16 vie to represent 4th District; Three seats available in highly competitive race for City Council

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With 16 candidates vying for three seats, the 4th District City Council race is one of the city's most competitive political contests this year.

Voters in the north-central district are expected to return two strong incumbents, Keiffer J. Mitchell and Agnes B. Welch, to their seats.

But 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon stepped down to run for City Council president, leaving 14 residents in the district tussling to replace her or unseat the incumbents.

The leadership change is coming in a district where many complain that their neighborhoods have gone downhill and their leaders aren't doing enough about it.

"We have got to stop doing for downtown and do for uptown," said Republican candidate Joseph P. Ward, sparking applause among about 40 residents at a 4th District council campaign forum last month.

"We have got to bring people back into the city," said Ward, a teacher who lives in Hunting Ridge. He supports affirmative action, wants to cut property taxes and has called for a public report on City Hall finances every three months.

Such changes are among dozens suggested by candidates anxious to improve conditions in the 4th District.

Once a bastion of civil rights activism and home to some of the city's historically influential black families, including the Mitchells and Murphys, the district now includes a racially and economically diverse pool of voters from Ashburton to Reservoir Hill to Hampden, among other neighborhoods.

Roughly bounded by Edmondson and Lafayette avenues on the south, Cold Spring Lane on the north, Hilton Street on the west and Roland Avenue on the east, the district embodies some of the city's most daunting challenges, including stubborn crime and pockets of deteriorating housing.

Last month, Mitchell and Welch invited Catherine E. Pugh, an activist and former Morgan State University instructor, to share their ticket. She has edited several Black History Month sections for The Sun, runs a public relations company and has worked on several local political campaigns.

"I have been involved in everyone else's campaigns for years," said Pugh, a Democrat who lives in Ashburton. "I think when we work behind the scenes we learn lessons, and at some point you need to put the lessons in front of you. This will allow me to bring this to another level."

She has outlined ideas for programs -- many used in other East Coast cities -- to curb drug abuse and raise city revenue. If elected, she would consider starting hotel, liquor and commuter taxes, she said. She also said drug abuse should be treated as a health problem to encourage rehabilitation.

Last month, Del. Shirley S. Nathan-Pulliam, a Baltimore Democrat, said she was "leaning toward [endorsing] Pugh." Dixon said she was watching Pugh, Angela C. Tate and Julian J. Thomas Jr. as three dominant contenders.

Tate said last week she has withdrawn from the race. (The ballot will still include her name due to printing deadlines.)

Thomas, an accountant for the state Department of Human Resources, is a Rosemont Democrat who ran for the council in 1995 and has worked for six years on Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's task force to revitalize the Gwynns Falls Trail in Leakin Park.

If elected, he said, he would work to revitalize city neighborhoods, increase safety and improve public spaces.

"I see myself as being able to do some greater good," Thomas said. "And I see a great need for it. I'm a consensus builder, and that's the kind of person it's going to take."

Mitchell, a history teacher at Boys' Latin, tried unsuccessfully in his first term on the council to raise local taxes to hire more police and expand the state's attorney's office. He pushed for -- and won -- funding for Internet programs in city schools.

If elected to a second term, he said, he plans to "learn more about the city budget and expense appropriations, and be more responsive to constituent services."

"I think I have been responsive," he said. "But you can always do more."

Welch, a Democrat seeking her fifth term on the council, has been a community activist and social worker nearly 50 years. The Rosemont resident is vice president of the City Council and has served more than 20 years on the Democratic State Central Committee.

An outspoken council member, she has long worked to salvage deteriorating neighborhoods. Last year, after being bitten by a dog in her neighborhood, she introduced a bill allowing dogs considered vicious to be killed after a hearing. It passed last summer.

"We need to look within government to see where we can make cuts," she said. "But when we talk about cutting people's jobs and services, that's not going to bring people back into the city."

Roscoe Herring, now retired, was a longtime administrative assistant to former Gov. William D. Schaefer. The Reservoir Hill Democrat proposes starting an advisory council in the 4th District that would "keep a tab on things and keep in touch with community organizations."

"We must return the streets of Baltimore to the taxpayers of this city," he said.

Frank M. Conaway Jr., a Democrat from Liberty Heights, is the son of Frank Conaway Sr., clerk of the court and a candidate for City Council president and Mary Carter Conaway, the register of wills and a mayoral contender.

The younger Conaway, an electrician, is running for office for the first time to push for improved conditions for teachers and to "get back to the way where police officers were our friends and we could communicate with them."

Eric Easton may be best known for organizing protests in 1997 against a corner grocer in Park Heights suspected of selling spoiled meat to customers. A clerk with the Social Security Administration, Easton is a talkative Democrat from Reservoir Hill who co-founded a neighborhood group called Unity for Action. His campaign slogan is "No More Politics As Usual."

"One thing we need on the City Council is more activism," he said. "We have people in the city who are ready to leave because of drug dealers on the corner, rats in the back alley and bad schools. What are we, an experiment?"

Joel Bratton Jr. also laments such problems. A youth intervention counselor at Calverton Middle School, he has seen eight pupils there killed in gun violence in the last year. The Democrat from Rosemont said current council members have been lackluster in their response to his summer camp and after-school programs, and should have done more to prevent district businesses from closing.

"The City Council persons are supposed to be our voice in City Hall, and basically that's not happening," he said. "If you've been in office for eight and 12 years, how much time do you need to get things done? People are leaving the city because of this."

Democrat John P. Burke and Republican Jeffrey B. Smith are the only 4th District candidates who live in Hampden.

Burke, a city firefighter, has never run for elected office, but is pushing for more teachers, smaller class sizes and zero tolerance on crime. He wants to improve the Falls Road corridor, where he sees prostitution and drug-selling. "I believe it is time for a change, for new faces. Not really new ideas, but new thoughts on the old ideas."

Smith has called for restructuring school headquarters, cutting the size of the City Council and raising fines for parking violations and loitering.

"If you really want to vote for change," Smith said, "you can vote Republican. It's legal to do so."

A third Republican, Victor Clark Jr. of Sandtown, has served on state and city Republican Party committees for more than a decade. The sales consultant has run for mayor twice, and the state Senate and Congress once each.

"If I keep waving the Republican banner, some day I'm going to be heard," Clark said. He pledged to boost business development in the 4th District, saying, "We need to focus on how we can increase cash flow. Business owners used to be part of the community."

Kwame Kenyatta-Bey, a Democrat from Reservoir Hill, is a corporate fund-raiser who said "public safety is a very large part of my campaign."

Kenyatta-Bey, who said voters "have been given a bill of goods over the last 20 years," insisted there must be more development of areas outside the Inner Harbor -- and residents must demand it. "We should as a community say, 'This is what we want. This is what we need,'" he said.

Joseph "Joe" Griggs, who works in credit restoration, has lived in Baltimore since 1982. He has been president of the Burleith Neighborhood Association for seven years. He is especially disturbed by open-air drug markets.

"I wanted to have some aspect of zero tolerance but not pure zero tolerance," he said.

Democratic candidates Mishja J. Anthony and Darius George Hall could not be reached for comment.

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