Biggest fight in the 4th is in the streets Housing, crime and jobs are the major political issues in the city's 4th District.

August 28, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff Raymond L. Sanchez contributed to this story.

For many years, the city's 4th Councilmanic District was a political war zone, with fiercely contested races for club endorsements and votes.

Today the only war in the 4th District is in the streets as children are killed in the cross fire of drug battles in the district's impoverished neighborhoods. The politicians show up later at the funerals.

The 1992 Democratic primary race has brought forth only three contenders -- George Wiles, Michael T. Pearson and Jeffrey A. Hubbard -- to challenge the three incumbents -- Agnes Welch, Sheila Dixon and Lawrence Bell.

All three contenders are little known outside their immediate neighborhoods and not likely to gather enough district-wide support to defeat the incumbents. No Republicans are running.

The challengers talk less about stealing political power from the incumbents than they talk of the desperate needs of the people in the 4th District, which stretches west and north from the city's center.

With an 86 percent black majority, the district includes some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, such as Sandtown-Winchester, Penn-North, Lower Park Heights and Walbrook, as well as black middle-class areas such as Ashburton and the white working-class neighborhoods of Hampden and Woodberry.

Challenger Jeffrey A. Hubbard is a soft spoken Maryland National Bank teller who grew up and still lives just off North Avenue in West Baltimore.

He is spending only $300 on a low-key campaign, which he says "is not about winning or losing. It's about making a contribution back to the community, trying to make a difference."

Hubbard, 28, talks of being a role model for black children in the hopes that they will see the wisdom in saving money in a bank rather than investing in expensive sneakers.

Another young politician, incumbent Lawrence Bell, was elected his first term four years ago when he was only 25. At the time, he said, the drug problem was the major political issue, so he sponsored bills strengthening the padlock laws, allowing police to lock up properties owned by convicted drug dealers.

Today, he says he views the district's problems more broadly. But people call him mostly about dirty alleys. They need jobs and better housing. He is working with the district's two other council members to form block-watch groups to battle drug dealers.

Incumbent Sheila Dixon, seeking a second term, said constituents call constantly looking for jobs and a place to live.

"My first year on the job I thought, 'I'm not an employment agency'," she said.

"Housing is the biggest problem. People trying to find better places to live, trying to get out of the [public housing] projects, or into Section 8 [subsidized housing]. Vacant houses and housing code violations are a problem."

But even more symbolic of the district's problems are the the calls Dixon gets from constituents about drug deals going down in their communities.

"People call City Hall to report drug houses, because they're afraid to call police directly," Dixon said.

The senior incumbent, Agnes Welch, running for her third term, has also found troubled neighborhoods in a sleepy political district as she walks door to door through West Baltimore.

"I don't feel the excitement of an election. But it might just be the heat," she said.

She receives the same kinds of calls that Dixon and Bell get.

"Sanitation, affordable housing -- everybody wants to be in a senior citizen center," she said.

Welch is helping some communities who get grant money to buy cellular telephones for plainclothes police so citizens can call them directly when they see drug-dealing.

Welch says she is most concerned about the murders in her district -- three in July alone this summer -- a bank teller, a Rosemont social work er and 6-year-old Tiffany Smith, who was caught in cross fire on a Rosemont sidewalk.

Another contender, George Wiles, the only white candidate, is ,, not well known outside the predominantly white parts of the newly constructed district.

But Wiles says he, too, is concerned about the bloodshed in the black communities.

"Every time somebody gets killed and that sort of thing you'll see the incumbents on TV saying, 'Oh, yeah, this is a bad situation.' That's all that's done. They just want to talk," he said.

The third challenger for a council seat, Michael T. Pearson, could not be reached for comment.

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