Nine candidates seek to replace outgoing councilwoman in West Baltimore

Whose endorsement will mater more in Baltimore's District 8: Helen Holton's, or Elijah Cummings'?

Retiring City Councilwoman Helen Holton sees "passion and compassion" in Kristerfer Burnett, and she believes he is the best person to represent the West Baltimore communities she has served for the past 20 years.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings prefers Reginald "Reggie" Fugett, calling him "part of a new generation of leadership for Baltimore."

Voters will have to decide between Burnett, Fugett and five other Democrats competing in the April 26 primary. Two Republicans are also running for the 8th District seat.

Holton, 55, who is not seeking another term, said the district faces challenges similar to many parts of the city: chronic drug use, a need for reliable mass transit and an aging population.

The district is a gateway to the city from Baltimore County along the western border, partially running along Liberty Heights Avenue to the north, Hilton Street to the east and Wilkins Avenue to the south.

It loops in historic areas such as Hunting Ridge and Ten Hills, and landmarks, including Leakin Park, Forest Park Golf Course and Loudon Park National Cemetery.

Holton said she looked for a candidate with a strong desire to serve the community and an ability to connect with residents using technology and old-fashioned means of communication.

Burnett, she said, "is more than equipped to meet the needs of the people. As a community organizer, he gets what it takes to get things done. He is young and energetic."

Burnett, 30, who lives in the Edmondson Village area, has spent his career as an organizer for groups focused on building stable communities and connecting residents to jobs with livable wages. He said he wants to help combat blight and crime, draw better investments to West Baltimore schools and offer more dynamic programs in recreation centers and more adult education classes.

"I have a strong understanding of what the community needs and what the community wants," said Burnett, who launched his campaign last April and visited the homes of 7,000 residents.

He said he also has helped organize expungement workshops for ex-offenders and neighborhood cleanups, and launch a farmers' market.

Burnett had about $46,700 on hand, according to his most recent filing.

Fugett had about $34,000. David Maurice Smallwood, a supervisor for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, had $6,000 on hand, and lawyer Russell A. Neverdon Sr. had about $11,000.

None of the other candidates have reported raising or spending money.

Fugett, 28, said he decided to run for City Council after last spring's unrest. He grew up in West Hills and maintained a home there while working in government relations for a California-based seafood company. He also worked as a constituent services aide for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

He said he wants to help establish more community schools and better organize parents to demand investment in classrooms and pre-kindergarten programs. Fugett said he will work for stronger community policing standards, better wages and vigorous vocational training and re-entry programs for ex-offenders.

"We need someone with fresh ideas," Fugett said.

Fugett comes from a well-known family. He is the son of former Washington Redskins tight end Jean Fugett and the brother-in-law of Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who married Fugett's sister, Audie. His uncle is the late Reginald F. Lewis, the namesake of the city's African-American museum.

Cummings said he believes Fugett would be a partner.

"Reggie has a plan to fund our public schools, reduce gun violence and raise incomes for working families," the congressman said in a statement. "Baltimore needs leaders like Reggie Fugett."

Smallwood, 54, of Uplands, said he has worked in the district for 30 years, including running recreation centers, advocating for the Red Line and raising children. He said that experience has allowed him to build relationships, and noted endorsements from Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks and state Sen. Lisa Gladden, both Baltimore Democrats.

Smallwood said he wants to create more job training opportunities, programs for mental health and others that would strengthen families and combat gang activity.

"I will put my advocacy work against anyone's," he said. "I am not a Johnny-come-lately. I've been here."

This is the fourth time he has run for the seat. He lost to Holton in 2011 by about 1,000 votes.

Neverdon, 48, is running for the council because "too many families out there are not OK."

He handles inmate grievances for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. A former military police officer, Neverdon worked as an attorney for 17 years. He ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for state's attorney in 2014.

He said he would "sign off on nothing" that comes before the council unless "the eighth district gets its share of the pot." He said he wants to unite the community and police officers, engage more parents in the education system and push for city workers to better respond to the needs of people in West Baltimore, from collecting trash to filling potholes.

Neverdon also pointed to his work in the city, saying he has offered free expungement seminars and helped coach tenants through problems with their landlords.

Other Democrats competing are Benjamin Barnwell Sr., 50, of Hunting Ridge, a pastor and nonprofit consultant; Rodney "Faraj"Leach, 27, of Edmondson Village, who works in accounting; and Dwayne "Diamond K" Williams, 42, of West Forest Park, an operations manager for a nonprofit that connects residents to health insurance. He also is a radio host who has worked in the music industry.

Republicans are Joseph Brown Jr., 58, of Ten Hills, who owns a commercial cleaning business, and Nakia Washington, 37, of Dickeyville, who works in economic development for a church.

Barnwell said he has trained addiction recovery coaches and helped design strategies for crime prevention and youth engagement. He is a community engagement consultant to nonprofits and pastor of New Creation Church of Jesus Christ. He's also active in various community groups.

The key to strengthening the district, he said, is a comprehensive and collaborative approach.

"It comes down to the need for strong leadership at a time when Baltimore has to face a lot of challenges," he said. "Baltimore is still in a healing process."

Leach said he can use his experience analyzing business budget deficits to look at the city's spending, including for police and transportation. He has an eight-page policy plan on his website that calls for property tax breaks for police officers and city workers, revamping neighborhood watches, establishing gated communities and adding street lights.

He said he also wants to evaluate the city's charter to make sure the council has the tools to deal with blight and public safety.

"Everyone has a vision," he said. "I have experience turning things around."

Williams said his unique experience as an administrator and music executive puts him in a position to bring people of different backgrounds together. He said he also wants more audits, more disciplined spending and a state-of-the-art education system.

"As a city and district, we need better management and accountability," he said. "We need the next generation to step up."

Brown said the two biggest issues facing the district are unemployment and crime, which he said are tied. As a council person, he said, he would bring people together to work on communitywide solutions.

Washington said she wants to bridge a gap in the 8th District and believes the council should have more female members. She also said she wants to help seniors feel safer and work to build collaborations between the city, nonprofits and churches.

"There is a great divide within District 8 that is not being filled," she said. "There are prominent areas and areas that are not doing very well."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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