Democrat Rushern Baker on Wednesday became the first candidate in the crowded primary election for Maryland governor to pitch a detailed plan tailored to helping Baltimore, the state’s largest and most troubled city.
The Prince George’s County executive released a seven-page proposal to help Baltimore reverse its chronic population loss, promote homeownership, lure more arts, science and film companies to the city and to revive the $3 billion Red Line transit project and State Center redevelopment canceled by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Other major candidates in the six-way race for the Democratic nomination have developed policy ideas aimed at helping the city — former NAACP chief Ben Jealous, for example, released in February a proposal to rebuild trust in the Baltimore Police Department. But Baker is the first to publish a plan to directly address many of the city’s biggest problems.
More candidates are expected to follow suit in the next few weeks as they try to court a vote-rich region that has not demonstrated an allegiance to any of the major Democratic contenders ahead of the June 26 primary election. The unexpected death last week of Kevin Kamenetz, a well-financed candidate and Baltimore County executive, renders the Baltimore region more up for grabs than the battleground area was before, political analysts say.
Democrats can also use their plans to help the city as a way to draw contrasts to Hogan, whose high approval rating statewide is blunted by much lower support in the city. A January poll by Gonzales Research and Media Services found Hogan’s job approval rating on the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and the Baltimore region is about 80 percent, while it’s more than 15 percentage points lower in the city.
The plans to appeal to Baltimore, political analysts say, are part of candidates’ efforts to piece together enough votes in a crowded race to get enough to win.
“It’s not just about winning Baltimore, it’s about not fully losing Baltimore,” said Mileah Kromer, political science professor at Goucher College. “The winner can’t get blown out in Baltimore City.”
The other major Democratic candidates in the race are state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno of Montgomery County, tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, lawyer Jim Shea and Krish Vignarajah, a former aide to first lady Michelle Obama. Kamenetz’s running mate, Valerie Ervin, has until tomorrow to decide if she will keep campaigning.
Baker, 59, sets some ambitious goals in his “Uplift Baltimore” plan, including accelerating economic development and reversing the city’s population loss.
Baker proposes a relocation-benefit program for people who move to Baltimore from cities with skyrocketing costs of living such as New York, San Francisco or Washington D.C.
He pitched a state-sponsored pilot program to help people with stable rental histories buy into Baltimore neighborhoods by having nonprofits rehabilitate bundles of vacant or foreclosed properties in specific areas. Those low-cost homes would be sold in a lease-to-own program to city residents who graduate from a financial literacy program.
Baker suggests enhacing the tax breaks for existing arts districts to help more of them thrive in the city and establishing “science districts” with tax benefits for research and tech companies that move into those areas. He also recommends boosting tax benefits and rebates for film and television productions located in the city, specifically one that are “more likely to show the city in a positive light and thereby organically enhance the perception of the city through mass media.”
He wants the state to help Baltimore more effectively manage billions of dollars in state and federal aid, money that the city has lost track of recently. Baker recommended studying how effectively all the federal and state aid going to the city has addressed problems it was meant to help.
Like several other candidates in the race, Baker also promises to revive the Red Line, an east-west transit line that Hogan called a “boondoggle” when he canceled it in 2015. Baker also promised to jump start redevelopment of the State Center project, which could serve as a gateway to economic development moving from the Inner Harbor into West Baltimore. Hogan and the other two members of the Board of Public Works, who are both Democrats, together canceled long-stalled development leases for the project in December 2016 and started the process anew.
“Not since Robert Irsay snuck the Colts out of town in the thick of night has one individual done more to betray Baltimore then when Governor Hogan killed both the much-needed Red Line Light Rail funding and the State Center redevelopment projects,” Baker said in a statement.
A spokesman for Hogan said the administration could not approve State Center contracts because the plan was structured in a way that would have required the state to borrow more debt than is permitted.
“The last time County Executive Rushern Baker promised to revitalize something it was the Prince George’s County school system and we all know how that turned out,” Hogan campaign spokesman Scott Sloofman said in a statement.
Baker has been criticized for taking over the county’s long-troubled school system away from an elected school board. He then supported his schools CEO, Kevin Maxwell, as the superintendent became mired in several school scandals and stepped down. The county teachers’ union has been furious with Baker and helped convince the influential state teachers’ union to endorse Jealous.