Incumbents in 3 western districts seek another term on City Council

The Baltimore Sun

In the City Council districts that flank Baltimore's western border, a diverse collection of neighborhoods encompassing Ashburton and Edmondson Village, Uplands and historic Dickeyville, all three incumbents are seeking another term.

8th District

In the 8th District, Councilwoman Helen L. Holton is battling three opponents in the Democratic primary, trying to represent the westernmost communities along Edmondson and Frederick avenues.

Holton, who is a recruitment and marketing manager as well as an investment adviser, said she spent a lot of her past term getting to know the territory that made up her turf - much of which was new to her after council districts were redrawn in 2004.

"I wanted to find out what investment had been made into that corridor that was meaningful and substantive," she said. "What I found was investment had been lacking, to say the least."

Holton said she has worked to improve Edmondson Avenue's streetscape and would like to do more to encourage development in nearby neighborhoods - first by having the city acquire properties there for redevelopment.

She said she is proud of helping find nearly $2 million to build the Edgewood Recreation Center, the city's first new center in years.

Candidate David Maurice Smallwood, a recreation coordinator for the state Department of Juvenile Services, said that in his Uplands neighborhood and across the district, people are concerned about public safety.

Smallwood pledged to be visible, to empower people and to get rid of the vacant homes that trouble the area.

Andre Manigault Mahasa, an attorney with the city public defender's office, said he would work to establish more recreation centers and job programs to try to steer young people from getting into trouble.

"They're going to get bored and they're going to commit crimes," said Mahasa, who also teaches criminal justice at Anne Arundel Community College.

Benjamin Barnwell Sr. could not be reached for comment.

A fourth Democratic opponent on the ballot, Darryl Anthony Jefferson Sr., dropped out and endorsed Holton.

The winner will face Republican Sean D. Cummings in the general election.

7th District

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway would like a second term in 7th District, an area that she said desperately needs economic development. She promised to work to bring in business.

"I hear a lot about crime and education, and those things are important, but people in my district don't have resources available in other areas," she said, talking about restaurants, entertainment, places to shop and grocery stores.

"If we want to retain residents, ... we're going to have to make some improvements so we can be competitive and appeal to those looking for a place to live."

John Holmes, an exterminator for the city school system, is making his second try for a City Council seat. He said the city needs more job opportunities and better housing.

"[Baltimore] has forgotten most of its citizens, and they are not being represented well," he said. "We need someone who will be tangible with the people to solve issues and problems."

Tony Asa, a paralegal who has run for office a number of times, said he has the creativity to come up with fresh ideas.

He said he thinks the city could make money by renovating boarded-up houses and holding the mortgages instead of selling the properties to developers. Asa also would expand the Health Department to include a clinic and a pharmacy and he would try to have "talent scouts" at community centers to counsel young people who show promise in skills such as acting and writing.

"It could greatly improve the future generations of the city," he said.

9th District

Councilwoman Agnes Welch, the second-longest-serving City Council member, is seeking her seventh term, hoping to "stabilize and revitalize the neighborhoods."

Welch said she is proud of the work she has done to bring affordable housing to Carrollton Ridge, helping an adult learning center find a new home and sponsoring the urban renewal ordinance for Poppleton.

She is eager for Coppin State University to rebuild on the Lutheran Hospital site and for affordable housing to be built on West Lanvale Street.

"It's been exciting," she said.

Welch also sponsored a task force on childhood obesity, a group that will soon recommend moves including equipping all new schools with gyms and playgrounds, parent/child nutrition classes and cutbacks on trans fats in restaurants and school cafeterias.

"It's so sad to see our children ill with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease," she said. "We can protect them if we start them early in good health programs."

Candidate Michael Eugene Johnson, a high school parent liaison for the city school system, calls the 9th "a fragile, fragile district."

"It can go almost any way," he warns, pointing to gentrification in certain parts and the "horrible condition" of others. "It's not about the current leadership as much as it's about where we want to go."

He said city officials let the old Lutheran Hospital sit too long without redevelopment, spoiling property values in the area.

He suggested having students enrolled in the city's vocational programs to use vacant housing for classroom assignments, a way to give young people construction experience while cleaning up needy neighborhoods.

"Almost like Habitat for Humanity," he said. "This is so simple it's frightening."

Another Democratic candidate, James Hugh Jones II, could not be reached for comment.

The winner will face Republican Michael John Bradley in the general election.

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