Baltimore’s 8th district is a microcosm of problems facing many cities across America
MEGAN SHERMAN, TRNN REPORTER: It’s election year here in Baltimore, Maryland, and campaigning efforts are heating up as candidates running for city council and the mayor’s office reach out to potential voters and districts ahead of November’s elections. As the race unfolds here in Baltimore’s 8th District, candidates will need to address a number of concerns affecting their constituents and communities. Baltimore and the 8th District grapple with distressing social indicators in the areas of health, education, crime, and unemployment. Baltimore had an average of 258 homicides a year over the past decade. And while crime rates have recently declined, the city remains among the top five most violent cities in the country. Two thousand and ten census data on the 8th District’s Edmondson Village neighborhood reveal that more than 30 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Eighth District neighborhood resident Anthony Yerby would like to see elected officials allocate more resources for young people in Baltimore, to alleviate some of the problems surrounding youth disenfranchisement and delinquency.
ANTHONY YERBY, BALTIMORE RESIDENT, 8TH DISTRICT: Just make sure that all the kids [incompr.] everything they need to make sure that they stay out of trouble [incompr.] that way that they can grow up so they can be successful [incompr.] better schools, better teachers, parks, everything, clean neighborhoods, housing, better parents, programs.
SHERMAN: The question is whether residents’ concerns over how the city is run will shift the direction of the elections and campaigning efforts. The 8th District is just one example where a longstanding incumbent in the city council is being challenged by a new face with new ideas for the community. Standing Councilwoman Helen Holton will face off against several contenders at the polls in November, with the young and recent college graduate Dayvon Love gaining momentum. Helen Holton was first elected in 1995 and is now running for her fifth consecutive term on Baltimore city’s council. She says her tenure in office has granted her the experience and understanding of local Baltimore politics necessary to address some of the pressures facing the 8th District and Baltimore.
HELEN HOLTON, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILWOMAN, 8TH DISTRICT: Given the state of our nation, the state of our city, the state of the world, now is the time when experience matters. Now is a time when we need seasoned professionals who know what to do, how to do it, how to get it done. I’ve spent years building relationships at the local, state, and federal level, good relationships that are of benefit and value to the citizens here in Baltimore city.
SHERMAN: Councilwoman Holton was recently caught up in a corruption scandal that saw the 2010 ouster of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon after being found guilty of fraudulent misappropriation. Helen Holton was also accused of bribery as a part of a probe investigating the public officials’ financial ties with developers. The charges against Holton were later dismissed, and she does not see her past legal troubles interfering with her reelection campaign.
HOLTON: For me, it’s over. The high court of Maryland, the Maryland Court of Appeals, has ruled that it should not have been, and it has been dismissed. And I’m moving on with doing the work that I’ve continued to do since that time, and that’s serving the residents of the 8th District.
SHERMAN: Eighth District council candidate Dayvon Love could turn out to be a serious contender for incumbent Councilwoman Holton. Love served as president of the progressive Baltimore policy think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. He is framing himself as a new face for a growing movement in the city, seeking to challenge and address existing political structures and longstanding social disparities.
DAYVON LOVE, CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE, 8TH DISTRICT: I see myself as an extension of a movement. So it’s not just me going into office, but all those people who see themselves as a part of this movement, those who are interested in stopping the construction of the youth jail, those who are interested in providing more resources and support to the educational system in Baltimore city, those interested in, you know, challenging the criminal justice system in general and the racial disparities and socioeconomic disparities. I’m an extension of that movement in this city, right? And so it’s going to be really important for me as a candidate to stay connected to that base. And that base is what’ll energize me and give me the strength that I need to be able to, you know, surpass the bureaucratic nature of the system that oftentimes impedes the progress of progressive council people.
SHERMAN: It will be a challenge for candidates to mobilize voters to come out to the polls in a city with historically low participation rates in local elections. Many residents feel disillusioned and mistrustful of local politicians, following years of neglect in neighborhoods across the city. Eighth District resident Tony Kennedy would like to see local politicians more engaged with the community to address concerns shared by constituents like the number of vacant and abandoned houses present across the city.
TONY KENNEDY, BALTIMORE RESIDENT, 8TH DISTRICT: The politicians aren’t even coming to the neighborhoods, looking at the neighborhoods. I would love to see people in those houses. You’ve got–what is it?–47,000 vacant houses in the city, and then you have, you know, people who are homeless. If you go down to Fallsway, you see all these people lined up, you know, for homeless shelters. Put those people in houses.
SHERMAN: The different strategies that candidates like Love and Holton have proposed for dealing with the abundance of vacant housing in the district reflect a larger discussion in the city of Baltimore over what should be the direction and nature of urban development.
HORTON: I continue to push for eradication of vacant housing and trying to get more of those houses demolished that are become–that are real eyesores to residents, as well as looking at redevelopment efforts.
LOVE: We need to creatively use the space that has been, unfortunately, provided by the vacant housing that exists in the city, right? There are over 47,000 vacant properties. In this district there are about 1,900 vacant vacant properties that exist. We can use that space creatively for urban gardening. We can make it cheap property for those who can use that space, homeowners that are struggling, that are just getting on their feet. College students who’ve recently graduated can be given those properties pretty cheap. And also we can talk about things like daycare. I mean, there are all kinds of businesses that will benefit from the cheap properties that the city is just sitting on, trying to make profit off of it.
SHERMAN: Candidates must deal with the consequences of decades of institutionalized segregation, real estate market manipulation, and a bigoted public policy that essentially made an apartheid city out of Baltimore. Will candidates adequately address the question of power and ownership in Baltimore, where educational institutions, the city, and real estate developers own and control the future of vast numbers of vacant properties? It remains to be seen whether Baltimore candidates like councilwoman Helen Holton and Dayvon Love will be able to convince constituents that they have the desire and capacity to develop a public policy in the interests of the people living in the community. This is Megan Sherman reporting from Baltimore with The Real News.
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