In the first of six City Council candidates' debates this month, three women incumbents faced six male challengers in a forum that centered on arresting flight from the city and improving 5th District neighborhoods across Northwest Baltimore.
The forum Wednesday night at the Forest Park Senior Citizen Center attracted about 60 people to listen to nine candidates exchange views on schools, crime, city revenue, billboards and blight.
FOR THE RECORD - An article on a City Council candidates' forum in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly identified 5th District Democratic candidate Joseph Church as Frank Church. The same article wrongly implied that Republican candidate Sanford Horn favored billboards anywhere in the district. Horn told the forum he believes that billboards are a "blight on neighborhoods." The Sun regrets the errors
Running for the three seats are seven Democrats and two Republicans. The Republicans will automatically appear on November's general election ballot, along with three Democrats selected in the Sept. 14 primary. The district has 55,000 voters, 47,000 of whom are Democrats.
Republican Peter Dubyoski, 36, presented himself as a "new face" and a "stay-at-home dad." He drew applause by suggesting more camera surveillance of street drug transactions.
A popular refrain, voiced at one point by Democrat Morris Davis, 36, a correctional officer, was: "Let's not lose Baltimore City to Baltimore County! Lower Park Heights should be as clean as Upper Park Heights." Davis said he favored allowing gambling and raising baseball ticket prices by $1 as ways to raise revenue for the ailing tax base.
The 5th District is the only one with three women City Council members, who are all Democrats. Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, 63, has served since she ran for her late husband's seat in 1977. Serving their first terms are Helen Holton, 38, an accountant, and Stephanie Rawlings, 29, a lawyer and daughter of state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, House Appropriations Committee chairman.
The three women presented a united front, emphasizing their collective experience and connections. "You won't find a group of incumbents with stronger ties to the State House," Rawlings said.
Their position as incumbents was targeted by Democrat Antonio Asa. "No matter what the issue is, we hear, `We're working on it,' " said Asa, 45, a dean for a Bible college.
Democrat Pat Burns, 35, who works as an investor and real estate agent, emerged as the high-technology candidate, promising to be available around the clock through a Web site. He also said schools in the next century should be linked to the Internet.
Sanford Horn, 32, a Republican candidate who works as a journalist in McLean, Va., proposed a radical solution for city schools: that "privatization be examined."
On the issue of where billboards are placed, Horn said, "Business is business. Billboards are good revenue."
Democrat Frank Church, 66, a retired businessman who joked that at his age he should be "riding into the sunset," said neighborhoods could help each other by strengthening community association networks.
The room fell quiet when a woman -- who declined to give her name -- asked, "How many of you have ever seen an open-air drug market? I went to a funeral today of someone with a drug overdose. We can't get rid of [the drug scourge] with just words."
Holton said she favored "treatment on demand" for drug addicts as a means to reduce crime, and $1-a-house homesteading as a remedy for blight.
At the end, candidates were asked to sum up their thoughts about the city in 15 words or fewer. Two succeeded in meeting the limit: Horn and Spector, who said she was dedicated to making the city a good place "where you work, where you play, where you live."
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, which plans forums in the other five city districts.