Following a sea of balloon-toting cars and drill teams, the All-City Marching Band played Michael Jackson's Vincent Price-inspired "Thriller" at a Central District parade on Saturday, July 13. Though the locals who converged with lawn chairs at the edge of the sidewalk nodded off in the muggy heat, the song was a perfect anthem for the Central District: Some scary bills are up for debate in the state legislature next year, and the Central District--the hub of the South End, Seattle's poorest region--will feel the shock waves from Olympia more than most Seattle neighborhoods. (The Central District stretches from 12th to 34th Streets, west to east, and Jackson to Union, south to north.)

The neighborhood, known for its proper middle-class homes, its community pride, and spots like Philly's Best and Ezell's Fried Chicken, is a microcosm of the 37th District, a larger voting district that also includes Rainier Beach, Beacon Hill, Madrona, and Columbia City. Tensions run high between rich white folks who live on the periphery and poorer minorities who live farther away from Lake Washington. The area faces increasing gentrification. Its high school, Garfield, needs more money (not to mention a rat exterminator), and police/community relations are constantly stumbling.

"There's a historical, negative relationship between people of color and law enforcement," says Dustin Washington of the People's Coalition for Justice.

These issues have been around for a long time, but the slouching economy makes the neighborhood increasingly vulnerable this year. Budget crunches have prompted Governor Gary Locke to limit Medicaid, the state's health-care insurance for poor people, while leaving B&O taxes alone. Bottom line: Tight budgets mean less support for social services, thus a slap to poorer neighborhoods like the Central District.

These issues are getting a big hearing this fall because longtime Central District incumbent Rep. Kip Tokuda (D-Seattle) isn't seeking reelection, and the folks eyeing his open seat (three Democrats and a lone Libertarian) have been making the rounds lately. The candidates are pissed about the state's recent health and social-services cuts, and they're loud about it.

"I know what it's like to be in a fight," candidate Angela Toussaint told 11-year resident Noah Tratt on Saturday at a local barbecue when asked what made her different from the other candidates (outgoing President of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce Eric Pettigrew, former Seattle City Council Member and high-school principal Cheryl Chow, and Libertarian Ruth Bennett). Toussaint, one of two black candidates for this race (Pettigrew is the other), was in her seventh hour of campaigning that day, making an appearance at the barbecue at Madrona Park, which rests on the border of the Central District and Madrona. She pressed a napkin to her face. "I've got sweat on my brow--you know I'm working hard." Tratt, who voted for George Bush in the 2000 presidential election, said he was impressed by Toussaint's frank talk.

Toussaint, the furthest left of the candidates, doesn't hold back. She calls Locke's Medicaid proposal "bullshit." She criticizes Seattle schools Superintendent Joseph Olchefske for not supporting the South End schools walkout ["Class Dismissed," Amy Jenniges, May 30]. And Toussaint is particularly incensed about Medicaid: She had been doorbelling earlier in the Central District, and an elderly woman from the neighborhood worried about losing health-care benefits.

Back at the parade, Pettigrew walked by inconspicuously. (Sideliners asked, "Is Pettigrew here?") Pettigrew is known for raising money to cushion the effects of light rail in Rainier Valley. Former high-school principal Chow, who couldn't make it--the drill team she coaches was performing elsewhere--is focusing her campaign rap on education. The candidates have two months left to go: The primary is September 17.