Eight candidates in the City Council District 7 race take part in the Baltimore City League of Women Voters Candidate Forum at the Baltimore City Community College.
Eight candidates in the City Council District 7 race take part in the Baltimore City League of Women Voters Candidate Forum at the Baltimore City Community College. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

There's a former state delegate, a Harvard-trained lawyer, a member of a well-known political family and a preacher who led many of the protests after Freddie Gray's death. And that's fewer than half the candidates.

The 11 Democrats running for West Baltimore's 7th District City Council seat have a wide array of experience. The race hasn't brought in the high-dollar campaign contributions of more affluent districts, but it has attracted more candidates than any other.

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"This is a tough race, but it's an important race," said candidate Marshall Bell, the younger brother of former City Council President Lawrence Bell. "It's become painfully obvious to people that we have systemic conditions that have affected Baltimore, particularly West Baltimore. We have too many people without jobs and too many people without hope."

Last April, this district was the center of the unrest following Gray's death from injuries suffered in police custody. Within its boundaries are Gilmor Homes, where Gray was arrested; Mondawmin Mall, where a confrontation between teenagers and police escalated into a riot; and the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues, where looting and arson broke out.

It includes Ashburton, Hampden, Sandtown-Winchester and Reservoir Hill, and also is home to Coppin State University, Druid Hill Park and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Its northern portion includes some of the city's highest-rated restaurants, such as Woodberry Kitchen and The Food Market.

"In many regards, the conversations concerning the 7th District have been about the problems," said candidate Leon F. Pinkett III, an assistant deputy mayor. "Rarely do people talk about the strengths. We have [Maryland Institute College of Art] to the east and Coppin to the west. There's a unique opportunity to use those two anchors to strengthen West Baltimore."

The candidates are seeking to replace Councilman Nick J. Mosby, who is running for mayor.

With fewer than three weeks to go in the race, Pinkett, 48, of Reservoir Hill, is in the strongest financial position. He has $32,000 on hand, which includes $3,000 contributions from both Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Development Corp. President William H. Cole IV.

Pinkett, who was chief of staff to former Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell IV and a director with Baltimore Development Corp., said he's best-positioned to spur economic growth. He's been endorsed by Rep. Elijah Cummings.

"Our representatives on the council don't necessarily understand the economic development piece," said Pinkett, who managed the redevelopment of Mondawmin Mall. "You have to have experience working with the development community."

Former Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant, who lost his seat two years ago and then failed to regain it in a write-in campaign targeting Del. Frank Conaway Jr., has $23,000 in campaign cash. He's received $6,000 from the Baltimore Washington Construction & Public Employees Laborers political action committee, but also owes about $25,000 in loans.

Tarrant, 50, of Woodberry, said the district's most pressing issues are "jobs, quality affordable housing, crime, blight and overdevelopment."

He said his experience as a two-term state delegate makes him stand out. He's been endorsed by several unions and the Sierra Club. Some opponents have criticized him for briefly advertising that he was running in a different district.

"I was a community association president. Then I got elected and I was successful," Tarrant says. "I'm somebody who has actually done it."

Bell, a policy analyst for the City Council and son of well-known area dentist, has $16,000 on hand. He's received $4,000 from City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young; $1,500 from City Councilman James B. Kraft, who is running for judge; and $2,000 from his brother, Lawrence Bell.

Bell, 47, of the Mondawmin area, has convictions for a string of drug, gun and perverted practice charges that date to a decade or more ago.

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"I made bad choices when I was younger. Most of it was fueled by drug addiction," he said. "I had a bad habit, but I've got seven years clear and sober. Because of that, I've been able to mentor people who are struggling right now and don't have hope."

Job creation and economic development are the district's biggest issues, he said, because "all other challenges including crime and grime, poor schools, dilapidated housing, substance abuse, etc., can't be fixed until we give folks decent, living-wage jobs."

Bell said he's lived in West Baltimore longer than his rivals and understands its issues more deeply than they do.

The Rev. Westley West, who rose in prominence during the protests after Gray's death, has $1,600 on hand.

West, 27, of Coppin Heights, was recently acquitted of charges stemming from a protest outside a court hearing for the officers charged in the Gray case. But he still faces theft charges in Baltimore County, where police allege he used bank account and routing information to steal more than $700 from an Owings Mills company for which he briefly worked as a truck driver.

"They are trumped-up charges to set me back," he said.

West notes his work in the community — including coaching basketball and leading protests.

"It wasn't something that I wanted to grab fame from," he said. "There was no leader. It was time for someone to get involved. I'm an activist, and I'm active in the community."

Lawyer Kerry J. Davidson also has $1,600 on hand. Davidson, 47, of the Penn North neighborhood, has a law degree from Harvard, a master's degree in governmental administration from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in engineering from Stanford University. If elected, he said his first goal will be to clean up the trash throughout the neighborhood.

"I live in one of the most blighted areas in the district," he said. "There are drug dealers on my street. There's trash on my street. My house has been burglarized. That's the context of the outrage, but there are a lot of problems that can be easily solved.

"You could get 50 percent of the trash removed just by putting rat-resistant trash bins in areas where people illegally dump," he said.

David McMillan, deputy director in the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, has $1,600 on hand — most of which comes from Prince George's County Del. Dereck E. Davis.

"There's a lot I know about policing and public safety," said McMillan, 34, of Hanlon Park. "It was a formative experience working with emergency management during the riots."

He said he wants to see new recreation centers built for youths and open-air drug markets shut down.

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Other candidates include Antonio Asa, 62, of Walbrook, who works in public administration; Jamar Day, 27, of Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood liaison in the council president's office; Kenneth Paul Church, 62, of Poplar Grove, a city inspector; and Ahmed Royalty, 45, of Mondawmin, a teacher and author.

"One of the things I've noticed is a major disparity between our elected officials and the citizens they govern," Day said. "They're for the rich or the super voters. I want to help champion every one in the district."

Another Democrat, Sheila Davis, did not respond to requests for information.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Tamara Purnell in the November election. Unaffiliated candidate Nnamdi Scott also will be on the ballot if he can collect enough signatures.

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