In Baltimore's 12th District, there's a wide-open race to replace City Councilman Carl Stokes, who is running for mayor.
With no incumbent, there is no clear front-runner in the district, which runs through east and central Baltimore neighborhoods, stretching from Jonestown and Oliver in the east to Charles Village and Remington in the west.
Nine candidates, including seven Democrats, are running in a race that has included a number of controversies, including the anonymous circulation of a negative flier about one leading candidate and a warning letter sent by the city's sitting judges to another contender.
Stokes has thrown his support behind his legislative aide, Robert Stokes Sr., whom he praises as being strong on constituent service.
"He's done a great job," Carl Stokes said. "People find he's very responsive."
Robert Stokes Sr., 58, who is no relation to his boss, has raised the most money ($23,000) and has gotten several key endorsements from labor unions and ministers. He has the financial backing of both City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who gave him $6,000, and City Councilman James B. Kraft, who contributed $1,500.
The Oliver resident said he would focus on job growth and contends that voters who like his boss' work on the council should vote for him. "I'm actually doing the council work now," he said.
But Robert Stokes' alliances have drawn the ire of Baltimore's slate of sitting judges, who are seeking re-election. He distributed a sample ballot endorsing Young, Kraft and several — but not all — of the six sitting judges. The judges told him in writing to remove their names from his literature.
"The sitting judges sent me a nasty letter," Robert Stokes said. "I think it's intimidation."
Opponents have also questioned his campaign finance reports. Despite having mailed ballots to potential voters, he has reported no expenses on his official state forms. He told The Baltimore Sun he plans to file the expenses later.
Controversy has followed another leading candidate in the field.
Old Goucher resident Kelly Cross, 37 — who is second in fundraising with $15,000 — said he wants to focus on the city's systemic problems. With a law degree from the University of Virginia and an undergraduate education at Princeton, Cross, a legal consultant, believes that he is the candidate best positioned to "bring vision to what we're doing in Baltimore."
He said his professional and educational experience can help attract businesses to Baltimore.
"We've got to start bringing in world-class talent," he said.
But Cross said he has been the victim of an anti-gay smear campaign. Fliers have been circulated anonymously that refer to his guilty plea in 2009 to a voyeurism charge in Washington.
"It's something embarrassing about my past," he said. "They want people to be freaked out about it."
Third in fundraising is Jason Pyeron, 38, a consultant and former president of a Charles Village community group, who has raised $9,000 through loans he gave himself. If elected, he pledges to work to bring more jobs to the district and to focus on affordable housing.
Pyeron owns a small defense contracting firm that he said employs people from the 12th District.
"I will invest in securing more ... job-training programs," he said. "I work with large budgets on large projects with the federal government. I have experience to do the job right. I'm not a johnny-come-lately."
Gary Crum, a 33-year-old property manager from Oliver who is a leader with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, has raised nearly $8,000.
Crum, who is known to campaign with his 1-year-old son, believes that he is best positioned to help former offenders get jobs.
"We have guys who want a chance but there's no resources there," he said. "If you give these guys a reasonable chance at jobs, you'll get them off the corner.
When he was younger, Crum said, he got involved in a negative lifestyle of drugs and guns. He said he has buried 26 friends in the past five years.
"I was given a chance," he said. "I want to inspire and motivate the next generation. If I can win this race, it shows no matter where you've come from, you can still accomplish a whole lot."
The youngest candidate in the field is Rashad Staton, 25, who lives in the Perkins Homes. He's raised $2,000. As a former congressional intern and Baltimore City youth commissioner, Staton believes his range of experiences is broader than that of others in the field.