"Get it in writing!" yells Ed Marcinko, a retired DEA agent who jumped into the race to be a full-time council member—the only one in the race, he insists (even though several others make the same claim). "To me it's political talk until you sign a pledge!"
Baltimore's 1st Councilmanic District may be the city's richest, including Canton, Fells Point and Little Italy along with Highlandtown and other neighborhoods on the Southeast waterfront. People here demand service, and Jim Kraft, who is running for Circuit Court Judge, has mostly delivered, working on environmental issues along with constituents' concerns about illegal construction, busted water mains and crime.
Marcinko wants to cut "minor privilege fees" for small business, saying his father, who owned a barber shop, took his barber's pole down rather than pay the annual fee the city charges for any structures that intrude on the public right-of-way.
He's also a big proponent of saving Fells Point from a new zoning law that would allow taller buildings. "I signed a pledge on that too," Marcinko says. "My opponents say different."
With about $17,600 raised by January, Marcinko has enough cash to make a credible run. But he's by no means in the lead in the money race.
Zeke Cohen, a 30-year-old former Teach For America veteran, had raised more than $132,000 through Jan. 12. If elected, he says, "I will not remain executive director" of The Intersection, the non-profit youth leadership foundation he founded five years ago. "I would continue to advise the organization," he adds.
The Intersection (which pays Cohen a bit more than he'd earn as a City Council member), teaches community organizing skills to high school students and helps them develop a new project each year. Most recently his students have advocated for businesses to create 235 youth jobs—one for each person murdered in Baltimore in 2013.
"I've been here in Baltimore since I got here to Goucher [College] and I haven't left," says Cohen. "I have a proven track record to be able to identify a problem, develop a solution, and get results. There are a lot of good people running but I do question whether they have been able to accomplish things on the ground here in Baltimore City."
Cohen says if elected he would emphasize early childhood education, annual audits of city agencies, more job opportunities for city residents, and a better climate for small business. He thinks police need to come from Baltimore City, and live here. "Not to denigrate the officers," he says, "it is frightening and shameful that 80 percent of our officers don't live in Baltimore City."
Scott Goldman is a an Army Reserve officer in the Judge Advocate General corps. He served as a mediator and lawyer in Afghanistan, and thinks that experience will help him build bridges among Baltimore's complex and disparate communities if elected to the City Council. "In Afghanistan, and throughout my army career, how you solve problems is very practical," he says. "Someone asks for help, you figure out how to get it done."
With $131,000 in his campaign coffers as of January, Goldman has the means to run a disciplined and professional campaign.
Like Marcinko, he says minor privilege fees are a big problem in the district. "It's a tax that comes every year," he says. "You have a bay window on the second floor? That's $200 a year—whether you designed the house that way or whether someone else did." He says he'd push to make such fees a one-time expense for home-owners.
Goldman says there's an intersection near his home that is dangerous to pedestrians—he'd fix that, and try to get Public Works to become more responsive to water main breaks. Little things like this make the difference between a growing city and a shrinking one, says Goldman, who is married to a doctor and has a 10-month-old son.
"In some neighborhoods it's crime," says Goldman, who pledges to be a full-time City Council member. "In some it's taxes, in some it's parking. It struck me that they're all tied to the larger sense that the city isn't going in the right direction. There's this anxiety."
Mark Edelson knows from anxiety. In 1999 his parents sold their hardware store and moved him and his sister from South Africa to Georgia. His new high school in Marietta "wasn't the most enlightened community for an immigrant Jew," he says in his lilting accent.
Now a lawyer with a family of his own, "I'm not sure if anyone [in the race] is as optimistic and hopeful as I am," says Edelson, who has raised more than $127,000 in his first campaign for public office. "This is why my first and most important issue is public transportation. I think we are on the cusp of a entrepreneurial renaissance in Baltimore."
Edelson says he knows how to fight hard as well. He was co-counsel in a lead paint case against the city that took years to win. "It was one of those where you're not getting paid hourly," he says. "Just fighting and fighting with a hope."
As a newcomer to politics, Edelson scored a coup when Colleen Martin-Lauer agreed to advise his campaign and raise funds. Martin-Lauer, a devastatingly effective campaign operative, broke with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after last year's riots, hastening the mayor's decision not to stand for re-election.
Edelson says 85 percent of the money his campaign has raised is from local donors, and he bristles at the suggestion that Martin-Lauer is the main reason for his fund-raising success.
"Everything I raised, I had to raise from scratch," he says. "So I take some offense at the narrative. For the first months, every single call is a cold-call. I knew nobody. Nobody!
"I will say this: I've done a tremendous amount of work."
Pastor Mark Parker of the Breath of God Lutheran Church says he knows a lot of people, having served the community for nearly seven years building the church up in the shadow of the existing Saint Paul Lutheran Church. "I'm the only candidate running who is raising a family here and has kids in public schools," he says—not that he'd throw shade on his rivals.
"There are a lot of good candidates running, there are a lot of smart guys, and they're dedicated," Parker says. "The challenge, right, especially in a Democratic primary, especially with a good chunk of people who are fairly progressive—we're not going to differ much on policy—you really look at 'who can I trust, who do I think will represent me and listen.'"
Parker, who had raised about $33,000 as of January, says that person is him. He'll listen and understand in English or Spanish.
Sean P. Flanagan jumped into the race late, and so had no money raised by the last filing deadline. The Canton resident (he formerly headed the Canton Community Association) has been active at the Liquor Board and helped raise money to reopen the Canton library branch.
Three Republicans are also running, and news outlets have speculated that the winner may have a shot in the general election, as the district broke for Governor Hogan in his election last year.
Liz Copeland, who is deputy director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, was a Democrat appointed to the Liquor Board by former Governor Martin O'Malley, but changed to Republican, she has said, as she watched the Democratic Party drift left. She had $4,600 in her campaign as of January, $1,000 of which came from William Blatt, who chairs the Akoben Foundation, a relatively new non-profit on whose board Copeland serves. She is for community policing and funding "private security in neighborhoods."
Matthew McDaniel, 27, is the second Republican in the race. He's running against corruption and is in favor of transparency, lower taxes, and safer streets. He has raised $5,275, the largest single donation being $800 from Carole Ann McDaniel of Mt. Airy.
Jennifer Susan Dudley is a school guidance counselor. She has said her top priority is increasing police coverage of the district's neighborhoods.