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A series of violent home invasions, shootings and murders in the former City of Scarborough over the past few weeks has made crime a major election issue in Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre).

"We really need to address this issue of young punks running around with guns," said Michael Thompson, 43, who is running for a spot on city council in the east-end riding on Nov. 10.

"The police have their hands full with these guys. When I was a young kid, I never heard of people other than the police having guns -- and I grew up in Scarborough. It's quite disconcerting.

"I'm not saying the community is rampant with crime, but people are afraid."

Six other candidates are vying to replace the ward's outgoing councillor, Lorenzo Berardinetti, who ran successfully as a Liberal candidate in last month's provincial election in Scarborough-Southwest.

"Regardless of what part of the ward you go to, crime is the No. 1 issue," said Laura-Maria Nikolareizi, 33, who is also running for a spot on city council. She is a Liberal Party executive and former aide to Scarborough-Agincourt MP Jim Karygiannis and outgoing mayor Mel Lastman.

"A lot of these homes have big watchdogs and sophisticated alarm systems."

To help curb the problem, Ms. Nikolareizi proposes an increase in funding to local crime-prevention organizations, including Neighbourhood Watch and Crime Concern.

She'd also like to hire an additional 250 "front-line police officers" to work in the former City of Scarborough.

Mr. Thompson, who served as Mr. Berardinetti's executive assistant from 1998 to 2001, believes the answer to many of the community's problems -- including crime -- is to get residents more involved.

"There's really a lack of community that exists in Ward 37. There [are]many people who are there as residents, but they go to work, they go home, they lock their doors and turn on their televisions, but they're not really involved in the community," he said. "People feel that Scarborough's not getting its fair share of the new amalgamated pie."

His opponent agrees.

"When they look at other parts of the city and how well-maintained they are, they wonder, `Well, what's wrong with my neighbourhood?' " said Ms. Nikolareizi. "," she said, explaining how she hopes to set up a local constituency office in the ward if she's elected.

Andrew Schulz, 40, an outspoken community activist and business instructor at Centennial College, says if he's elected he'll continue to work passionately to bring a sense of pride back to the east-end neighbourhood.

As the initiator of an urban-renewal project along Eglinton Avenue West, Mr. Schulz would like to see the area around Kennedy Station revitalized, including the addition of a public square similar to the one at Yonge and Dundas streets, an expanded recreation centre, a new library and swimming pool and pedestrian linkages to Eglinton Avenue.

"What I'd like to see is a sense of public place, so when you arrive at Kennedy Station, you can go out and say `Hey, I'm somewhere.' Right now you go out there and it's a sea of parking lots," Mr. Schulz said. "It's an area that's seen better days -- it needs a shot in the arm."

The long-time Scarborough resident and environmentalist says new mixed-use development and green space will bring a much-needed boost to the neglected area.

"I've had a lot of friends my age who've left Scarborough and moved to 905. A lot of people look down upon Scarborough -- they just see and hear all the negative. We need something to create a bit of pride.

"I look at Eglinton Avenue as a diamond in the rough, or maybe a diamond that's encrusted with dirt -- we need to scrape some of the dirt off," he said.

"There's a lot of potential there, but right now most people just see the dirt."

Also running are Greg Crompton, David Finnamore, Georges Legault and Helen Zoubaniotis.