Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather R. Mizeur said Tuesday that she doesn't want to spend the more than $500 million it would take to replace the badly deteriorated Baltimore jail, but said she recognizes something must be done to replace the "decrepit" state-run facility.
Appearing at a Baltimore Sun Newsmakers Forum, Mizeur said that while building a new jail seems to go against her pledge to end "mass incarceration" in Maryland, it would be "inhumane" not to find a way to improve the facility —parts of which are more than a century old.
"I have tried to find a way to just say no to it," she said. "That would be ignoring the underlying problem that exists."
Mizeur called the price of replacing the Baltimore Detention Center — estimated by a legislative panel at $533 million — "tough to swallow." She said that as governor she would look for ways to improve the facility at a lower cost and in a way that it could eventually be used for purposes other than incarceration.
Mizeur, a two-term state delegate from Montgomery County, is challenging Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in the June 24 primary.
A Baltimore Sun Poll released last month showed her far behind Brown but nipping at Gansler's heels. In that poll, 35 percent of likely Democratic voters picked Brown, while 14 percent chose Gansler and 10 percent preferred Mizeur.
Mizeur is attempting to do what no other Maryland politician has been able to do: Go straight from a seat in the House of Delegates to being chosen by voters as governor. She is attempting to achieve that by running a relatively low-budget grassroots campaign, using public financing, against two well-financed statewide officials.
Asked by participants in the forum how she could win, Mizeur confidently predicted voters would respond to her call to overturn the status quo in Maryland politics.
"When they find out Heather Mizeur's in the race, it's over," she said.
Mizeur drew more than 150 people to the forum, the largest audience of any in the series featuring candidates for governor.
Her position on the city jail stands in contrast to her strong opposition to a separate proposal to renovate a pre-release center in Baltimore to hold juvenile offenders. Mizeur reiterated Tuesday that she opposes that $30 million project.
Mizeur laid out a series of proposals she has made during her campaign, including her support for legalizing marijuana and using the tax revenue it would generate to pay for a larger expansion of pre-kindergarten education than proposed by her two Democratic rivals.
She said her marijuana proposal would generate a reliable source of funding and criticized her two rivals for proposing to expand pre-K with casino money pledged to other purposes — calling it a "fairy tale way of paying for it."
She called for an expansion of the state's school construction efforts, saying she was an early proponent of a sweeping plan to replace Baltimore's aging educational facilities. Last year the General Assembly approved a $1.1 billion first phase of that effort, but Mizeur pledged to find creative ways to finance Phase 2 in the city and large-scale rebuilding programs in other jurisdictions.
She pointed to legislation in Iowa that lets local jurisdictions vote on whether to impose a penny local sales tax to back school construction bonds, saying she would consider such a program.
Mizeur portrayed her campaign as more than a typical run for a higher office, urging forum attendees to reach out to their friends and neighbors to ask their support for her.
"We're not going to just ask for you to vote for us. We're going to put you to work," she said.