Thursday, standing between heavy machinery set to drill the street in front of rowhouses in the 400 block of Warren Avenue, arguing that BGE had shut off gas service to several homeowners opposed to the meters without proper notice.
As for the campaign kickoff event at Osteria Pirata, Towles said her family addressed supporters on her behalf.
The 1st District spans Southeast Baltimore, not Federal Hill, where the arrests occurred, though Fells Point is one of a handful of neighborhoods planning to seek a temporary restraining order against BGE to stop the installation of the external regulators.
The coalition is represented by perennial Democratic city candidate and former Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, who was at the protest in Federal Hill.
Towles and the media-thirsty Vignarajah have a history of working together on political causes.
She served as the finance chairman for his 2022 campaign for state’s attorney.
Vignarajah serves as the attorney for the family of Timothy Reynolds, a Hampden resident who was shot and killed at a busy intersection in downtown Baltimore last summer after confronting a group of squeegee workers with a baseball bat. Vignarajah staged press conferences on the case in front of a Fells Point home owned by Towles.
When asked, Towles said she thinks he’s had one or two press conferences at her property, but couldn’t remember.
“There was just availability, you know how that is,” she said, “last minute you need a place, if it’s raining outside like it is today.”
She turned a 2022 Fox45 interview on squeegee workers into an opportunity to endorse a plan put forth by Vignarajah, a frequent guest on the station.
In 2021, when Vignarajah convinced a group of Fells Point businesses to threaten to withhold property taxes over concerns about crime, Towles was one of the business owners who signed the letter sent to city leaders. She closed her toy shop later that year to run for City Council.
”Look, nobody knew what was gonna happen yesterday,” she said when asked what her response would be to people thinking it was a political stunt. “I certainly didn’t expect to be in lockup, and people are going to believe what they want. I have a track record of working on contentious issues and being a community advocate, and I put my efforts where my mouth is.”
Towles thinks the incident will show voters her character, her resilience and her interest in “upholding what I believe in and standing strong with fellow city residents.”
On Thursday, Towles said she felt frustrated, and like she was being bullied — by BGE and their tactics, the resulting arrests and even the process of being held at Central Booking until the next day.
The protesters were “defending what we believe in, and defending what we believe are our rights,” she said. “And to see the police power implemented in such a way was very disheartening and frustrating, not to mention uncomfortable.”