Since City Council member Helen Holton, a 20-year Council veteran, announced her retirement last August, the race to succeed her in the 8th District on the far west and southwest side of Baltimore has gotten crowded and hopeful.
There are two Republicans and seven Democrats, most of whom are political neophytes. But most also seem like serious-minded civic reformers. Kristerfer Burnett jumped into the race first, announcing his candidacy on April 18, before Holton announced her retirement. The board member of the B.E.S.T. Democratic Club (one of several B.E.S.T.-associated candidates running) is one of the best-funded and supported candidates in the 8th District race, having worked in the district and elsewhere as a community organizer.
"My motivation to run was solely rooted in that I thought there ought to be a person on the City Council with a community organizing background," he says. "Change comes from the bottom up."
Burnett, who raised $35,000 for the race as of January—including $6,000 from the Service Employees International Union, his former employer—say he wants more funding for GED and adult education, broadened union apprenticeship programs, and better public transit so people can get to work.
He says he's knocked on 5,000 doors in the district, and that the early reception he got from voters was lukewarm. "Some of the early conversations focused on my age," the 30-year-old, who lives with his wife* in Edmondson Village, says. But after the uprising associated with Freddie Gray's death, he says the conversation shifted.
"My age went from something that was possibly an Achilles heel to … something that was an asset."
Burnett thinks the field of candidates is good. "I think whoever wins," he says, "the 8th District will be in good shape."
Also well-funded is Reginald Fugett, a young graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts, is the son of former NFL star Jean Fugett, whose half-brother Reginald Lewis lead TLC Beatrice International and endowed his eponymous downtown museum. Fugett's Council campaign received contributions from Adam Jones, the Orioles outfielder, who is married to Fugett's sister. More money has poured in from the Pacific American Fish Co. in Los-Angeles, where Fugett worked after graduation.
Fugett promises to push for accountability in government and to establish an office in the district dedicated to constituent service. He says he'll establish community boards in each of the district's 11 public schools, and push for more funding for blight elimination and redevelopment, as well as vocational training, adult education, and re-entry programs for former prisoners.
Rodney Faraj Leach, another political newcomer, is an accountant and businessman who wants to take on the strong-mayor form of government. "If we look into how we go about installing directors of city agencies, it's almost counter-productive," he says. "Other cities use different processes."
Leach says the power of the mayor to control all the agency heads leads to inefficiencies because there are no set performance measures. "It's how the mayor feels," he says. He'll push for a charter amendment giving the City Council more power. His campaign had no money as of January 12.
Russell Neverdon, a long-time defense lawyer who now serves as the Executive Director for Inmate Grievances at the State Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, brings the same philosophy to the 8th District as he employed in an unsuccessful campaign for the Baltimore State's Attorney's post two years ago: TRACE. "Transparency, Responsiveness, Accountability and Accessibility, ongoing Communication, and Engagement with the constituents of the 8th District."
Beyond the slogan, Neverdon has specific goals, beginning with instituting term limits for City Council. "I think two terms is more than enough time," he says. "You serve two terms and you're vested." Neverdon also wants to curb the mayor's power, and he says Leach nicked that idea from him. "Of course it was my idea," he says, adding that "at a forum, Jean Fugett's son literally repeated what was on my web page."
Including the $3,000 he lent his campaign, Neverdon has raised over $6,100, and he is on the ballot—which puts him ahead of the position he found himself in 2014. In the State's Attorney race, he withdrew from the Democratic primary and tried to petition his way onto the ballot as an independent. He gathered more than 4,300 signatures but the election commission disqualified hundreds of them for suspiciously minor issues—a missing middle initial, or the lack of a date or phone number on the petition sheet. Neverdon sued and lost, and ended up with only 5,588 votes to Marilyn Mosby's 110,923.
He says this time will be different. "Just because we need change doesn't mean we need young," the 48-year-old says, touting his life and legal experience.
The candidate with the most experience running for the office is David Maurice Smallwood, a 54-year-old supervisor at the State Department of Juvenile Services. He is running for the office for the fourth time.
Smallwood's platform is for more police accountability and public safety, more and better summer youth employment opportunities, a revamped system for handling the city's vacant property, and a push for business opportunities in the science and technology fields.
Dwayne "Diamond K" Williams is a DJ at night and a health care administrator by day who promises "modern and efficient changes that save us money, keep us safe, make government more transparent, and move Baltimore forward." He was born and raised in Edmonson Village. He filed to run last October but did not file a campaign finance report. He is selling campaign t-shirts on his website for $15.
The final Democrat in the race is Benjamin Barnwell, Sr., pastor of the New Creation Church of Jesus Christ on the 5400 block of Frankford Avenue. He has reported no campaign contributions and does not have a campaign website. He was President and CEO of the non-profit Academy of Success, a west side recreation program that reported more than $800,000 in assets on its last tax filing in 2010. Online court records show a passel of bad debt cases and a current foreclosure action on his home.
The Republicans in the race are Joseph Brown Jr. and Nakia Washington. Brown ran for City Council in 1995 and was seen as a threat to knock out Edwin Reisinger in the 6th District, but failed. In this race he wants to reduce unemployment and increase vocational training opportunities. Washington has been active on anti-police brutality issues and is associated with perennial Sheriff candidate David Anthony Wiggins, through his Baltimore Black Think Tank.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said candidate Kristerfer Burnett has a child. City Paper regrets the error.