Race for the Cure

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"I know John's wanted this seat for a long time," says Wedgeworth. "It's clear John's been campaigning for months. But should you be using nonprofits that way?"

Bailey retorts that his signs were up for months before Davis announced he was stepping down in September and that complaints about them amount to "sour grapes and fear."

The other issue is that Bailey's signs stand on city property between sidewalks and streets. "The problem I have with the signage is that many of the signs are placed illegally," says Head. "There is an ordinance on the books that dictates how they should be placed. If you're placing them in illegal places, you're breaking the law."

Lyle agrees. "It's important to abide by the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law if you want to be a lawmaker."

Bailey defended the placement of his signs -- most prevalent along Colorado Boulevard -- by saying that Webb had signs in public right-of-ways and no one complained about that. But last week, Neighborhood Inspection Services, the city agency charged with enforcing ordinances related to signs, collected 300 illegal political signs in the district. Of those, 200 belonged to Bailey.

Sniping aside, the candidates mostly tried to paint themselves as insiders of a sort: longtime residents of the district, born and raised and educated nearby. The only real outsider to emerge during the evening was Steve Garber -- the only renter, the only white candidate, the only resident of north Capitol Hill rather than the neighborhoods closer to MLK. His single theme was idiosyncratic: ridding City Hall of the influence of lobbyists, big corporations and political consultants. "City government is like a rat with fleas," he explained, "driven by money, propaganda and lies." Garber ran for city council against Davis in 1995 but gathered only 541 votes (Davis tallied more than 4,200). "I disagree with someone who would say, 'You don't have a right to run; this is a black district,'" he says, referring to something a black man told him when he ran against Davis. Garber says he told the man, "I don't think I worried Hiawatha that much. I only got 9 percent of the vote."

In Garber's neighborhood, new townhomes are going up, and developers are buying apartment buildings to renovate into condos. "There's a crisis for low-income and modest-income renters in the area," he says, and suggests that perhaps rent control is the answer.

Douglas agrees. "There should be some type of rent control or something to allow us to stay. Right now it appears like nobody can control this -- where a dump is being rented for $900."

All of the candidates favor redevelopment, though some have raised concerns about when anything will happen and about the impact of the proposed commercial and housing redevelopment of Stapleton International Airport, 25 blocks east of the Dahlia Shopping Center.

The city's Community Planning and Development Agency has several ideas for remaking Dahlia. The one being floated lately is to do a land swap between the shopping center, the low-income Elm Street Apartments and the Union Baptist Church. The last two front Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the main artery through District 8. The shopping center itself stands two blocks north of MLK and, says the CPDA's Julius Zsako, "No major grocery store would consider doing something on the existing site."

Other options include rehabbing the existing structures at Dahlia and landscaping the facility, which at the moment is a square block of broken blacktop framed by weary buildings. The city is also considering knocking down the west side of the shopping center and constructing single-family homes there. City staffers are working on a neighborhood plan, but there is no target date for its completion. "These things can take a while," Zsako says, noting that redevelopment relies in part on the private sector. But with an anticipated 15,000 new residents coming into the area, Zsako thinks that the old airport may increase traffic on MLK, which is what developers will demand if Dahlia is to be reborn.

Duran says the Dahlia project "could potentially get stalled, and Stapleton could get redeveloped, and nothing would happen [at Dahlia]."

Lyle says she's more concerned that the Dahlia redevelopment has "been on hold for way too long. It's an embarrassing, objectionable piece of property. We've studied it to death. That's why the city councilperson can be like the bully pulpit to get things done."

But not everyone thinks Dahlia should be home to new shops. Candidate Thomas Henry Juniel, a retired sociologist, says Dahlia would be better off with low-income housing. "Folks I've talked to would prefer to go to Stapleton. There's more retail, and it wouldn't pose the threat of gangs.

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T.R. Witcher