Carl Stokes told 50 people at a community forum in Charles Village that he is a maverick Baltimore City councilman, even noting that he cast the lone vote against this year's city budget because he thinks the city is spending too much money on juvenile jails and not enough on recreation centers, for example
"I'm an activist council person," Stokes told an audience of about 60 peope at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church on Aug. 30. "I represent you."
But what really set Stokes apart from the rest of the field of 12th District council candidates was that everyone else wants his job.
Stokes was appointed in March 2010 to fill the 12th District seat of Bernard C. "Jack" Young when Sheila Dixon resigned as mayor, council president Stephanie Railings-Blake was appointed mayor, and Young became council president.
Now, 17 months later, Stokes, 61, of Charles Village, a former mayoral candidate, is running for election to the council seat in a crowded field of candidates. Seven Democrats and one Republican are vying for the seat, and all of them participated in the 90-minute forum co-sponsored by the Charles Village Civic Association, the Greater Remington Improvement Association and the group Village Parents.
Those running are Republican Kent Boles Jr. and Democrats Devon Brown, Jason Curtis, Ertha Harris, Jermaine Jones, Odette Ramos, Frank Richardson and Stokes.
Boles, an attorney, said he is running because Democrats have controlled city politics for too long.
"It's time to try another way," he said.
Ramos, of Charles Village and the former president of the Abell Community Association, promoted herself as a leader and dedicated public servant who can get things done, especially in the areas of job creation and reducing the number of vacant houses in the district.
"Too often we hear excuses about why we can't get things done," Ramos said.
Harris, who lives in a once-vacant house in northeast Baltimore and owns a tax and bookkeeping service, said she has been running for public office since 1999 because she wants to form a closer bond between elected officials and their constituents.
"The relationship between politicians and the community is way off," Harris said.
"I think it's time for a change (and) some young, fresh blood," said Brown, of Oliver, an aspiring filmmaker and a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is the youngest candidate at 21, and the most famous, having appeared in the 2006 documentary film "The Boys of Baraka," about a private school in Kenya that he attended for at-risk boys from Baltimore.
"It taught me how to be grateful for my community. It taught me to be grateful for education," Brown said. "I want to be honest. I want you to be able to depend on me."
Curtis, manager of a downtown hotel, SpringHill Suites by Marriott, in the Inner Harbor, said he alone in the field of candidates has the necessary mix of experience as a community and business leader. He said he has won statewide awards as a hotelier and accolades as president of his community group, the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and as chairman of the Midtown Community Benefits District, a special taxing district.
Curtis said 99 percent of businesses in his neighborhood have his campaign signs in their windows.
"There's a reason for that," he said.
Stokes, former owner of the retail chain Every Man's Son, ran on his record, and stressed that he led the successful fight to stop the city from closing some of its pools and recreation centers to save money.
Jones, a community organizer, said he is in the best position to help the district push its agenda, including jobs for all residents.
"This is where real change happens, by being involved in your community," the Oliver resident said. "It's going to take organizing as a community."
Richardson, a security officer and transportation coordinator for Johns Hopkins University, is a former English teacher in Japan, and grew up in a family of 15 siblings in east Baltimore. Now married with two children, he said, "I have a lot invested in this community. I'm a man of the people."
Richardson called for greater access to government services and for "living wages" for local workers.
The wide-ranging forum covered issues ranging from the need for more public transit to the potential impact of a planned shopping center in Remington to be anchored by a Walmart and a Lowe's. But the main topics and highest priorities, the candidates generally agreed, were job creation and reducing the number of vacant and abandoned houses to fight urban blight
"I am a very strong fiscal manager," Curtis said.
Boles said making the city more business-friendly will help create jobs.
"Everyone deserves a job," he said.
Ramos said she wants to create a districtwide council to address problems common to all constituents, such as vacant lots and buildings. She called for putting vacant properties into receivership and was one of several candidates to advocate a crackdown on property owners who don't take care of their properties.
One hot topic of conversation was the need for more — and more efficient — public transportation. Brown said he would work with state transportation officials to make bus and other forms of transit "smoother," and to make market public transit to make it more attractive and "more cool" in the public's mind.
Curtis said the Charm City Circulator bus routes should be expanded to include Charles Village and Hopkins' Homewood campus in an effort to bring more potential diners to area restaurants.
"I also believe the trolley has a very good opportunity to spur development along Charles Street," he said, referring to an effort to start an electric trolley line on Charles between the inner Harbor and University Parkway.
Jones advocated better connections and safer conditions at bus stops. Richardson agreed, saying bus stops need to be better lit at night.
And Ramos said, "Fare boxes have to work" on buses.
Stokes said he would like to see more Zipcars, which can be rented by the hour. The cars are especially popular with college students.