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Campaign Beat

Lucky 13

A Wealth of Diverse Candidates Steps Up to Represent the 13th District

David Morley
All in the Family: Emmett Guyton (right), a candidate for City Council in the 13th District, and his brother Clayton (left) have been working for years to improve East Baltimore neighborhoods.

By David Morley | Posted 8/20/2003

The new 13th District in East Baltimore is a microcosm of the city, a cross section of the middle class, the working poor, and the abject poor. In the southwest corner of the district sits Johns Hopkins' medical campus, which is surrounded by several at-risk neighborhoods rife with drug corners, including Middle East. A little further north sits Berea, and further north the Belair-Edison community, both of which are a mix of well-kept and run-down areas. Throughout Belair-Edison is the long and winding Herring Run Park, a well maintained greenway, and a partially used industrial sector takes up a large part of the center and southern boundary of the district. Tucked into the 13th District's eastern corner, a small community of single-family homes, called Orangeville, is dotted with neatly clipped lawns and American flags.

As diverse as the district is, so too are the candidates vying to represent it in City Council. In addition to Democrats running in the upcoming primary, there are a couple of candidates who will run only in the general election in 2004: Former Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO) member Glenn Lowell Ross has been recruited as a member of the Green Party. Joe DiMatteo, a 52-year-old native of Italy, will be on the ballot representing the Republicans. Ronald Owens-Bey, who did not return phone calls by press time, is the only unaffiliated candidate.

The five Democrats who will battle it out on Sept. 9 are an interesting and varied bunch, all of whom agree that the district is in dire need of strong City Council representation and a fresh start in dealing with the problems that plague the area's communities.

Candidates running in the 13th make it clear that their part of the city is full of residents who feel misrepresented by their current council members. All say they want to effect change by addressing such broad subjects as education and housing--especially housing. Block after block in Middle East and parts of Berea, around Johns Hopkins and up to North Avenue, are barren and share many of the same problems as the neighboring 12th District, namely condemned houses, drug corners, petty crimes, and gang violence.

Candidate Constance Maddox, a 39-year-old resident of Milton-Montford, says many of the problems in the 13th can be tied to a lack of representation on the council. She sums up the challenges facing the neighborhoods around Hopkins, for example, by noting, "I don't see city services coming back to the community--it's going to salary, raises, nepotism, undermining. Things like that are the reason the city government is not effective."

Kevin Parson, 40, grew up in East Baltimore and says he's seen the City Council go from activism to inactivity.

"There were things that were taking place [then], and the leaders were visible," Parson says. "I find that there's a lack of that [now], hence Question P," a measure passed by voter referendum in 2002 that called for the restructuring and downsizing of the City Council. Parson, who lives in Belair-Edison, says he has "watched the decadence and decline" of neighborhoods within the new 13th, and wants to do something about it.

Emmett Guyton, a steamfitter for the Trigen Energy Corp., has all the energy and heart of a young politico, and the street smarts to know what inner-city residents need to build stronger, more stable communities. Driving around the Middle East area, he points out the pitfalls of the neighborhood. "The kids call this city Bodymore, Murderland," the 34-year-old Ellwood Park/Monument resident says. "When the kids cry out, 'Help me please,' somebody's gotta listen."

Guyton comes from a family that has always had close ties to its community. Clayton Guyton, Emmett's brother, helped develop the Rose Street Community Center in Milton-Montford, which, besides transforming empty fields into community gardens, boasts other accomplishments like helping develop transitional housing in the neighborhood and cleaning up filthy streets and alleys. Clayton Guyton also endured threats of arson and personal injury in his effort to eradicate a thriving drug corner at North Rose and Ashland streets.

Emmett Guyton, like his brother, feels that the drug problem, which runs rampant in his neighborhood, is a sign that "the Believe campaign has worn thin."

Also out of the Belair-Edison community comes Mel Freeman, an upbeat 42-year-old who has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years. Freeman is interested in making improvements across the entire district, not just in one neighborhood or sector. He has his eye on the vast, partially vacant industrial sector, and how to deal with environmentally unsound brownfields in that area. He says he sees great potential in the 13th District's neighborhoods and would like to strengthen both needy and stable communities.

"There's great value in the neighborhoods of Berea, Belair-Edison, and Orangeville," he says. "But a lot of it has been hit by [property] flipping scandals." Property flipping--when investors purchase low-cost housing for resale at inflated values to uninformed buyers--is a big problem that needs to be curbed in for the good of the whole district, Freeman says. He wants to discourage property flipping by increasing the sale of houses from "homeowner to homeowner," rather than through middleman investors. He also feels that the neighborhoods of the 13th "have not been represented, have not had a voice," in recent years.

Also running in the 13th District is incumbent Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch. As an incumbent (currently representing old 2nd District), the 54-year-old Berea resident is in the eyes of her opponents the embodiment of what is wrong with City Council representation. Since June 30, the day she officially filed as a 13th District candidate, she has returned neither e-mails nor numerous phone calls from City Paper for requests to be interviewed for this story.

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