Candidates — minus Rawlings-Blake — debate issues in Northwest

Five candidates hoping to be Baltimore's next mayor tackled questions on housing, trash pickup and a dirt bike park at a Saturday morning forum at Baltimore City Community College — and criticized Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for missing the event.

"I don't have a whole lot of respect for candidates who don't have respect for the community where they are invited," said candidate Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, who headed the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors until resigning recently to focus on his campaign.

Rawlings-Blake spent the morning unveiling a program to make it easier for residents to adopt vacant lots and attended a community meeting in Forest Park. Neither event was listed on the mayor's public schedule; the vacant lot event was announced Friday evening.

The candidates will compete in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary for mayor, which, in strongly Democratic Baltimore, all but guarantees the city's next leader

Landers said he would scrap a proposal to charge for bulk trash pick-ups that Rawlings-Blake plans to impose in January. Conaway said he would fire Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh spoke briefly at the beginning of the forum, then left to attend the funeral of African-American media pioneer Dorothy Brunson, a close friend who had worked on her campaign.

"Baltimore is the sixth-most-dirty, fifth-most-violent, and seventh-most-murderous city in the country and one of the most over-taxed jurisdictions in the state," said Pugh. "This city need leadership with vision."

Former city planning director Otis Rolley asked audience members to raise their hands if, in the past 17 years, their property taxes had decreased, or if they thought schools or safety had improved.

When few raised their hands, Rolley pointed out that Rawlings-Blake had been in office for 17 years, first as a member of the City Council and then as City Council president. She was elevated to the mayor's office last year following the resignation of Sheila Dixon.

"Longevity does not equal productivity," he said. "We need to make a change."

While the other candidates have attended at least seven forums in the past two months, Rawlings-Blake has participated in only one — a discussion of disabilities last week.

Campaign manager Travis Tazelaar said Rawlings-Blake needed to balance her appearances at forums with her public duties and campaigning. He noted she has agreed to join in five forums or debates.

"There are many different ways for candidates to get in front of voters," said Tazelaar, adding that Rawlings-Blake had also canvassed Saturday in Cherry Hill. "While the forums are one way, so is door-knocking, so is stopping by events like block parties and barbecues.

"Whether she goes to the forum, or she goes out door-knocking, she has to face questions, because she knows the voters are going to hold her accountable for her record, because that's what she's running on," he said.

The candidates, including Rolley, clerk of courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. and nurse Wilton Wilson, fielded questions from the crowd of about three dozen people for two hours.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad