Large Crop Of Candidates Fight For Right To Represent 11th District
Nine candidates, espousing various philosophies and credentials for improving life in Baltimore, have crowded the ballot in the race for the 11th District City Council seat. The seat is being vacated by Keiffer Mitchell Jr. (D), who is running to unseat Mayor Sheila Dixon in the Sept. 11 primary. All the candidates are running as Democrats, which means the vote in this district is likely to be split, making for a race that could belong to anyone.
The 11th District, located in the center of the city, is a scaled-down version of Baltimore's motley socioeconomic quilt. In addition to such thriving areas as downtown, the Inner Harbor, and part of Federal Hill, it also contains a number of historically blighted neighborhoods, such as Druid Heights and Harlem Park. In addition, it boasts the arts- and culture-oriented Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill communities and the struggling-for-a-comeback neighborhood of Reservoir Hill.
"I think it's time to have someone in City Hall who understands what the needs are," says candidate Karen Veronica Brown, 43, an associate pastor at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and executive director of the church's Family Life Center. Brown says that through her work she became well aware of what the district's citizens need. She identifies crime as the biggest issue facing Baltimore and says the solution is education and training.
Brown, who says she has helped people move from the streets to employment and homeownership, is an advocate of inclusionary housing--that is, housing projects that contain at least 20 percent affordable residences for families bringing in low to moderate earnings. She also supports increasing the number of police officers in the city by increasing salaries to be comparable to those in surrounding jurisdictions, and by offering incentives for officers to live in the city. "You make it so attractive so that people will just yearn to be . . . an officer," she says, adding that something needs to be done to address the issue of distrust between police and the community.
Former 47th District state delegate and U.S. congressional aide William Cole, 34, says that education is the most important issue in the city. He supports more training for school administrators and keeping successful principals where they are, rather than moving them to troubled schools, as the district has done in the past. "For me, it is about consistency," he says. Like many of his fellow candidates, Cole thinks the current system under which the city and state share control of the school system does not provide enough accountability for the school system's problems.
Cole proposes citywide broadband internet access for all citizens "to show we are a cutting-edge city." He also suggests a regional county-city cost-saving partnership to procure commodities such as power or employee health care in bulk.
Cole points out that no matter who wins, the future mayor and City Council president will have no more than a year of experience in their respective jobs. Cole says his experience in state and federal government gives him an edge over the competition. "I understand how federal government works, I understand how state government works," he says.
Candidate Nick Mosby, an energetic 28-year-old video-network technician, says if he were elected he would stress efficiency and accountability within city government. For example, he says he would propose quarterly audits of all city agencies.
Mosby also proposes a bond issue that would make it possible for the city to train unemployed citizens as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to renovate the city's vacant houses. Under Mosby's plan, the newly trained workers could then buy the homes they refurbish from the city. "I think that's one way we can give some of our citizens . . . a vested interest in their communities," he says. "Not only a vested interest because they own their homes, but also they have the wherewithal and the knowledge to maintain their houses."
Mosby is concerned that the city's disenfranchised citizens are missing out on opportunities to tap into the city's growing tourism and biotech industries. He suggests training high schoolers, for example, for some of the biotechnology jobs that will be created in the city as its biotech parks are constructed.
"We need to start figuring out what are the jobs of tomorrow and how can we properly prepare our kids for those jobs," he says.
He says that the police department needs "a very, very strong leader" right now to deal with the crime problem. "When you have eight police commissioners in eight years, that's an issue," he says, adding that the city needs a "cop's cop" who understands the job and has autonomy to run the police department as he or she sees fit. Mosby also supports "community policing" and the use of bicycle patrols.
"I am the candidate for the 11th District," Mosby says. "At the end of the day, man, I'm young, I'm energetic. I am the person that will be able to bridge the gap between . . . our communities and downtown."
Adam Meister of Reservoir Hill is also a young, energetic, and charismatic candidate. Meister, 30, is known for his TechBalt "buy a block" campaign, in which he encouraged groups of young Baltimoreans to get together and turn around troubled city neighborhoods by buying up blighted homes in specific target areas ("Moving Company," Mobtown Beat, Nov. 20, 2002). The project gained attention in such national media outlets as NPR and the Christian Science Monitor when it renovated much of the 2200 block of Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill.
"I love this city," Meister says, but he bemoans the fact that there are so many city-owned vacant houses marring its neighborhoods. "The city [of Baltimore] is the biggest slumlord in Baltimore."
Meister has learned over the years how to find affordable ways to procure and rehab vacant houses, and he is no stranger to combating drugs and trash problems in his neighborhood. He proposes a zero-tolerance policy for open-air drug marketing, and calls for better accountability and clear accounting practices in the city's school system.
