1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve as council president.
During my 13 years as a Councilman and 1.5 years as Council President, I have championed legislation to increase funding for schools; increase affordable housing; reduce gun violence; reduce public drunkenness and disorderly conduct; enhance recreation and mentoring opportunities for our youth; and to televise proceedings of City agencies to allow communities to understand how decisions are made. But there is so much more that I want to do.
I grew up in Baltimore City and have a tremendous love for all of our communities. I remember when the City was thriving. I know we can build a city with communities full of people who are proud to live here and where businesses are excited to move. The City needs leaders who will fight to build industry, leaders who will fight to make create and retain strong, well paying, sustainable jobs a priority. I am the leader who will work to decrease the City's unemployment rate and improve the overall health of our economy.
2. Why do you want to be council president? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
During the last year and a half, I have had the great pleasure to represent the entire City as the City Council President. My time in this office has been gratifying. I have learned a lot about the needs of our residents and business leaders. I have had the great opportunity to help move our City forward by working to build on our strengths and to minimize our weaknesses. To that end, I am proud of the legislation that I have sponsored and the goals I have embraced because I believe they have and will have a positive impact on the City of Baltimore.
For instance, I have sponsored legislation designed to increase transparency in government so that residents understand how and why agencies such as the Liquor Board, Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals and the Board of Estimates are making decisions that will impact their communities. I have championed legislation that seeks to protect communities from disruptive and disgusting behavior such as illegal dumping and public urination and disorderly drinking. Maintaining healthy communities and providing safe, affordable housing is vitally important to me and that is why I introduced and advocated for an annual fee and tracking system of vacant homes. I am very excited about my Inclusionary Housing bill that requires the creation of affordable housing in all residential housing projects that receive a major public subsidy.
In order for Baltimore City to successfully grow our economy and ensure the health, safety and welfare of our residents, we must be proactive. We must provide our youth with the strength of character, intellectual capacity and confidence they need to become productive citizens. To that end, I created the Productive Lives, Active Youth (aka P.L.A.Y) campaign that is designed to provide Baltimore's youth with a wide range of opportunities to strengthen their self-confidence, develop leadership skills, learn from positive role models, and be rewarded athletically for their academic achievements. P.L.A.Y. encourages them to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.
I have enjoyed serving as City Council President for the last year and a half. I am hopeful that the voters will choose to elect me to serve a full term so that I can continue to build upon the important work that I have started. Thank you.
3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you pursue to improve public safety in the city?
A comprehensive and effective crime-fighting strategy must include coordination of efforts. The Mayor, the City Council, the Baltimore Police Department and the City States Attorney's office must work together so that there are sufficient and proper resources that are allocated in the most prudent manner.
To that end, evidence, testimony and when appropriate, community impact statements entered into the record in all criminal cases. Our City States Attorney's office must be aggressive and creative when litigating cases. Our police officers need to be taught how to properly question witnesses, collect evidence and to take appropriate action when responding to calls for service so that our residents' civil liberties are not violated in any way but swift justice can ensue.
I believe the City Council has a responsibility to encourage positive results from the efforts of the Baltimore Police Department and the States Attorney's office and to take action when the processes that have been put into place to ensure justice for victims are not working. For instance, last summer when it was revealed that officers were not properly handling rape cases, I introduced CC#10-0217R Investigative Hearing - Dismissal of Rape Cases. As a result, several hearings were held to uncover the real reasons that officers were inappropriately dismissing allegations of rape and sexual assault. I advocated for changes to be made in how officers were trained to handle those delicate situations.
I also believe that as a City leader, I have a responsibility to help advocate for resources that are needed to help get bad guys off the street. The City Council has passed a number of pieces of legislation designed to support the efforts of the BPD to crack down on all sorts of crime including the establishment of the Gun Offender Registry which allows the BPD to closely monitor convicted gun offenders. In December 2010, I introduced City Council Resolution 10-0237R supporting state legislation creating tougher penalties for those individuals arrested in the possession of an illegal firearm. I strongly advocated for that legislation in Annapolis and am happy to report that we were successful in that effort!
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)?
Our youth deserve to have access to a first rate education. They need to feel safe, nurtured and confident that the teachers and staff around them believe in their ability to succeed. Creating that type of inviting environment must be the priority for all of the elected officials representing constituents of Baltimore City. We should not focus on infighting or political gamesmanship to the detriment of our children. That being said, I do support giving the City Council the authority to confirm the appointment of members of the School Board. The Council has the responsibility of vetting the Mayor's cabinet and appointments to other Boards and Commissions that make decisions that could directly impact the health and welfare of Baltimore City. Certainly, possessing the authority to ensure that the members of the Baltimore City School Board have the educational background and commitment to providing educational opportunities that may help our youth grow into strong, intelligent and responsible leaders, is a reasonable safeguard for our constituents and for our children.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
Our education system is the life blood of our City. We have not only a fiduciary duty but also a moral duty to take every opportunity to make improvements where and when we can. I have taken the lead in fighting for real, substantial legislative changes that will have a positive impact.
I introduced and encouraged the passage of CC##10-0631 which is a Charter Amendment that, if approved by the voters in November, will provide the City Council with the authority to establish a non-lapsing fund to I) Increase new school construction; II) Renovate and improve existing city school buildings; III) Renew athletic facilities and provide recreational activities and supplies; and IV) modernize education-related equipment and supplies.
I will continue to make our children my priority.
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?
