The dust is still settling from a crowded candidate field and a tight race in what is perhaps Baltimore’s most diverse City Council District. This past spring, Isaack “Yitzy” Schleifer, 27 became the first new Democratic City Council candidate elected in District 5 in almost 40 years, following the retirement of Rochelle “Ricki” Spector, the city’s longest serving city council member. Schleifer was elected in the Democratic primary and there is no Republican opponent on the ballot.
Isaack Schleifer is the next City Council member for District 5. (Courtesy Photo)
But the packed field of seven candidates has left Schleifer picking up the pieces from a primary season that at times pitted neighborhood against neighborhood as community groups across District 5 clung to their favorite candidate and familiar territory.
Neighborhood identity is strong in Baltimore’s 5th District, home to a large orthodox Jewish population, sizeable immigrant and Hispanic populations and historic African-American enclaves. The economic disparity is vast between areas like Howard Park, a predominately African-American community overwhelmed with more than its share of foreclosures and abandoned homes, and the well-heeled Roland Park, where single family homes sell for upwards of $800,000.
For Schleifer, job one is bringing the disparate communities of District 5 together and helping his neighborhoods embrace a unified vision. “I’ve gone neighborhood by neighborhood finding out what their challenges are,” Schleifer told the AFRO. There are a lot of challenges that overlap across the whole district, and there are some of them that are neighborhood and block specific,” Schleifer said.
Schleifer said that he often deals with residents who erroneously suspect that neighbors in other District 5 communities are receiving a better quality of services and benefits from the city. “Nothing can be further from the truth,” Schleifer said. “I think the most important piece that I’m hoping to accomplish is bringing the district together because it couldn’t be further apart,” he said.
Schleifer feels that a lot of District 5’s problems can be resolved if residents started listening to one another and solving problems together. “I think in opening up a dialogue that a lot of best practices that work in certain neighborhoods can be brought to other neighborhoods,” Schleifer said.
Schleifer believes his orthodox Jewish beliefs, humble childhood and the example set by his father provided a blue print that will help convince his new constituents across District 5 that diversity is one of their most favorable assets. “I grew up in Fallstaff. I would say that’s the most diverse community in the district. My father was the community association for many years there,” Schleifer said. “You name the race, the nationality, the religion, we all grew up together; we all played ball together; we all got along,” he said. Schleifer is one of five children.
Current Fallstaff Improvement Association President Sandra Johnson believes Schleifer is a hard worker, but warns him not to underestimate the scope and complexity of the challenges facing District 5. “I think he certainly understands the problems. He’s lived in the community all his life, “she said. But it’s going to take some time for him to work his way into the job,” Johnson said.
While crime, drug abuse and abandoned properties are problematic for neighborhoods near Reisterstown Road, Johnson warns that Fallstaff has special needs involving the community’s large Latino population and its senior citizens – many whom are dying or have difficulty keeping up their homes.
Schleifer would like to revitalize struggling neighborhoods by attracting anchor businesses and non-profits that believe in partnering with the community. Schleifer hopes to measure success by creating opportunities and stability that will result in transforming the physical appearance of District 5’s struggling neighborhoods. “A goal is that if you drive from the bottom of the district to the top of the district that you would not notice you’ve gone from one community to another,” Schleifer said.
“It’s an attainable goal. I am young, energetic and I’m here for the long haul. So it’s going to be challenging but I’m open to the challenge,” Schleifer said.