Ask most political observers, and the race for the 8th District seat on the City Council is clearly between incumbents Helen L. Holton and Melvin L. Stukes.
But if you ask challengers David Maurice Smallwood, Beatrice Hawkins and Patrick J. Burns, they beg to differ.
"I think out of everybody in the race it's not a real wide field," said Smallwood, 41, director of the city's Ralph J. Young Center in East Baltimore. "I think it's coming down to myself, Helen Holton and Melvin Stukes."
Hawkins, 52, owner and president of Hawkins Enterprises, an assisted living facility, said the race is between her and Holton. "I think people respect Mr. Stukes and he did a good job, but it's over for him."
Said Burns, 39, who owns a property management company: "Frankly, I think right now it's coming down between David Smallwood and myself. We both have very strong bases."
In terms of name recognition and political experience, certainly Holton and Stukes have the edge.
Holton, 43, has been on the City Council since 1995. Stukes, 55, has been a council member since 1991.
Holton says her expertise, educational background and record set her apart from the other six candidates for the newly redistricted seat. Stukes says his years on the council and his record make him the best choice.
Efforts to reach Melva Cole-Fleet and W. Keith Matthews, who also are running for the 8th District council seat, were unsuccessful. All candidates in the primary are Democrats.
So far, it seems the candidates are running a clean race, though both Stukes and Holton acknowledge they'd rather not be facing each other.
"It's not something that I wished for - having to run against an incumbent," Stukes said.
A customer information specialist for the Maryland Transit Administration, Stukes spent 23 years as a tax auditor in the state comptroller's office. He said he feels good about his chances.
"There's a lot more to be done," Stukes said, adding that he plans to spend more money on signs.
His primary issues are education, crime and drugs.
Stukes said he would like to raze the city's nearly 180 schools and build new ones. The money to build new schools, he says, would come from the same source that provided money for M&T; Bank Stadium, Camden Yards and the west-side redevelopment project, Stukes said.
"A very unattractive environment is not conducive to learning," Stukes said. He also would like the school system to be held "more accountable."
Likewise, he would like the city to offer drug treatment on demand, to increase the number of police officers and create more jobs for the disenfranchised.
Holton, who has a master's degree in business administration from the Johns Hopkins University, listed education, crime, health care, and small and minority businesses among her chief concerns.
"In America, the wealthiest nation in the world, we have children without health care, working adults without health care," Holton said.
"I'm concerned about people who work full time and can't afford health care coverage and groceries for their families. The thought that there are seniors who have to decide whether to buy groceries or drugs - that's a choice they shouldn't have to make."
Holton, who also has a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Baltimore, said the city school system isn't working.
"Clearly [with] education, I think that we need a different approach," Holton said.
She supports affordable housing policies and stiff penalties for slumlords and polluters.
Smallwood, an Edmondson High School graduate who attended University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he's running for office because he's "very much concerned about Councilman Stukes and Councilwoman Holton."
His platform issues are education, crime and refurbishing parks so children will have a place to play, Smallwood said.
"The first thing I bring is passion and compassion because that's something we're definitely lacking, especially when it comes to the young people of Baltimore City," said Smallwood, who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates last year and now serves as a community liaison for Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks.
Hawkins, a Frederick Douglass High School graduate, is a newcomer to politics. She said she's running because she sees a "great need for strong leadership" in her community.
"I'm very active in our community and understand the issues that plague our community," said Hawkins, a member of the Rognel Heights community association and the Edmondson Village Corridor Coalition.
Like other candidates for the 8th District seat, Hawkins, who said she thinks her strong spiritual ties would assist her in helping lead the city, emphasized a need for school improvements.
She advocates paying teachers a minimum of $60,000 and reducing class sizes. The money for higher teacher salaries could come from state funds and the school system, which Hawkins said doesn't always spend its money appropriately.
She also advocates tougher penalties for repeat criminal offenders and more community policing.
Burns, who has never held elected office, has a bachelor's degree in history from Towson University. He's a former president of the Westgate Community Association and said he's used to dealing with tough issues such as crime and abandoned houses.
He said he would like to see the city renovate abandoned, vacant houses and consider alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders.
"We need to help them get more job skills," Burns said. He also said the city should focus more on small businesses.
"A lot of times the City Council tries to get a big company in to hire a lot of people, but the biggest job creators in the country are small businesses," Burns said.