OAKLAND -- When the candidates running to replace Councilmember Nancy Nadel say their district is the heart of the city and arguably Oakland's most important, it isn't hyperbole -- it's the truth.

Whether it's restoring blue-collar jobs, keeping the A's in town, redeveloping the waterfront or establishing a bustling cultural center and night life haven, nearly all of Oakland's major aspirations are centered in the council district that spans West Oakland, the downtown and several neighborhoods along Lake Merritt.

District 3 is home to the former Army Base, where the city is counting on a $1 billion warehousing and logistics center to generate several thousand jobs. It's also home to the Port of Oakland, which has land that is being eyed for a future waterfront baseball stadium.

And, it encompasses the Uptown district, where thousands of apartments and condos have been built over the past decade and where new restaurants and clubs are opening all the time.

The 2010 census showed District 3 was home to nearly all of Oakland's population growth over the last decade. With 62,510 residents, it now ranks as the city's most populous council district, with 5,000 more residents than any other.

The next big change for the district will be political.

After 16 years on the council, Nadel is leaving office. Her departure has set off a battle among six candidates with compelling personal histories and similar platforms.

They all view public safety and economic development as the city's top priorities, and, despite entrenched violent crime in West Oakland, they are weary about get-tough policing strategies such as gang injunctions or a youth curfew that doesn't include significant social services for teens picked up by police.

And they all promise to be a consensus builders and good citizens on a council with a reputation for petty bickering.

What the race lacks is a clear-cut front-runner. The top candidates have raised similar amounts of campaign cash and split the major endorsements. And, several major groups and politicians have endorsed more than one candidate.

The field's most recognizable name probably belongs to Sean Sullivan, a nonprofit executive, who lost to Nadel four years ago. His backers include the police union, chamber of commerce and Council members Pat Kernighan and Ignacio De La Fuente. Sullivan's partner is Richard Fuentes, a De La Fuente aide and candidate for school board.

Nadel is supporting two candidates: Alex Miller-Cole an entrepreneur and interior designer, who also has the support of Mayor Jean Quan's husband, Floyd Huen; and Nyeisha DeWitt, a nonprofit executive, who also has the backing of SEIU.

Derrick Muhammad, a longshoreman and attorney, is being endorsed by Councilmember Desley Brooks and County Supervisor Keith Carson.

Carson also is supporting Lynette McElhaney, who additionally received an endorsement from the chamber.

The lone candidate without any major backing is Larry Lionel Young Jr., a real estate agent, who ran an underdog campaign for mayor two years ago.

McElhaney touts her experience as executive director for Neighborhood Housing Services of the East Bay, where she says she has built homes, managed budgets and partnered with numerous foundations, agencies and community leaders.

As councilmember, she said she would convene the many interest groups in her district "to get a cross-pollination" of good ideas. "I don't want people doing work isolated from one another," she said.

McElhaney took an interest in housing after growing up in an area of San Diego that experienced severe white flight. She became active in West Oakland while attending UC Berkeley and worshiping at True Vine Ministries.

She says public employee unions have already made many concessions and that the city needs to increase revenue to get more police on the streets. She has proposed levying an impact fee on business licenses -- essentially a tax -- to boost policing.

DeWitt, 40, grew up in District 3. She dropped out of Oakland Tech High School in 10th grade, but got her GED and eventually a doctorate in organizational leadership.

Like McElhaney, she became active in the community while a student at UC Berkeley. More recently, she cofounded Oakland Natives Give Back -- a group that raises money and supplies for local families.

DeWitt sits on the committee overseeing Oakland's Measure Y community policing and violence reduction programs, and said she would try to expand community policing if elected. "In order for community policing to be successful you have to have more than one police officer assigned to solve the problem."

DeWitt said she would work to get community groups to work together and businesses to hire more local kids. "We have 17,000 businesses," she said. "If every one of them hires one teen, imagine the good that would do?"

Muhammad's foray into public life began in 2005 after a gunman killed his younger brother in an East Oakland bar.

He began mentoring children, and attending law school at night while still working as a longshoreman.

