Of the five homicides in Annapolis this year, three were in the sixth voting district, home to the highest concentration of public housing units in a city teeming with them.
Crime is a central focus in the race for the Ward 6 alderman seat, where Democratic incumbent Cynthia Carter is battling an ardent challenge from independent Julie Stankivic.
Neighboring Ward 5 is a comparatively quiet cluster of middle- and upper-middle-class enclaves, There, traffic looms as a key issue as the city considers annexation proposals that would bring more congestion to Forest Drive, the primary artery in and out of the ward. Incumbent council member David H. Cordle Sr., a Republican, faces a challenge from a political newcomer, Democrat James R. Turner.
The election is Nov. 8. Here's a look at the races.
Stankivic came within 69 votes of unseating Carter in the 2001 general election. Now she is back for another try as Carter vies for a third term. And this time, there is no Republican challenger to siphon votes away from either.
Stankivic, 40, has been delivering an anti-crime message. The ward includes three public housing projects that traditionally have been hot spots for crime: the 273-unit Harbor House, the 149-unit Robinwood and the 84-unit Eastport Terrace.
A health policy analyst for the federal government, Stankivic is quick to talk about numbers. Thirty-three, for example. That's how many shell casings were found on the ground at the Robinwood complex Aug. 6 after police responded to a call for "shots fired."
Days earlier, a 20-year-old was killed in the complex and a 17-year-old was shot in the shoulder in separate incidents.
Her campaign literature is filled with similarly grim facts.
"What's going to happen when one of these bullets hits a 5-year-old?" she asked. "That's my biggest concern."
To combat the problem, Stankivic said, she'll work to ensure police are adequately staffed, make it easier for residents to report crime without fear of retaliation, and establish a ward public safety committee to coordinate Neighborhood Watch programs.
Also high on her priority list are providing tax relief by lowering the cap on the homestead tax credit from 10 to 4 percent and passing a measure that would require the city to have adequate public facilities such as police, fire, sewage and schools before annexing land.
Carter, 66, is no stranger to underdog challenges. In 1997, as a community advocate with no experience in elected office, she ran for the Ward 6 seat as a Democratic write-in candidate and won by 12 votes. She is the only black candidate to have won outside a majority black ward.
Redistricting in 2001 gave blacks the majority in the ward. It remains predominantly Democratic, but as Stankivic's strong showing in the 2001 election revealed, race and party affiliation might not be overpowering factors.
Public safety also is high on Carter's list of concerns. But she said efforts to improve policing are already on track. As alderman, she co-sponsored legislation that improved police pay and benefits, helping to stop the exodus of officers to better-paying jurisdictions. And as a member of the council's public safety committee, she signed off on a recent study headed by Cordle that recommended funding for 10 additional officers in next year's budget.
"It's happening," she said of improvements. "That was the purpose of increasing salary and benefits. We were losing them as fast as we were getting them. Now they're staying."
Carter also voted for a measure that requires new housing developments to include a portion of moderately priced dwellings.
"The funniest thing about this area is we have a vision for the high-income and the economically deprived, but nothing for the working middle class," she said.
Both candidates advocate for helping the working poor become homeowners and for improving education, although the City Council has little input on county-run schools.
Perhaps the candidates' biggest difference is on the homestead tax credit, which limits the amount by which taxable assessments on primary residences can increase each year. Carter has voted with the mayor and the majority of the council three times to keep the cap at 10 percent. "It's fair, equal and just," she said.
Bordered by Spa Road and Harness Creek View, Ward 5 is characterized by its quiet, bucolic neighborhoods. The city is considering three annexation proposals totaling nearly 300 acres along Forest Drive. Though none of the land would touch Ward 5, Cordle and Turner are concerned about the increased traffic the annexations would bring to a road that is the primary way in and out for ward residents.
Cordle has co-sponsored a measure that would put a moratorium on annexations and another that would require that adequate public facilities exist before the city brings in additional land.
"We really need to pay attention to the impact on central services," Cordle, 46, said.
Turner, 67, is a member of Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's annexation work group, which will make recommendations on the issue to the council. An advocate of "smart growth," Turner said annexation is inevitable and good for the local economy. "But it has to be done right," he said. "If it's not done with smart growth principles, it's going to affect quality-of-life issues like the environment, traffic congestion, public safety, affordable housing and quality education."
A retired senior manager with the Department of Defense, Turner was responsible for the agency's publication services in the Washington region, overseeing a $20 million budget and 600 employees. He said he would bring that same management background, for which he received several federal awards, to the council. He is now executive director of the OIC Job Readiness Center of Anne Arundel County.
Along with growth and annexation, protecting the environment is a high priority for Turner. Anne Arundel ranks 19th among the most ozone-polluted counties in the nation, according to the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report.
Turner said he would like to see improvements to public transportation, including a possible light-rail line between the Parole area and downtown's tourist district, to relieve traffic and air pollution.
Both candidates call for property tax relief for homeowners. For the past three years, Cordle has tried unsuccessfully to lower the cap on the city's homestead tax credit. Although in each of those years the council has lowered the rate at which assessments are taxed, tax bills have gone up, in large part because of soaring assessments.
Cordle calls that a "smoke and mirrors" way of increasing revenue. Proponents of lowering the cap say it would force the city to either curtail spending or increase the tax rate and face the political consequences from voters. Opponents say it would put an unfair burden on businesses to make up for tax shortfalls and could hurt the city's credit rating and its ability to raise funds on the bond market.
Cordle has pushed for a 4 percent cap but said he would be willing to consider other proposals. Turner said he wants to study the issue further and ensure that any decreases are equitable to residents and business owners, who might bear the brunt of reduced homeowner taxes.
As chief criminal investigator in the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office since 1992, Cordle has made crime a top priority since he was first elected to the council in 2001. As chairman of the council's public safety committee, he led a study that called for 10 police officers to be added to next year's budget. Although crime has steadily fallen in the city over the past 10 years, calls for service have risen sharply, in part because of increased community involvement and Neighborhood Watch programs. Extra officers are needed to respond, he said.
"I have a police radio," he said, "and I hear them going from call to call."