3rd District: Royal Farms, Northwood Shopping Center subjects of debate among candidates

The 3rd District, which Robert Curran has held tight since 1995 (when he took over for his brother, Mike, who retired from the City Council after 18 years), is another open seat with plenty of viable candidates. There are nine contenders—eight Democrats and one Green. Of the eight Democrats, four have raised significant money and/or have some name recognition or a political track record. Two have a lot of money and backing.

Ryan Dorsey is one of them. The 34-year-old works at the audio store his grandfather founded and says installing high-end AV systems has helped make his reputation around the District as a hard-working, honest person who thinks creatively and gets things done.

"It's not so much about being a great expert on any one subject," he says. "It's working with people." He says Baltimore should be leading the charge on racial justice, a $15/hour minimum wage, a working inclusionary housing policy, and liveable, walkable "complete streets" that are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as cars.

As of Jan. 12, Dorsey reported raising $81,000 for his first political campaign. That's an impressive sum for a neophyte, and the number of donors—500 or more—also speaks well of him. "I'm the only person in my race who is actually from my district," says Dorsey, who grew up here. "I'm dedicated to not having any other job."

If elected, Dorsey says he'll continue to oppose the Royal Farms "suburban-style" gas station proposed for the 5900 block of Harford Road in Hamilton. The project—12 pumps and a store—galvanized neighbors in opposition after an initial neighborhood association vote seemed to show support. Curran backed the development three years ago and was never able to live that down.

Jermaine Jones has almost as much campaign cash as Dorsey. The business manager for Laborer's Union Local reported raising $74,000 by Jan. 12, but he's also running in his second campaign, having fallen short (he received 143 out of about 4300 votes cast) in a bid for the 12th District City Council seat in 2011. His move to run in the neighboring district has raised eyebrows.

"I do live in the district," he says. "I live in Hamilton now. My family owns a house in the 12th District because I helped revitalize an entire block. And they shot an episode of 'The Wire' on that block. We rebuilt 10 houses. My grandmother owns one now."

Jones has the backing of the BEST Democratic Club, a newly-organized group that has already helped put Cory McCray in the House of Delegates and just missed electing Shannon Sneed to replace City Council member Warren Branch in the 13th City Council district (Sneed is trying again this year). With sharp orange "Team Jones" T-shirts and an impressive ground campaign, Jones is promising to jump-start "stalled construction projects" in the district to create jobs.

He doesn't mean the Royal Farms. "I testified against the Royal Farms because every community association around it was against it," he says. "The community has a right to be against gas pumps."

But Jones is very much for the Northwood Shopping Center, another controversial project that has pitted neighbors against each other-in part because of a proposal to prohibit Morgan State University student housing on site.

"The developer and community can't get together and come to terms," Jones says. He thinks he can help.

George VanHook Sr., says the Royal Farms fiasco was "classic poor communication" in which a disengaged citizenry was almost overwhelmed by corporate lobbying. Jones can't build that citizen engagement, VanHook contends, because "he is a prime example of someone who moved to a neighborhood that he had no real relationship with, in order to become a City Council representative, and there should be a law that says you can't do that."

VanHook, a retired state worker and former member of the Baltimore City Public School Board, is perhaps most famous for calling former schools CEO Andres Alonso's school closing plan "neo-slavery" in 2010. He ran for City Council in 2011, losing to Curran, and some of his campaign signs still grace buildings in the district.

VanHook, who has raised little money for this race (about $9,400), says he would push for the city to contribute more money to the schools, and try to facilitate more formal and informal relationships between businesses in the district and Morgan State University. He'll be always in-touch with the neighborhoods, he says.

"I will create a counsel of citizens," he says. "Ideally they would be part of various community associations. I would meet with the counsel every month, and we would discuss the state of our community strategically."

VanHook says he wants to "prevent another Freddie Gray" by pouring resources into education and youth development, "but it doesn't mean I want to ignore senior citizens. I'm 62 myself."

