1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve on the City Council.
My education consists of a B.A. in Political Science from Hampton University, a Master's in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Doctorate in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland-College Park.
I have previously worked in Washington DC in the Executive office of the Mayor and in the Department of Transportation. I have also worked in the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development in the Office of the Commissioner. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor at Towson University where I teach courses in Urban Politics and Metropolitan Studies.
As a father, husband, and vice-president of my neighborhood association (Evergreen Protective), I am committed to strengthening our communities. Moreover, as a college professor and city planner I have the relevant education and experience to address district and city-wide issues. My time working with local government in housing and transportation has given me the tools to lead and create effective policy solutions.
This broad base of knowledge and experience with municipal issues is particularly germane to the work of the City Council. I am not averse to reading to a thick stack of densely-worded legislation, so there is less of a chance of hearing the excuse of "so many bills come across my desk, it is hard to read them all." Elected officials must work on behalf of the citizens to move our neighborhoods and Baltimore City forward.
2. Why do you want to serve on the council? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
My wife and I settled in Baltimore and have decided to make it our home and to raise our child here. We love Baltimore and we want our city to reach its full potential. I am determined to create a better city for my son to grow up in and a place where my wife and I to grow old together. I want to serve on the council because we need competent leadership who can articulate the interests of the community while creating effective public policy. Among the numerous issues to be addressed in the 9th District, jobs and housing are priorities.
The 9th District has a disproportionate number of adults out of work and families living below the poverty line, so we need to create jobs as well as provide training and placement. Baltimore must emphasize workforce development in areas of expected job growth. This means creating incentives for local hiring and forming partnerships with educational institutions to provide training for careers in technology, healthcare, and green industry. We must also partner with faith-based and community organizations to secure grants for youth jobs and ex-offender re-entry programs.
The 9th District has a large amount of vacant properties which further destabilizes communities. The City must utilize available resources for demolition to clear neighborhoods of dangerous eyesores. It would also be appropriate to raise the penalties for abandoned and nuisance properties, while lowering property taxes for responsible homeowners. Baltimore should also revisit the idea of providing vacant properties at a discount to individuals and groups. Another necessary step is reducing bureaucratic red tape to create a more efficient and streamlined permitting process; this would make it easier for those seeking to rehabilitate houses.
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?
We could definitely make the system more efficient by focusing less on non-violent offenders and more so on violent crime. Far too often, violent repeat offenders are back out on the streets to commit another crime. Truth in sentencing would help in this regard as those convicted would be expected to serve the time given. As a father and husband, safety is a top priority for my family.
Community oriented policing could also help in this regard. It is important for officers to get out of their cars and walk neighborhoods; this would help build relationships in the community and create a certain level of trust. With these elements in place, people would be more willing to make complaints and the police would get better information -- thus helping to cut down on the many cases of no prosecution due to insufficient evidence.
As one who is raising a family in Baltimore, I want to our neighborhoods to be safe for everyone. It is also important to address the root causes of crime in our neighborhoods. To this end, we must provide more constructive recreational opportunities for young people as well as partner with locally-based companies to sponsor summer jobs. Keeping our kids in productive activities helps reduce crime and increase public safety.
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)?
In order for there to be local accountability, Baltimore City residents must be able to place some elected representatives on the School Board. Within a hybrid system, elected members should comprise at least 50% of the Board. This would allow for more transparency and local control as well as parental voice. I also believe that there should be more mayoral control of the schools -- not to make education a political football, but to increase local accountability.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
As the husband of a former Baltimore City public school teacher, I understand the conditions that our students and teachers are forced to endure (no heat or air conditioning, inoperable bathrooms, unsafe drinking water, rodent infestation, mold, etc.). This is completely unacceptable and puts the health and safety of students and teachers at risk. At least 70% of BCPSS buildings are in a substandard state and urgently need upgrades or replacement. We must improve the learning environment by demanding improved physical conditions.
This means engaging in an aggressive school construction program to move from deficient to modern school facilities. To accomplish this, the City would need to create partnerships with the state and private sector to help finance school construction. Also, as school funding should be consistent with enrollment levels, the City must dedicate a greater portion of its budget to the school system. Hence, Baltimore should spend at least 50 percent of the revenue from the planned slots casino on school renovations. And on the operations side, it is imperative to maintaining full funding under the Thorton Plan.
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?
Potential homebuyers make calculations about what they can afford to spend on a mortgage and taxes. In light of the high property taxes, many make the rational decision to live outside of the City where taxes are cheaper. In Baltimore City, the high tax rate prevents businesses from locating here and discourages families from purchasing homes.
Therefore, the City must reduce taxes across the board, and offset the lost revenue by auditing government agencies to cut waste. It would be feasible to reduce the property tax rate by 30-35 percent over a four year period. Additionally, the remaining 50 percent of the projected slots revenue could be used to help balance the city's budget.
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 is critical that we invest in our young people are the future of this City. Therefore, funding for youth (schools, recreation centers, summer jobs) is a top priority and should be held harmless.
I would pursue spending reductions in the administrative structure of agencies. As there are a number of high paying duplicated positions, the City could achieve cost savings by making the agencies more efficient.
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 a former transportation planner, I understand that a comprehensive public transit system is needed and long overdue. Since September 2010, I have served as part of the Red Line's Station Area Advisory Committee for the West Baltimore MARC Station. The proposed Redline will connect people to jobs and services while promoting economic growth by spurring mixed-use development including housing and retail. This is also crucial to creating local employment, which will increase the City's continually shrinking tax base.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun