In a Canton auditorium in Baltimore's 1st Councilmanic District last night, residents heard the opinions of all nine men hoping to win their votes in the September City Council primaries.
The audience talked about a need for stricter housing codes, a greater police presence on the streets and improvements to the Eastern Avenue business corridor. The audience said that booming waterfront development is deteriorating the quality of life of Fells Point and Canton and that spiraling property taxes are forcing many homeowners out of Baltimore.
But the hottest issue was the desire for fresh leadership -- and it was the question that appeared toughest to answer for at least two of the candidates seated on the stage.
"If I could, I'd limit a council representative to three terms in office," said incumbent John A. Schaefer, seeking his fifth term.
"Why are you running again?" screamed someone from the audience.
"Do I have to answer that?" Mr. Schaefer asked the moderator. "Let me just say I would support a three-term limit."
Then came 86-year-old Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, who has been a councilman for a quarter of a century.
"I work every day, ladies and gentlemen," he yelled into the microphone. "I know many council people that come in once a week. My job is with the people. It's not with the bosses. If any of you have a problem, you call me, and I'll make a three-way call so you can tell the bosses off."
It was a response he had given many times in the discussion. When asked about the decline in business along Eastern Avenue, Mr. DiPietro said residents must be willing to confront business owners who allow garbage to build up on the properties. "I was walking to a business on Eastern Avenue to get my glasses fixed," he said. "And there was a hole in front, near a tree. And I hurt myself. Well, I went into that store and told the man, 'You S.B., why don't you put some dirt in that hole like you ought to.'"
And to keep students in school, he encouraged residents to confront truants and their parents. "Over near my house, they used to invite me to the school, but they haven't invited me in a couple of years," he said.
"But I used to go into the classroom and I'd give those kids hell. And I'd give their parents hell . . . because if the parents don't take care of their kids, then who will?"
By the end of the night, several members of the audience, including Mary Reagan of Upper Fells Point, decided it was time for some of the younger candidates on stage to take office.
L "They just have brighter ideas," she said. "Mimi's too old."