6th District council race attracts crowded field; 11 candidates battle for 3 seats; Republicans face September primary

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's 6th Council District is unique in at least one respect: It is the only district in which there is a contested race on the Republican side in Tuesday'sprimary for three council seats.

Among the city's other five districts, three Republicans have filed in the 4th District and two have filed in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th. Each of those 11 candidates will be listed on the ballot in November's general election.

But in the 6th, covering southern and Southwest Baltimore, four GOP candidates are vying for three seats.

The three highest vote-getters will square off against those who emerge from a seven-person Democratic field that includes 6th District incumbents -- the Rev. Norman A. Handy Sr., Edward L. Reisinger and Melvin L. Stukes -- and four challengers.

Republicans welcome the competition in their primary, saying it is a sign of the party's vitality in the 6th District and the level of dissatisfaction among district residents.

"I think it means we have more people who are tired of the same old thing in politics," said Joseph Brown Jr., who is reprising his spirited but unsuccessful bid for a council seat in 1995.

Democrats say the Republicans hope to capitalize on the right-of-center views of residents in many of the district's blue-collar communities.

"I think the Republicans feel that with their conservative ideas that they have empathy within the 6th District," said Handy. "I'm hoping they're wrong."

Diverse district

Stretching from the diagonal boundary along the city's southwestern and southern border, north to Edmondson Avenue and east to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, the 6th attracts millions of visitors each year to its two most notable landmarks: Oriole Park and PSINet Stadium.

Not all the district is so attractive. Though it includes such middle-class enclaves as Morrell Park and Violetville, the district also encompasses such struggling communities as Cherry Hill and Pigtown.

The latter is part of the city's empowerment zone, a federally-designated urban revitalization area. So are the 6th district neighborhoods of Poppleton, along with Harlem Park and Fairfield, the vast industrial area of southern Baltimore.

It is one of three council districts -- along with the 1st and the 5th -- in which all three incumbents are seeking re-election.

Republicans seeking office say new vision is needed to tackle low employment and high crime and drug abuse rates in the district.

Brown, 41, a bank vice president, said, "I think there is a dearth of leadership in terms of our incumbents," adding, "I bring a corporate background to the table."

Four years ago, Brown finished fourth in the general election, behind Stukes, Reisinger and Handy. But Brown's 3,267-vote shortfall put him closer than any GOP candidate in the general election.

This year, Brown has raised $19,341 -- more than twice what he raised in 1995 and comparable to the amounts raised by Democratic incumbents Stukes ($29,386); Reisinger ($23,329) and Handy ($15,600).

Also back for another try at a council seat -- he last ran in 1995 -- is Anthony F. Forlenza, a retired postal worker who will celebrate his 63rd birthday three days before the primary. Forlenza, a member of the Republican State Central Committee who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in 1994 and 1998, echoes the throw-the-Democrats-out theme.

'What have we got?'

"They've been in power for a generation and what have we got?" he said. "The best three Republican candidates -- and it doesn't have to be me -- are there to challenge the Democrats."

Walter F. Green, 67, a retired police officer for the Maryland General Services Administration, is more blunt. "People are pretty tired of the way the Democrats are running the 6th District," he said.

The fourth Republican candidate, Joe Tebo Jr., 40, is a safety specialist for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. He calls Baltimore a city "in crisis" and says in his campaign literature, "We need to ensure through this election that financially responsible leaders are in place."

Some Democrats challenging the three incumbents agree with their GOP counterparts.

Willie E. Walker, 54, who works for the state's Child Support Enforcement Administration and has a law degree, says his credentials outshine those of the incumbents.

"The Democratic Party cannot afford to have people in office who are not knowledgeable about issues in the community, who are not in a position to understand the legislative issues that need to be considered," he said.

Another Democrat, Francis J. Smidt Jr., 56, a carpenter and registered nurse, also touts his experience, which includes alcohol and drug abuse.

"It is probably the most valuable experience of my life," he said. "I know the meaning of getting a job to restore your dignity. I lost my dignity, but I regained it through honest labor."

Also running are Democrats Delano Saillye Bailey, 52, and Richard Charles Barbee, 58, who says the city needs to make better use of federal and state resources.

'We're a good team'

Incumbents Handy, 54, Reisinger, 49, and Stukes, 51, are running as the Unity Team. They say the criticisms are to be expected, but that they deserve re-election.

"As an incumbent, you're always going to be attacked," said Reisinger.

Reisinger was appointed to the council to fill out the term of the late William J. Myers in 1990. He lost his seat to Stukes in 1991 before winning election in 1995.

"We're a good team," Reisinger said of the three incumbents. "I think the three of us have grown over four years."

Stukes acknowledges the district's reputation for reticence embodied in the slogan "The Silent Sixth," but said: "I think we have a very active delegation that doesn't necessarily look to the camera to get the job done."

The two-term council member said he does "a lot of grass-roots stuff that makes a real difference," such as getting computers and supplies for schools. The district has begun to receive more attention from the city, he added.

"We have 130-some capital projects going on at the same time," Stukes boasted.

Handy was appointed to the council in January 1995 to fill the term of Timothy D. Murphy after Murphy was elected to the House of Delegates. He won election that fall.

Handy said he has come up with legislative solutions to many problems. He also acknowledged that one of the bills he and the district's other council members co-sponsored -- to expand the service area of a medical waste incinerator -- was a mistake, but said he is proud of other initiatives. They range from a tax on tobacco products to pending legislation to regulate bounty hunters.

"I've introduced over 70 pieces of legislation," said Handy. "The number of bills that I've introduced are in some cases more than some entire districts have introduced."

The pastor of the Unity United Methodist Church, Handy plans to continue a fast he began Aug. 31 until the primary.

"It's my way of making a spiritual and personal sacrifice," he said. "Leadership begins within the leader making a sacrifice."

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