7th District: Millennial newcomers fight for Mosby's vacant seat

It's a cloudy, chilly Saturday in March and Baltimore City Council candidate Jamar Day is knocking on doors along Madison Avenue, near Dovecote Café. Day says he's been at this long enough to know that the dreary weather means not as many people will be out—and they might be more reluctant to open their doors.

When he does see people out on the street, he introduces himself and asks what they think are the most pressing needs in the 7th District.

"Crime and jobs," says one woman out walking her small dog. She answers before he can finish the question.

Day, 27, is part of a group of young would-be politicians who are looking to bring a breath of fresh air to City Hall. They call themselves the New City Council.

"Most of us are in the millennial age range of 21 to 38 and we've decided that for too long Baltimore City has been hijacked politically by certain families and certain individuals, and if you weren't pretty much born into the hierarchy you wouldn't be allowed into those settings and social scenes," says Day. "We're not coming in to create a ruckus but we're coming in to disturb the norms and let them know that we do have a centralized presence here in Baltimore."

Day hasn't held an elected office, but he does have some experience working in local government. In 2015 he served as a neighborhood liaison to the Baltimore City Council President's office.

He is just one of 13 candidates looking to fill the seat left vacant by City Council member Nick Mosby's mayoral run. Also in the race is Republican candidate Tamara Purnell. Representing for the Democrats are Antonio Asa, Marshall Bell, Kenneth Church, Kerry Davidson, Sheila Davis, David McMillan, Leon Pinkett III, Ahmed Royalty, Shawn Tarrant, and Westley West.

He already has some issues in mind that he'd like to tackle, were he to get into office. He speaks passionately about education—as former Dean of Students at Cross Country Elementary, it's a subject he knows a lot about.

"Our schools are in horrible condition in Baltimore City," Day says. He says that when he gave up his position at Cross Country, he made his co-workers and students a promise. "I told them that I would always advocate for city schools, that would always be my number one priority and I don't plan on breaking that promise." Day worked at the school for just a year before leaving to run for City Council. Before that, he'd worked in Georgia, where he moved from Baltimore as a child.

"I've seen a lot of progressive government. I've seen a lot of progressive education systems. And when I moved up here they would say 'well, you're not in Atlanta anymore. Welcome to Baltimore; welcome to urban education.'"

This year, 62 percent of the Baltimore City Schools budget will come from the state, and 19 percent from the city. Day thinks that the city needs to invest more. Places like Montgomery County and Prince George's County allot much more for their schools—with, Day argues, better results.

He said that an elected school board could improve things.

"There's no one that the city can actually hold accountable because the state and the governor are pretty much running the show."

Like all candidates running for office in the city this year, he cites crime as an important issue. But he'd like to see more focus on all the neighborhoods—not just the parts that tourists visit.

Day doesn't have a specific anti-crime platform, but he does think that updated loitering laws could go a long way to help reduce crime.

"Police aren't effectively able to move people off the corner because our loitering laws are so archaic," he says.

He also suggests bringing officers into schools—not as enforcers, but as friends. He points out that oftentimes, the first time a student sees a police officer is when something bad has happened. He suggests requiring community service hours for each cadet—because being in the community is part of their jobs.

"Not just to protect, but to serve as well," he says.

Baltimore pastor and activist Westley West doesn't shy away from controversy—he says it comes with the territory.

"Me being on the front lines, it wasn't easy. I had to be persecuted. Me going into those communities in which I now hope to represent, they had to question me."

West is pastor of Faith Empowerment Ministries—a nondenominational church located on the corner of Walbrook Avenue and Monroe Street.

After Freddie Gray's death in April, West and his church members could be seen out in the streets, protesting against police brutality. That activism got him arrested in September, after a protest held during pretrial motions relating to Gray's death.

In February, jurors found him not guilty of disturbance of the peace and failure to obey law enforcement. He had also been accused of attempting to incite a riot, malicious destruction of property, disorderly conduct and false imprisonment—but those charges were all dropped before the trial.

West is also fighting charges that he stole money from a former employer. According to online court records, West was charged on December 29, accused of the theft of less than $1,000. The Baltimore Sun reported that West is accused of using money from the Elias Wilf Corp., where he worked as a truck driver, to finance himself and his church. The charges were announced January 4, just one day after West announced his intent to run. His lawyer, Donald Wright, thinks his client is being unfairly targeted because he's a political outsider.

"What alarmed me most when I first heard about this was the timing of the charges," Wright said. "This is an incident that's alleged to have occurred back in June of last year."

"I can tell you that Pastor West absolutely denies any wrongdoing whatsoever," Wright said. "There's nothing…that I've seen so far that's been presented to me that makes me think that this is anything other than an attempt to use the criminal justice system for political purposes."

The case won't go to court until after the April 26 primaries.

West has an air of cocky confidence that makes it easy to see how young churchgoers would flock to him. He says that he's running because, the way he sees it, he's already been out in the community, doing the work a City Council member should. He says that people often come to him asking for help, or to alert him to incidents of police wrongdoing—including a video someone sent him the day of this interview.

"I can pull it up on my phone and show you right now," he says.

He falls into religious terminology when he talks about how he won over some of his detractors.

"They say real recognize real and even though some persecuted and slandered—I stayed there. I wasn't afraid."

He says that although he's never held political office, he's been reading everything he can to learn all he can. It's clear that the passion is there even if his ideas are still coming together.

"The biggest thing right now is jobs," he says. "That is the biggest thing because people are always talking about it starts at home. I agree. I don't preach that at my church, though. It doesn't start at home when you go home as a 16-year-old son and you see your mom in the house crying because she goes and open up the refrigerator and she don't have enough things in the refrigerator to prepare a meal. Or she's crying because the lights are getting ready to get cut off. What do you do as a child? What do you do as a young man? I want to promote…youth work programs so that the child can be a help to the parent. I want to promote jobs."

West initially registered as a Green party candidate, but said that he ultimately decided to run as a Democrat. He says although Green party officials had initially asked him to enter the race for City Council, he felt that Democrats had more name recognition.

"Put it like this: I need to run with a party that people can identify with…they can identify with Democrat, I've been a Democrat all my life. So when that old woman, that 18-year-old child goes to the polling station the first thing they are gonna do is Democrat or Republican. They don't know about Green, nobody has never won Green in all of its existence in Baltimore."

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