"I understand the root causes of violence in our community -- that feeling of hopelessness and lack of opportunity that so many people are confronted with," he said.

Muhammad said he'll work to finally bring a major supermarket to West Oakland and green technology firms to Mandela Parkway. He'll also pledges to push for programs to help employ local youth.

He is hesitant to ask for more union concessions¿ and said that city departments need to become more entrepreneurial. Parks and Recreation, he said, should try its hand at promoting concerts to help generate cash.

Miller-Cole grew up in Mexico and first came to the U.S. as an aspiring figure skater. His skating career never took off, but Miller-Cole worked his way through several jobs, learning English, design skills and the real estate business.

He touts his self-made success in his bid for council. To help his West Oakland neighborhood, Miller-Cole said he bought the most crime-infested home on 11 different blocks, fixed them up and then rented them to neighbors.

"The drug dealing and prostitution didn't have a base anymore," he said. "There isn't a single elected official who can tell you they cleaned up a single block; I cleaned up 11."

As councilmember, Miller-Cole said he will try to bolster development and business investment by reducing red tape and excessive fees. He also supports selling or developing some of the city's unused land and charging impact fees on major developments.

Sullivan came to Oakland from New York City and first became active in the district as a leader with Covenant House, a youth shelter near Jack London Square.

He said he would push for a program helping low-income students get training for jobs with major industrial employers. When it comes to police, Sullivan wants more officers walking beats and riding bikes.

He is proposing revamping the city's parking system to charge more at peak times and less during nonpeak times to increase revenue and bring more people into shopping districts.

Sullivan also wants the district to lure industrial arts businesses that have taken root in Emeryville. He touts his work beautifying his West Oakland neighborhood and helping with the pop-up business boom in Old Oakland. "I'm not about quick fixes and gimmicks and slogans," he said. "I'm about solutions."

Young noted his time as a quarterback at Berkeley High School, saying he could be a quarterback for the council, leading council members to put aside their disagreements.

He also wants to get more professionals into the city's public schools to tell students about their work and get residents to hold more block parties.

"Policing is not the answer," he said. "Violence goes down when you have block parties."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.

oakland city council district 3

Sean Sullivan
Age: 38
Occupation: Vice President, College Track
Elected History: None
Personal History: Worked for decade at Covenant House, co-chairman of Dogtown Neighborhood Association, Alameda County Human Relations Commissioner, former chairman of neighborhood crime prevention council and chairman of Khadafy Washington Foundation for nonviolence.
Website: www.seansullivan.org

Name: Derrick Muhammad
Age: 40
Occupation: Longshoreman
Elected history: None
Personal: Oakland native who became more active in community and put himself through law school after brother was killed in 2005. Serves on Citizens Police Review Board and is public affairs liaison for the California Congress of Seniors Region 3.
Website: www.muhammadforoakland.org

Nyeisha DeWitt
Age: 40
Occupation: Director of Community Collaborations for Oakland's Promise Alliance
Elected history: None
Personal: Chairwoman of oversight committee for Peralta colleges facility bonds, Director of Community Collaborations for Oakland's Promise Alliance, a citywide dropout prevention program and a recruiter for the Teach Tomorrow in Oakland program.
website: www.dewittforoakland.com

Lynette Gibson McElhaney
Age: 44
Occupation: Nonprofit housing director
Elected history: none
Personal: First in family to attend college; married with one son who attends Oakland public schools. Volunteers through True Vine Ministries; CEO of past decade at Neighborhood Housing Services, based in Richmond.

website: www.LynetteforOakland.com

Alex Miller-Cole
Age: 41
Elected history: None
Personal: Active in many community and public safety groups; member of the Oakland Community Policing Advisory Committee, head of his crime prevention council; helped plant more than 500 trees with West Oakland Green Initiative.
Website: www.OaklandCityCouncil2012.com

Larry Lionel Young Jr.
Age: 32
Elected history: None
Personal: Oakland native and Realtor, who ran for mayor in 2010. Former Berkeley High School football player; board member at Keep Oakland Beautiful.
Website: http://www.facebook.com/larrylionelyoungjr