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9 Democrats vying for Harris' District 4 seat

The Baltimore Sun

What happens when a longtime city councilman doesn't run for re-election in his district? A lot of candidates jump into the race.

In Baltimore's 4th District race for City Council, nine Democrats are vying for the seat, which is being vacated after two terms by Kenneth N. Harris Sr. as he seeks the council presidency.

The council's 4th District runs approximately between Charles Street and Loch Raven Boulevard, a largely middle-class section of North Baltimore.

Many of the candidates say the city's uphill battle against crime propelled many of them into the race. But other problems, such as the condition of the public schools and the thousands of vacant rowhouses in the city, are also given as reasons for entering the contest.

It can be difficult to stand out in a crowded field, so the candidates say they have been crisscrossing the district - knocking on doors and meeting people - to get all-important face time with voters.

Some of the contenders have managed to differentiate themselves by raising relatively large amounts of money, at least by City Council standards.

Leading the pack in fundraising are Scherod Barnes, Ryan M. Coleman and Bill Henry.

Henry had raised more than $43,000 by the mid-August fundraising report - outpacing his closest competitor by more than $15,000, according to the state campaign finance database.

Henry, until recently, was director of commercial development at Patterson Park Community Development Corp., which has led the revitalization of the area near the park.

Henry, 39, lives in Radnor-Winston and ran unsuccessfully against Harris four years ago. He also has worked as a legislative aide for Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and as an assistant for her chief of staff. Henry also was chief of staff for former City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III.

"I've tried really hard to not make this campaign about Ken," Henry said, referring to the 4th District councilman. "One of the things that he was proudest of, was that if you called him, you'd get a call back in 24 hours. One of the things I want is to be is not just reacting to individual people's problems. I want to come up with creative ideas."

Barnes, a construction company sales manager and a longtime neighborhood activist in Loch Raven, where he has lived for 33 years, raised more than $25,000 in the last reporting period.

Barnes, 59, a member of the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee, said he has conducted a "community listening tour" for the past four months to connect with voters.

"I've been on the ground, in the trenches of Northeast Baltimore for over 30 years, trying to keep Northeast Baltimore a good place to live," Barnes said.

Coleman, 31, lives in New Northwood and works at Strayer University. He has worked in the past for Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and reports raising $17,950.

"Living in Northwood and being from Baltimore and loving Baltimore, I wanted to jump in and do something about it. I really learned a lot from Dutch. ... And I thought I had something to offer. I wanted to get in there and make some changes."

Christopher Jack Hill, 26, lives in Loch Raven and is a marketing director for a city restaurant. He also has been a freelance journalist, writing articles for The Sun and the Afro-American.

Hill, who is also a minister at Bethel AME Church, has raised $243. "I'm very careful with our money," Hill said. "Our money goes to reaching the people. There is no paid personnel; this is truly a grass-roots campaign.

He said several prominent politicians and advisers - former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Matthew A. Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University - are "helping out, giving free advice."

Reba Hawkins, 38, of Mid-Govans, is a mortgage loan consultant and recently was executive director of the Govanstowne Business Association. She has testified in Annapolis for legislation for a living wage, she said, and would like to see tax breaks for local businesses.

"I'd like to see some tax breaks and tax credits for some of the small mom-and-pop shops that are really the hub of many neighborhoods."

Hawkins said former Councilwoman Bea Gaddy is the inspiration for the kind of councilwoman she would be. "Bea Gaddy was a person who was selfless, and I feel that [is] the true spirit of a councilperson," Hawkins said. "You have to work and be selfless and know that you're working for the good of the people."

Monica L. Gaines, president of the Woodbourne-McCabe Community Association, said she has worked for more than three years with city officials to relinquish hold of 27 vacant properties in her district to allow for private development - a move she hopes would put a dent in the area's drug dealing.

"The vacant houses, that's drawing lot of crime," Gaines said. "The area has run down and has a whole bunch of vacant houses. If we could sell vacant houses, and clean it up ... it could clean up some of the crime."

William "Bill" Goodin, 54, who lives in Lake Walker, has run for office four times - three times for City Council, once for state delegate.

"I've always had one philosophy," said Goodin, a truck driver. "If you disagree with leadership, you either find someone, or you run. I disagree with leadership, so I'm a candidate."

Among the changes Goodin would like to see is the creation of a community court, in which residents would mete out punishment for crimes, and a program to distribute drug money confiscated by police to local neighborhoods for community development.

Neil R. Bernstein, 70, of Homeland is hoping his age will attract voters.

"I saw, as far as I was concerned, how much better representation was provided by certain senior citizens on the council," said Bernstein, a retired marketer. "Agnes Welch, she's 80 and she does a good job. And Mary Pat Clarke, she's no spring chicken, but she hops around like one. I just thought they could benefit from another senior citizen."

Bernstein has not attended any of the candidates forums, dismissing them as "grand pony shows," but he said, "I would advocate that the legislature create a completely elected school board. Because far and away, it's the largest sponge of tax dollars. It probably gets more tax money than any other division of city government. And it's probably the least efficient."

Earl Levin Holt III did not respond to requests for an interview

District 3

In the 3rd District, which covers Northeast Baltimore, three candidates are challenging the incumbent, Robert W. Curran, a council fixture whose political legacy harks back to his father's work on the council.

Curran - who was elected council vice president in January - points to the recently passed smoking ban in city bars and restaurants, which he spearheaded, as one of his proudest moments as councilman.

"That really made me proud," Curran said. "If I lose this time, I'll still have my hat on for years. Down the road, lives will be saved, and I'm proud of that."

During his time on the council, Curran, 57, has also helped to usher in the redevelopment of the Memorial Stadium site, along with the subsequent building of the nearby Giant Food store on 33rd Street.

Norman E. Hall and Michael L. Hamilton are mounting challenges, and Bill Barry, the Green Party candidate, will face the winner.

Hall did not return calls for comment.

Hamilton, a special education teacher in the city public schools, said he believes bringing new blood to the council is important in getting things accomplished for the district.

"When you talk to people in the district, they continue to complain about the deterioration of the community," Hamilton said. "In most instances, the councilpeople that have been in there have been there for a number of terms. Most of those individual are not proactive enough.

Hamilton, 56, who has lived on his block for 15 years, said, "I have yet to see this street paved."

He added that he has been active on his PTA. "It may sound old hat, but I do believe the issues that we're dealing with ... a lot of them can be solved with a good education. I think it's a foundation to a productive life and a productive citizenry. If you improve the educational system, then you will improve the life of every citizen in the city."

District 14

In another race in which a longtime council member is being challenged, one Democrat is trying to knock off 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. Clarke has served on the council for 19 years, including eight as council president, and she unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1995.

"It is like an extended family to me," Clarke, 66, said of her district. "Believe me, it is a full-time job. In all my 19 years, I've never worked harder than in the last three. There's a lot going on in the city. ... E-mail has increased the communication back and forth between people.

"We get a couple hundred e-mails a day that we're responding to. Because the community is small, somehow there's more intense work back and forth between me and the citizens. ... I love it. It's like family. We have good days and bad days, but we're like family," Clarke said.

Clarke's Democratic challenger, Thomas Conradt, has not responded to requests for an interview.

The winner will face Republican Mark Newgent in the general election.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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