We can and we must offer our homeowners tax relief. By taking a multi-layer approach that incorporates spending cuts and government agency efficiencies such as eliminating any duplication of services and by holding employees accountable for implementing efficiencies, we can diversify our revenue streams and develop a plan that is fiscally prudent and sustainable.
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?
The Mayor has the sole authority to allocate funds by establishing the budget. While the City Council can advocate on behalf of their own personal belief as to what programs should be protected and which ones reduced, they unfortunately do not have the power to reallocate funds in the budget. That being said, I believe that the City should be prioritizing programs that nurture and support our youth's intellectual and social development. We should direct funds to improve recreation programs, fund new school construction and renovation and enhance the YouthWorks program.
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?
I am a strong advocate that ALL companies doing business with the City should be employing city residents. In situations in which the City is using taxpayer money to pay a company to complete a construction project or to perform a service, the City government should be able to specify that a certain percentage of work hours performed under the contract must be completed by a resident of Baltimore City. Out of town companies and workers should not be benefitting while our own residents are suffering. I cringe every time I drive past a job site and see a bunch of out of town license plates.
According to the City Law Department, there are many legal restrictions limiting our ability to require companies to hire locally. However, I have told them time and time again that they need to not just tell us we can't do something, but tell us how to do something. Other jurisdictions like Washington, D.C. have local hiring requirements. Baltimore City should be able to enact similar provisions. Our residents need us to take steps to make this happen.
Since this issue is so complex in terms of its social and economic impact as well as the federal legal restrictions in place, we need to take a holistic approach to finding a solution. So, I introduced CC# 11-0287R Local Hiring Preference Programs and held the first in a series of hearings in which the City Council has and will continue to solicit advice and information from legal and business experts that can help us take the necessary steps to increase employment in the City. I am and will continue to be committed to finding a legislative solution to this very pressing problem.
9. Do you support construction of the light rail Red Line? If so, what would you do to mitigate concerns in some neighborhoods about the impact of the project? What other changes to the Baltimore mass transit system would you pursue to provide transportation options for those who lack access to a car?
A strong, effective public transportation system benefits the economy of a region while creating a cleaner environment. However, in order to truly be effective, the system has to be reliable, reasonably priced and actually take people to the jobs, services and attractions that they want to get to. I believe our system could be better coordinated to meet that goal. To that end, I support the Red Line because it would provide better East-West access than is currently being afforded our transit users. I firmly believe that every effort should be made to ensure that the Red Line project is a benefit to communities and does not in any way unnecessarily disrupt healthy neighborhoods.
10. Do you support the Greater Baltimore Committee's proposal for an expanded convention center/arena/hotel complex downtown? If not, what alternative, if any, do you support for replacing 1st Mariner Arena?
I understand that we need to take steps to grow our hospitality and convention attractions so that Baltimore is more competitive in the convention business. Drawing more conventions to our City annually will increase the tax revenue from the businesses that support this business: hotels, restaurants, parking facilities, amusement facilities, etc. That is good for Baltimore.
However, I also believe that since capital and interest in development is limited due to the country's current financial crisis, we have to be very judicious in how we spend our money and other resources. I am a firm believer that development should occur throughout every community in our City, not just in the Inner Harbor. We must work to strike a responsible balance.
11. Do you support current plans for redevelopment of the West Side Superblock and the State Center office complex?
I am in support of responsible development that adds benefit to our city as a whole and the community in which the development is occurring. Both of these projects have been held up by legal challenges alleging that various protocols and procedures had not been followed. To ensure that future developments are not held up, I would strongly encourage, and mandate when legally authorized to do so, that all protocols and procedures be followed in such a manner as to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Furthermore, I would advocate that all stakeholders be brought to the table in the beginning of the conceptual phase so that community concerns can be addressed appropriately and in a timely manner.
12. Do you support the city's plans for a slot machine gambling parlor near the downtown stadium complex? Would you pursue any changes to the program, through either local or state legislation? Would you support an eventual expansion to table games there or elsewhere in the city?
I do support the idea of a slot machine gambling parlor near the downtown stadium complex; however, that support is tempered by my concern for the communities that may be impacted by the facility. Just like with any other development, we must ensure that the project's benefits outweigh the burdens. I do not want to see our communities unfairly hampered by the ills associated with gambling or with such negative effects as poorly planned traffic mitigation. Moreover, support programs should be established to assist individuals who may struggle with gambling addiction. While the City needs the revenue that will be generated by this business, we should not be encouraging the exploitation of our most at-risk citizens.
13. Recent corruption scandals in the police and fire departments and other city agencies have diminished public trust in government. What steps would you take to ensure that the public is receiving the honest services of all city employees and elected officials?
Providing an open and honest government should always be a priority of elected officials. We should consistently demonstrate that we not only expect the public to be watching our actions but that we welcome that scrutiny. To promote that consistent inspection of our actions by the public, I believe we have to take bold steps. We must take government to the people. We should broadcast the proceedings of government entities such as the Board of Estimates, the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA) and the Board of Liquor License Commissioners which make decisions that have a significant impact on our City. They determine which businesses will receive contracts to do business with the City; where and what type of development is permitted to occur and what type of businesses are permitted to open in a community.
Our average citizen is not able to take time out of his/her busy day to come to City hall to watch these proceedings. As City leaders, we must make government processes and the decisions we make, as transparent and accessible as possible. Our residents should not have to rely on the news to uncover scandal. We, the government should be bringing information directly to them. We should always work to provide as much detail as possible which is why I introduced resolution #10-0224R which called for the broadcasting of these Baltimore City government proceedings. The resolution was adopted by the City Council and now we are waiting for the Mayor to proceed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun