1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve on the City Council.
I have lived in Baltimore City my entire life, and am a product of Baltimore public schools. In 1996 I was elected to the City Council. My years of service on the Council, my broad knowledge of the city and the issues affecting its residents has prepared me to continue to serve the constituents of the 10th District. As a small business owner, who grew up and went to school in Baltimore, I have developed a deep understanding of the problems that affect my constituents and all city residents. I know firsthand the challenges that small business owners face, and these similar experiences help me to better serve my constituents. As a lifelong resident of Baltimore, I want to do everything in my power to continue to improve the city so that people continue to live and raise their families here.
2. Why do you want to serve on the council? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
I have a great passion for the City of Baltimore. This desire to improve the City and help my constituents, and all of the residents of Baltimore City, is why I want to continue to serve on the Council. During my tenure on the City Council, my top priorities have always been education, public safety and jobs. While I believe Baltimore is currently on the right track, and we have made great strides in the last decade, I know that we still have more work to do in order to bring our city to its full potential. Our schools are improving, but I know there is more that we can do to continue these advancements. Although crime is at a historic low we can still continue to make improvements to our crime fighting strategies. If I am elected to another four years of service, my third area of concentration will be to bring more jobs into the cit. It is essential that we lower our unemployment rate and improve the quality of life for many of our residents. The unfortunate reality of the great recession is that jobs have been lost all across the country, including in Baltimore. We need to work hard in the coming years to attract more businesses to Baltimore and to keep those businesses currently located in Baltimore here.
3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you advocate for to improve public safety in the city?
Crime in Baltimore City is currently at its lowest since 1985, but there is always more we can do to protect our citizens. While I think we are on the right track to continue reducing crime through the current crime-fighting strategy put into place by Commissioner Bealefeld and Mayor Rawlings-Blake, there are some areas where we need to expand on these strategies. First, I agree with the Mayor's plan to hire more police officers in order to put more officers on the street. However, simply hiring more police officers will not bring about significant change unless those additional officers are deployed properly. We need more community policing. Baltimore residents need to see police officers regularly on patrol in their neighborhoods so they know they are being kept safe. In addition, we should try to allocate more money for youth programs in order to ensure that at risk youth do not succumb to a life of crime. We should also continue to fund existing after school programs to give Baltimore's youth more activities to occupy their time when they are not in school and keep them out of trouble.
4. Do you support the recent reforms in the Baltimore City school system? Do you believe any changes are needed in the schools' governance structure (such as direct mayoral control or an elected school board)?
The work that Dr. Alonso has been doing as CEO of Baltimore City Schools has made great improvements to our school system. Student achievement has improved under his leadership and through his reforms. The dropout rate is falling and previously failing schools have been shut down in order to ensure that all students have access to a quality education. While the schools are certainly improving, we still have a long way to go. However, changes in the schools' governance structure are not the changes we need in order to continue to improve our schools. While I support the recent resolution asking the Maryland General Assembly to give the City Council more input on school board members, I don't think Baltimore needs drastic changes to the schools' structure such as mayoral control or a publicly elected school board. We need to continue to press forward with Dr. Alonso's reforms, and we need to focus on making necessary physical improvements to our school buildings. The current leadership within our schools has been effective and in time these reforms will continue to produce results.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
Many of the school buildings in Baltimore are older and therefore in need of repairs and renovations. Unfortunately in this economy, it is difficult to find the funds to make these necessary repairs. It is important to look at several different ways to address this problem. First, I support the Mayor's plan to allocate 10% of the revenue from slots towards school maintenance and renovations. I would also suggest looking within the business community to find donations of both materials and labor to assist with school maintenance. This public-private partnership is an important way to supplement the revenue from slots as well as any money which would be allocated from the city and the state towards school repairs. It is also a way to get communities and businesses to invest back into their neighborhoods and into future generations.
During my time in the City Council I have worked towards improving the schools and facilities for my constituents. For example, I worked with the City and the community to get a new school in Violetville, and we were able to use both city and state funds to renovate Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School. It is extremely important that we look at all possible means to raise the funds necessary to make these repairs in our schools.
6. Property taxes have become a major issue in this year's election. Do you believe the city's tax rate needs to be cut? If so, by how much, and what steps would you take to keep the city's budget in balance while lowering the rate?
Yes, I believe the city's tax rate needs to be cut. While in a perfect world, I would like to see a property tax rate that is similar to surrounding counties, in these tough economic times it is important to make sure that we are not making cuts that we cannot afford. The present City Council has been able to weather this recession without decreasing city services and without having to raise the property tax. We need to make sure that we are maintaining the current level of services provided to our citizens, and sudden drastic cuts in the property tax rate would most likely need to be accompanied by cuts in City services. I support the Mayors' plan to use revenue from slots to cut the property tax rate by nine percent over a nine year period. In future years, as our economic situation improves, I think we should take another look to see how we could further cut the property tax.
7. The city has faced large budget shortfalls in recent years. If that trend continues, what top priorities would you protect from cuts? In what areas would you pursue spending reductions?
It's extremely important to protect areas like public safety, education and youth programs from budget cuts. Although we have already cut excessive spending from previous budgets, I would support evaluating City agencies' budgets in order to see if there are other areas in which we could afford to make cuts. So far we have addressed these budget shortfalls without having to fire a single police officer or fireman. I want to be sure that we continue to protect these three areas from any future cuts we may have to make.
8. Baltimore has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade. What would you do to encourage economic development and provide employment opportunities for city residents?
As chairman of the Land Use Committee, I have been working with developers and with specific communities to bring mixed-use developments into the City. Each of these developments brings job opportunities and revenue into Baltimore. For example, I worked along with the Mayor to ensure that Under Armour kept its headquarters in Locust Point, and they are continuing to expand that growing corporate headquarters today. In addition, I have worked with developers on projects such as McHenry Row, a mixed-use development, and Montgomery Park which has brought more companies and state agencies into Baltimore. I would continue to work with developers and communities to bring jobs and revenue into Baltimore. In particular, I would also look at providing incentives for new employers who hire city residents. I want the new jobs that come with these developments to directly impact the neighboring communities. Incentives to hire city residents are one way to ensure that employers will strongly consider hiring from within the community before looking at applicants who live outside of Baltimore. I have also been working with the Baltimore Development Corporation to expedite the application and permit process and I would continue to do so in the future.