In an area that traverses Baltimore from its troubled public housing projects to the mansions of Guilford, the 2nd Councilmanic District has attracted an equally diverse group of candidates for the City Council's Democratic primary.
A former politician, a retired jail guard, a public housing tenant with the AIDs virus, an investment executive, an unemployed man and a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University have joined the race, along with two incumbents -- Anthony J. Ambridge and Paula Johnson Branch.
This year's race has 10 candidates for the Democratic primary -- a small number, compared with previous years. City Councilman Carl Stokes, who is leaving his 2nd District seat to run for council president, recalls his first unsuccessful run for one of three district seats in 1983 when 22 candidates sought them.
Today, after eight years in office, Mr. Stokes describes the 2nd District as "a diverse group of communities. It's two-thirds African-American, one-third white with the largest population of gays and lesbians" in the city.
The people, he said, "mix well demographically -- not just racially, but culturally and religiously. If you're in East Baltimore or in Bolton Hill, folks are OK with other folks," he said.
But in a district where the city demolished the decrepit Lafayette Courts housing project and where Charles Villagers are paying an extra tax for security guards, candidates say they're running for office out of frustration with city government.
And the candidates believe they have new solutions to Baltimore's old problems.
* Candidate Mark Washington, a 37-year-old former investment executive who lives in the Darley Park neighborhood off North Avenue and Harford Road, wants the city to pay college tuition for city schoolchildren with good grades.
If elected, he would plaster local "wanted" posters on vacant houses to deter crime and give tax breaks to homeowners who make repairs.
* Charles Village resident Matthew Boulay, 25, is the Hopkins graduate now heading an education program who wants more community-run schools like the Stadium School and also an assistant superintendent for parental involvement.
* Sarah Louise Matthews, a 44-year-old Bolton Hill resident, would form a neighborhood coalition to share solutions to community problems. The coordinator of education and employment programs for the nonprofit Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, Ms. Matthews also wants to create jobs programs for East Baltimore youths.
* Harry N. Karas, an outspoken public housing tenant who says he has the AIDs virus, would put metal detectors in city schools to deter crime. He also favors an elected city school board instead of the current method of mayoral appointments.
He would also like for health care workers to use old city school buses to teach drug prevention in poor neighborhoods.
* Lloyd D. Jones, an unemployed 44-year-old living in East Baltimore, supports an increased minimum wage for city contracts and says he would make sure the city is more aggressive in luring new businesses to Baltimore.
* Louis Harris, 59, a retired corrections lieutenant, would push the city to incarcerate more drug dealers than drug users and would offer teachers financial incentives to stay in city classrooms.
* Anthony Armstrong, 51, lives in the Berea neighborhood in East Baltimore and was an aide to Clarence "Du" Burns from 1982 to 1988 when Mr. Burns was City Council president and mayor.
Mr. Armstrong said that if elected, he would continue the community and business constituency work he did for Mr. Burns and would raise the salaries of city police officers to meet levels of other area police departments.
* Former City Councilman and state Sen. Robert L. Douglass held elective office for 15 years -- from 1967 until 1982. Mr. Douglass' now defunct electronics company defaulted on several government loans.
Today, the candidate teaches students who are trying to pass high school equivalency exams. If elected, Mr. Douglass would like to revamp the city school system so students are better educated when they graduate. He also would promote jobs programs and help set up new businesses.
Mr. Douglass, like many of the other candidates, has little money to run his campaign. His campaign finance report from Aug. 15, )) shows he is using $200 of his own money and had no contributions.
But campaign signs bearing his name are appearing throughout the district -- paid for by incumbent Ms. Branch's campaign funds. They ask voters to "re-elect" Ms. Branch and Mr. Douglass -- who hasn't served on the City Council for 21 years.
Mr. Douglass said he does not think the signs are misleading.
"I would consider myself an incumbent, but not an incumbent in the strict sense of the word. I don't think we're doing anything illegal," he said.
Several of the candidates have criticized Ms. Branch's council attendance record. The councilwoman attributes her absences to her husband's illness and subsequent death, her son being shot, her home being broken into and her brother dying -- all in the past few years.
Ms. Branch, who is finishing her first term in office, noted her participation in the city's successful effort to get $100 million to rebuild several city neighborhoods through the federal empowerment zone program as an accomplishment.
Mr. Ambridge, who is running for his fourth term, said he has answered more than 100,000 constituent calls in 12 years, sponsored the gay rights bill and wrote legislation allowing premises used in drug dealing to be padlocked.
Mr. Ambridge also has raised more money than any candidate in the race -- $45,850 compared with Ms. Branch's $10,600 -- mostly from small businesses, constituents and labor supporters.
If re-elected, he said, he would like to offer tax breaks for businesses that take over vacant industrial land and employ city workers. He would also like to have the city solicitor appointed by a board rather than the mayor and to make the job "more objective" in handling city legal work.