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In Baltimore’s District 5, a question of representation in a fragmented community

Winning a majority of the vote in a crowded Democratic primary in 2016, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer campaigned on a slogan of “We Can Do Better,” promising to enhance efficacy in his native Northwest Baltimore.

Since then, Schleifer, 31, said he has formed an even broader base of support from voters who appreciate his attentiveness to daily minutiae.

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“I get a lot of stuff done,” Schleifer, the youngest incoming councilman of the last cycle, said. “The common theme is bringing people together. And we don’t just talk about it — we do it.”

The freshman council member points to his “community cabinet,” comprised of presidents and board members from every neighborhood association in his district, as evidence of this commitment. He’s also streamlined constituent services by adding a response tab to his website where users can log complaints for him and his staff to review and sort into a database.

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In four years’ time, he has also taken over as chair of the city’s high-profile public safety committee, a position last held by Council President Brandon Scott, which gives him some oversight of the Baltimore Police Department.

But in racially and ethnically segregated District 5 — a majority black region with a densely populated enclave of Orthodox and religious Jews that sits north of Northern Parkway — some argue Schleifer has governed with only a portion of constituents in mind.

Chris Ervin, a Howard Park resident since 2003, hopes to unseat the incumbent this June. Ervin ran in 2016 and earned about 11% of the vote to Schleifer’s 33% in that seven-person race. Now, they will face off in a two-person contest.

Ervin, 52, argues that Schleifer’s leadership has largely benefitted the Jewish community while the groups south of Northern Parkway continue to suffer from high crime rates, blight and few employment opportunities.

“There has not been any intentional effort to erase that imaginary line and to address the stigma,” he said. “We should all agree that no community or communities should receive more special attention than others.”

But Schleifer’s steady fundraising may dilute his opponent’s message. He raised about $16,500 in the last filing period, and was already sitting on a war chest of over $300,000 from his previous run. He now has more than a quarter of a million dollars to spend.

Ervin has about $1,500 left in cash on hand after raising $3,378 in the last filing period.

Still, he believes he can do better than his opponent in turning out voters who may feel overlooked.

“The seat is for a city representative who is supposed to be most ardent advocate for the district at all levels,” Ervin said.

Ervin and those who support him have criticized Schleifer on social media as well as in op-ed submissions. He said Schleifer has not made an effort to engage him or his supporters.

In response, Schleifer said Ervin’s complaints with his work represent a minority view in the district, not that of the majority.

“We have all the data — we focus on where the needs are,” he said. “My focus and my record speaks for itself.”

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Ervin or Schleifer will face lone Republican candidate Maria Mandela Vismale in November’s general election.

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