Shorty after he decided to run for a delegate seat in Baltimore's 44th Legislative District, Kevin A. Brooks approached state Sen. Verna L. Jones and asked if she would be interested in forming a ticket.
Jones, 50, seeking a second term but seeing no need to align herself politically with anyone, let alone a newcomer, laughed off the idea.
"We did have a conversation, but no. Why would I want to run with him? I have no idea what his motivation is other than some self-serving type of thing," Jones said recently from her campaign headquarters on Eutaw Street. "We have enough selfish individuals in there."
Brooks, 35, an associate minister at Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church and former assistant principal, says his motivation lies in a desire to improve the educational system and to battle drug activity in his district. Brooks says he is not angry over the Jones slight and decided to run for Senate primarily because she was going to run unopposed.
"No one was challenging this person," Brooks said. "It was a numbers game. But outside of the numbers game, how do you vote for her again with the BGE issue, the schools issue, the housing issue, the jobs issue?
"The people in the district do not know her. No one knows who Verna Jones is."
Jones could point to her previous election victory four years ago over then incumbent Clarence M. Mitchell IV as evidence to the contrary. Jones, then a one-term delegate, beat Mitchell by a 2-1 margin, unseating a member of one of the families that had dominated politics in the district for decades.
With less than two weeks left before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, Jones finds herself the favorite this time around, having raised close to $300,000, dwarfing Brooks' total of about $20,000.
Jones, though, is taking the challenge seriously. She says she will lean heavily on her record, claiming to having helped pumped "$24 million into the district."
The 44th District has some of the city's largest redevelopment plans, including the Hopkins Biotech Project. The $1 billion initiative is expected to generate 6,000 jobs and link biotech firms with Hopkins researchers. The Uplands Development Project is also expected to build hundreds of low-income houses. Jones has supported legislation for small and minority businesses, and she serves on the Budget and Tax Committee.
"That translated me into being able to garner resources," Jones said.
While big business may be thriving, Brooks takes issue with the quality of life in the district. Brooks says drug activity afflicts the community, including the neighborhood in which he and Jones live.
The 44th District cuts a swath from the west side of the city to the east side and includes neighborhoods such as Madison Park, Bolton Hill, Druid Heights, Upton, Sandtown-Winchester, Harlem Park and Seton Hill. Brooks and Jones live in Madison Park. "It's open-air drug markets," Brooks said. "It's boarded-up houses. Verna Jones lives right on the corner of blocks with vacant homes. Can't she at least be doing something? You go to any other elected official, they take care of their homes and neighborhood first."
Said Jones, "I've been working with [Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm]. I've been working with a community building network. I've stayed in the district to address the issues instead of going out and ignoring what's happening around the corner from me."
Brooks is even more critical of the education system. He calls the district's public schools subpar and says he'll probably send his kids to private school.
Jones said she wants the schools to partner more with the major employers in the district.
"There are seven hospitals in the district, and they need to come to the table a little bit more than they are coming," Jones said.
The House race features all three incumbents, Dels. Ruth M. Kirk, Jeffrey A. Paige and Keith E. Haynes, running for re-election.
Kirk, seeking her seventh term, says if she wins, it will be her last term.
"I'd like to train some young person to replace me," Kirk, 76, said. "But young people, they want to party. You got to work in the community.
"I'm interested in creating jobs. Too many young people are standing on the corner."
Paige is seeking his third term, while Haynes is trying for his second.
Eight other Democrats are seeking House seats. They are Arlene B. Fisher, president of the Lafayette Square Community Association; former Baltimore City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes; community activist Anthony McCarthy; businessman and former press aide to Gov. Parris N. Glendening Steven E. Gilliard; community activist Jeremy E. Skinner; businessman Wesley Wood; Richard M. Parker and Tavon Nathaniel Pope.
Stukes, a former chairman of the City Council's education and labor subcommittee, lost his bid for re-election in 2003 after 13 years representing the old 6th District.
McCarthy has been politically active for more than 10 years, hosting a radio show and working as a reporter for the Afro-American and Baltimore Times.
"When I look at the three incumbents, I see three very nice and capable individuals, but I don't see strong leadership," McCarthy said. "We're in dire need of strong leadership to deal with the employment problem."
There are no Republican candidates for the House and just one for the Senate. Sameerah S. Muhammad, owner of the Bistro Restaurant on South Arlington Avenue, is seeking her first political office. She had raised $100 through the filing period that ended Aug. 15.