Things are quiet in the 5th District this year -- quiet enough to hear grumbles over the purr of a well-oiled political machine.
Few observers question the strength of incumbents Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Iris G. Reeves and Vera P. Hall, all Democrats who won handily in 1987.
They have name recognition, political endorsements and the good will that comes of constituent service. But while many praise their work over the last four years, there is talk from opponents that the three react slowly to major problems in the district's poorer sections.
And others say the incumbents could be more aggressive in addressing problems in the district.
"The three of them have done an adequate job responding when they're called upon," said Johnny Clinton, owner of Park Heights Barber Shop and president of the Pimlico Merchants Association. "But they don't really go out to the problems head-on."
The smoldering perception of an aloof, imperial team appears to be the only weak spot in the Hall-Reeves-Spector machine. There is no doubt they are reaping the benefits of incumbency in a district with some of the highest-voting precincts in the city.
Two of the three current council members -- Ms. Reeves and Ms. Spector -- originally filled council seats left vacant by their husbands. But Ms. Spector went on to win re-election three times on her own, and Ms. Reeves has been re-elected twice, getting the most votes of any council candidate in the city in 1987.
Ms. Hall, an educator and resident of Forest Park, is a longtime Democratic Party activist and currently vice chair of the Maryland State Democratic Party.
Each of the incumbents can cite individual achievements in the past four years.
Ms. Hall emphasizes her work as head of the council's Housing Committee. She was behind state legislation intended to promote private purchase of vacant housing by the city to lift liens on property that might otherwise have gone unsold.
Ms. Spector cites her work as chair of the council's Judiciary Committee, which oversaw the politically sensitive redistricting bill. She sponsored legislation, later passed, to provide trash pickups for condominiums, and to let the city collect ambulance fees from patients with health insurance.
And Ms. Reeves, who chairs the council's Education and Human Resources Committee, says her committee worked with the school administration on such issues as school security, rezoning of school districts and the multi-cultural curriculum.
In the last election, the three candidates ran as a unified team, and the close working relationship has become a hallmark of their political style ever since.
This year, the incumbents stress that they are part of an inseparable "team," and seek support from their own backers for other members of the team.
That strategy -- and the lack of a burning districtwide issue -- has paid off handsomely.
The incumbents have racked up endorsements from most of the district's most important political clubs, including NDC-5, the Westside Democratic Club, Dolfield Democratic Club, the Five-In-Five Democratic Club and the Vanguard Democratic tTC Club.
Of the five Democratic challengers, only two -- Isaiah C. Fletcher and Michael E. Johnson -- have mounted aggressive campaigns. But observers question whether either of them will be able to unseat an incumbent.
"I don't think there is much of a challenge," said Russell V. Kelly, board president of the Northwest Baltimore Corp., an umbrella group for many community organizations in the district. "The incumbents are solidly together and they have name recognition. The field of candidates is weak."
"They had a very strong coalition going into the last election," noted Chris Costello, president of the Westside Democratic Club. "It is very difficult to oppose a well-established candidate."
But there are some cracks in that smooth facade, born of the economic and social divisions that run through the district, one of Baltimore's most diverse.
The 5th District is home to the traditionally Jewish neighborhoods that border Baltimore County and are the base of Ms. Spector's support. It also includes the settled upper-middle-class communities of Mount Washington and Homeland.
But the district also encompasses lower Park Heights, a mostly black, low-income area where drugs are rampant and poor families crowd into big, old homes now subdivided into rental apartments.
In the north-central section of the district, particularly in the Park Heights area, Northern Parkway forms an unofficial line of demarcation.
In the settled neighborhoods to the north, "they're talking about revitalization, maintaining the structure for people who are there," said Mr. Clinton, of the Pimlico Merchants Association.
But in the economically depressed neighborhoods to the south, including Lower Park Heights and Pimlico, issues of crime and public safety are day-to-day concerns.
And in those areas, the incumbents have shown little leadership, according to their two main challengers.