Meister says he also takes issue with the fact that the position of a City Council representative, which pays $57,000 per year, is considered part time. "It's ridiculous," he says, promising to be a full-time councilman if elected. In the past few months, Meister says he has gone to nearly every neighborhood meeting in his district. "I have gone to many, many more events than my nearest competitor," he says.
Architect Fred D. Mason III echoes many of the sentiments of Meister and the other candidates he's competing against. Improving the schools, rebuilding neighborhoods, and making the city a safer place to live are among his priorities. But education, he says, is at the top of his list.
Like other candidates, Mason proposes pay parity with surrounding jurisdictions for police, increasing foot patrols in the city, and a crackdown on open-air drug markets. He also proposes recruiting and training students in school. "For students who are interested in law-enforcement careers," he says, "you can begin the process in high school."
Mason also believes in increased treatment opportunities and support for drug users. "It is not just drug treatment," he says. "It is education, job skills, so that people have better options in life."
If elected, Mason would be the only openly gay man serving on the City Council. Asked if he views that as significant, he says, "It's something of a big deal . . . [to] break down any remaining barriers of people being represented in public life." He continues, "It also, hopefully, sends a message to young people that you can be who you are . . . and achieve whatever goals you have."
Dana Owens, 56, part owner of Club Bunns in Seton Hill, founder of Baltimore Black Gay Pride, and chaplain for the Western District Community Association, is clear about his top priority. "What I think is most important is housing," he says, noting that when people own homes, they have a vested interest in improving life in the city. He suggests that long-time homeowners be protected by a tax cap so that they will not be afforded further protection from rising property taxes.
Among his other platform points, Owens advocates for city control of the schools, and for fighting the rising cost of prescriptions for senior citizens and the increasing number of AIDS cases in the city's black community.
Owens also notes that, with all of the investments slated to take place in the 11th District over the next four years, it will be the responsibility of the elected council representative to weigh in on how development projects affect constituents. "Where is our slice of the pie?" he asks.
Like Meister, Owens says being a council member would be his full-time occupation.
Mount Vernon resident Warren Zussman, 55, who owns a small advertising business, does not elaborate much on the issues he lists as most important to him. Some of his ideas are similar to those of the other candidates: He supports increased police foot patrols, better education, better pay for police, better fiscal responsibility in the city, and better treatment for AIDS victims. He also cares about one thing no other 11th District candidate talked about. "I'm for ecology," he says. "Make sure the ecology is safe, keeping pollution out of the city."
Zussman says he's supportive of the rights of minorities, women, and gay citizens. He'd like to see more rehabilitation in prisons, an increase in the minimum wage, and more money for maintenance workers. "I'm for just a little bit more neighborly kindness," he says. "Harmony in the city."
Among his qualifications for sitting on the City Council, Zussman lists volunteer work for the city's Department of Health and Human Services under former mayor Kurt Schmoke, office work for Martin O'Malley's campaigns, receiving a junior varsity letter in high school for wrestling, serving as high school class and student body presidents, and acting as camp president as a child.
Assistant Public Defender Brandon Thornton, 30, says he is running for City Council because he feels there is a population of citizens in the city whose needs are not addressed. Primarily, he is focused on teen education and violence, he says. If elected, Thornton says he would push funding toward schools, supplemental education programs, and employment opportunities for teens. Such programs, he says, would "keep them from participating . . . in violent activities and crime." People are tired of hearing about crime "and living it," he adds. Thornton contends that constituents do not feel like they are reached out to. If elected, Thornton says he would "reach back out to the citizens, stay in touch with the citizens, and stay accountable to the citizens."
Like other candidates, Thornton says he would make the council seat his full-time job.
Technical assistant Rita Collins, 35, says she has fresh perspectives and creativity to wake up City Hall. "I bring to the table a passionate sense of fairness, accountability, transparency, and open-mindedness," she says.
Collins advocates getting "back to basics" of what public service really means. She supports property tax cuts, tax freezes for homeowners 62 and older, and rent-control legislation. Like Mosby and Mason, Collins is in favor of a majority elected school board and says she would be willing to meet with each school administrator if elected.
Increased police visibility and more funding for drug treatment would lead to a reduction in crime, Collins believes. "We also need to increase surveillance of known criminals and their associates," she says.
Collins supports job-training programs for low-income individuals along with second-chance programs and housing for felons.
If elected, Collins says she would require the unanimous support of the people before moving any initiative forward. "The citizens of Baltimore have a voice, and it's time that your voices are heard and your needs are met," she says.
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