He touts his experience—35 years in government—saying his opponents have maybe one-seventh of that. VanHook also says he raised his family in the district, contrasting himself with some he regards as carpet-baggers.

"There is some reason to believe that Marques Dent did the same thing [as Jones]. And I like Marques; he's got a good track record, running in another office. All you have to do is look where they were in the last election, and it was not here."

Dent, for his part, insists he's as much a part of the 3rd District as anyone. "My residence is 4143 Eierman Avenue," he says. "I've been there for about 18 months."

That's about how long the 31 year old has held his current job, which is in Enterprise Tech Services management with the State of Maryland. He was formerly a legislative aide to State Sen. Keiffer Mitchell and is an Air Force veteran. His campaign reported more than $27,000 in early January.

"I bring the kind of leadership and experience that no one else can bring to City Hall," Dent says.

Dent is also a longtime baseball coach in the District and he teaches youth and adults computer skills on the side, doing business as The D.E.N.T. Group. "Everything is free to the community," he says. "I used my own money to fund it."

State tax records show Dent's principal residence as 1509 E. Chase Street, a house that has been in foreclosure and has been listed for sale, on and off, for about a year. The asking price is $200,000 and, according to the ad, the house comes with seven flat screen TVs.

Dent doesn't want to talk about it.

"That serves as a rental property," he says. "Yes, and it is for sale. And my realtor and my lawyer is handling all that."

Candidate Alicia Joynes wants to talk about youth development. She says she'd focus on that, and ask the many mom-&-pop business owners to commit to taking on interns and young workers in order to develop them as citizens and workers. "The initiative is a program I want to do called Rise," she says. "A lot of times, we focus on children in the high school ages. We have to teach children earlier about how to manage money and how to be responsible."

The 30-year-old former aide to State Sen. Dolores Kelly (D-10th) has for two years served as the President of the Perring Loch Community Association. Joynes works at the Family League of Baltimore and is in her first bid for public office. "It has been a journey," she says of the campaign, for which she had raised about $6,200 as of early January.

In October of 2014, Joynes was charged with shoplifting from a J. C. Penney store. She received probation before judgment, and her unsupervised probation ended shortly before she declared her candidacy.

"That one was me taking, I don't want to say the rap for somebody else," Joynes says. "I was with someone and something happened, and it came back on both of us."

Joynes eventually says she was with a girl she is mentoring. The girl, who was under 18, swiped some clothes for her own child and handed the bag to Joynes while she bent to tie her shoe. Then store security arrived. "After being made aware of what she had done (and now fully aware that I was holding the merchandise), I pleaded with the security team not to call the cops because we would cooperate and to release her in fear that her and her child (who was not with us) would be put into the foster care system or worse due to her situation at the time," Joynes writes in a follow-up email. "In an effort to protect the minor most importantly and the jobs of the security team all paperwork surrounding the case will only have my name on it."

Kenyata Clinton, the security person who filed the case, says she doesn't remember the specific circumstances and would not be able to discuss it publicly if she did, but that it is plausible that the girl's name was omitted: "It was up to the supervisor on a case by case basis," she says.

Joynes, who runs a non-profit mentoring program called Beautiful Butterflies, has also faced wage garnishments and traffic charges for driving an uninsured car with an altered license plate and a suspended registration.

"What I would tell voters is that, I'm not perfect but I am transparent about my imperfections," she writes. "The garnishment is in connection with the uninsured motorist fee. Driving uninsured is not an ideal situation because it carries a high level amount of risk. Having to be garnished taught me the skills of financial literacy such as budgeting, saving and being fiscally responsible, skills that I wish I had learned earlier in life as opposed to being an adult, which is why I advocate for financial literacy for youth."

Also running in the Democratic Primary are Attorney Steven T. Mitchell, hardware store owner Richard Riha, and Democratic State Central Committee member Beatrice Brown, none of whom responded to City Paper's emails or seem to be actively campaigning. Andreas G. "Spilly" Spilliadis is the Green Party Candidate who will face the winner in the general election.

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