A wide field running in new 13th District

The six candidates running to represent Baltimore's newly created 13th City Council district are as varied as the communities they hope to represent.

An assistant school principal. A business manager. A day care provider. A steamfitter. A seasoned politician. A retired Army veteran.

The territory spans from Section 8 housing along alley streets in the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital to landscaped rowhouses in Belair-Edison to careworn hilltop Victorians in Orangeville.

What unites the candidates are shared messages on school reform, increased public safety and stronger neighborhoods. But their differences are many.

Emmett Guyton, 34, has worked downtown as a steamfitter at Trigen Energy Corp. for nearly 14 years.

A graduate of Dunbar High School, Guyton worked behind the scenes as his brother Clayton Guyton battled to restore livability to an area where drug dealers, drive-by shootings, and shut-in seniors were the norm. The experience inspired him to counsel young people at New Pilgrim Baptist Church and now, to public service.

"If I'm elected, the homicide rate will drop in the 13th District," Guyton pledged. "I would rally the churches and have access to those city resources I need to make change happen."

Constance Maddox brings involvement in local community activities and an interest in solving societal ills to her grass-roots council run.

The 49-year-old grandmother has deep roots in East Baltimore. A 1973 graduate of Eastern High School, she raised her daughters alone and ran a day care center out of her home until a disability forced her to close the business. Since then, she has twice served as president of the community association in Madison East End.

"My main concern is rebuilding the community," she said.

Mel Freeman, 42, is the only 13th District candidate who wasn't raised in the area, though he was born in Baltimore into an Army family that hopscotched between bases in North Carolina, Washington, Missouri and Germany.

He returned 16 years ago to settle in the place he thinks of as home. "I am in love with Baltimore neighborhoods," said Freeman of Belair-Edison.

Among his specific goals, Freeman wants to restore independent status to the city school system so that it is no longer administered by the state. He also plans to convene a community roundtable to bring about change in city schools, public safety and local development.

He has been endorsed by the New Democratic Club, the League of Environmental Voters, Del. Hattie N. Harrison, The Sun, The City Paper and The Afro-American.

"I managed budgets and people and projects on a large scale and then I went to the nonprofits and did it on another scale," Freeman said. "I can do a good job on the City Council."

Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch has served the current 2nd District for 12 years. Most of her original district falls within the new 13th, which also includes Middle East, Collington North and Armistead Gardens.

"Things have gotten worse over the years I have been in office, given the economy," she said.

Branch wants another term to see the Hopkins biotech housing project she helped nurture come to fruition -- and to bring development to blighted areas like her neighborhood of Berea. Her platform of community and economic development focuses on revitalizing the worst areas and stabilizing the livable ones.

A 54-year-old widow and grandmother, Branch said she was inspired to public office by the man who gave her away at her wedding, her godfather and the first black mayor of Baltimore, the late Clarence H. Du Burns.

As an assistant principal at Robert Poole Middle School in Wyman Park, education is the key issue for Kevin W. Parson.

Parson, 40, a married father of two raised in and around the Latrobe Courts public housing complex, has three advanced degrees.

Aside from Branch, Parson is the only candidate who has tested the political waters before: He lost his bid for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates last fall. He said he remains focused on education and recreational opportunities for urban youths, and on improving drug treatment.

"I'm willing to work to make it happen," Parson said.

Joe DiMatteo, 52, is the lone Republican contender for the 13th. A retired Army recruiter who was born in Abruzzi, Italy, he has called Baltimore home since 1962 and has lived in Belair-Edison for 25 years.