1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve on the City Council.
I have a B.S. with honors from the University of Baltimore's Robert G. Merrick School of Business and a J.D. from the University of Baltimore's School of Law. For the past 17 years, I have been an attorney in Baltimore City with a practice devoted to personal injury and criminal defense cases. I am thoroughly familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of both the criminal justice system and civil courts. I have an intimate understanding of the direct impact that government, from the mayor at city hall to the police officer on the streets, has on the lives of every citizen.
My undergraduate major was in Marketing. As a member of the City Council one of my primary responsibilities will be to market Baltimore as THE business friendly place. We have double digit unemployment with some sectors of the population having unemployment rates estimated at 40%-50%. That situation is unacceptable. There are far too many of our friends and neighbors suffering to continue with the anti-business rhetoric in this city. We must make Baltimore City attractive to prospective employers and we must directly recruit those employers.
As a lawyer, you try to help your clients to best of your ability. The hours are long. The work can be challenging and often frustrating. At the end of the day, however, lawyers get to wear nice clothes, work in nice offices and make a nice living. It is, in many respects, a pampered existence.
It is my experience prior to becoming a lawyer that gives me the greatest insight into what people need and expect from government. I have been employed in a variety of different jobs over my lifetime including: a fast food grill man, an assembly line worker, a drug store manager, a soda route truck driver, a supervisor for an ATM maintenance company, a dispatch operator, a bartender and a small business owner. All along the way I have seen how government can both help and hurt people. I care about those people whom this city government has ignored because for most of my life, I have been one.
2. Why do you want to serve on the council? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
I want to serve on the Council because as a citizen of Baltimore City for two decades, I have watched the city deteriorate and I've watched and listened as the City Government continued to do the same old things and give the same old excuses for their failures. Even when officials are caught red-handed stealing from the poorest of our neighbors and selling access to government influence and contracts, they still refuse to accept personal responsibility and continue to blame everyone but themselves. In a word, our City Government has been "pathetic." We, the hard working citizens of Baltimore deserve better. To quote a phrase that's catching on in the 12th District, "It's time to try another way!"
My top priorities are:
a. Increasing economic opportunities for all citizens of Baltimore (as detailed in my previous answers); b. Working with police and community leaders to stop violent street crime in our neighborhoods;c. Lowering property taxes to rebuild the middle class in Baltimore City; andd. Providing safe schools and a quality education for our children.
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?
I have great respect for the vast majority of Baltimore City Police Officers. Their job is difficult and extremely dangerous. Police Officers rarely receive the credit they do deserve and usually receive the criticism they don't. So for the 95% of the Baltimore City Police Force who do the right things by respecting our citizens and our laws, my following remarks are not the words of an unappreciative beneficiary of the safety you provide but rather the words of a concerned citizen, an attorney, who knows firsthand how your ability to do your job effectively and your good name has been sullied by the few bad apples in your ranks and policies of your elected leaders.
After years of "zero tolerance" enforcement of real and imaginary crimes, numerous scandals within the Department and what is perceived by the public to be a pervasive disrespect for the people whom they are sworn to serve, the citizens of Baltimore City have understandably developed a distrust of the police. These well publicized missteps have made it very difficult for the State's Attorney's Office to successfully prosecute alleged criminals in front of Baltimore City juries when the only evidence is the word of a Baltimore City Police Officer. Through no fault of the State's Attorney's Office, most of these matters must be resolved by plea bargain. Sometimes they are simply dismissed. It is a situation which threatens the very fabric of our civil society.
As a member of the City Council I would strongly advocate for an increased police presence on foot in the neighborhoods. It's what used to be known as walking a beat. People in the neighborhood knew, respected and even cared about "their" police officers. It can happen again. But it can't be done with video cameras or CSI type gadgets. Only with increased personal interaction in the neighborhoods will the police and the citizens develop the mutual trust and cooperation necessary to ensure the safety of us all. The idea is simple in principle and only requires the will of the police leadership to make it happen.
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)?
Many of Dr. Alonzo's ideas seem to make a lot of sense. The idea of giving almost autonomous control of individual schools to their principal puts the power and money in the hands of the individual with the best opportunity to understand and address the needs of the students under their guidance.
Compensating teachers based upon performance rather than seniority is also a step forward. Every teacher should have a vested interest in the success of their students. Rewarding those teachers whose students achieve and offering additional guidance to those whose students do not, is a win-win proposition. The achiever wants to keep their reward and the under-achievers are given instruction on how to better reach their children. Every child benefits from such a system.
It is too early to know if everything Dr. Alonzo is proposing will work out. The ideas so far seem solid. The results of the plan's follow through and execution remain to be seen.
The governance structure of the schools is vested now where it should be. So long as the State continues to provide a majority of the funds for Baltimore City schools, the State should maintain a say in the appointment of the school board along with the Mayor. I do believe the City Council should be required to vote to confirm the school board nominees.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
This is the single biggest fiscal problem facing the City. The City is incapable of undoing years of mismanagement in a single year. We must seek help wherever it is possible. We should look for support from the State and from the federal government. Then we must prioritize the issues. The physical safety of our children while at school is a non-negotiable issue.
We may also want to think outside of the box on this problem. There may be some situations where public-private partnerships can secure some of the needed funds. As an example, it may be mutually beneficial to have a trade union pitch in some capital to renovate a vocational school because the graduates will be their future dues paying members.
We may also want to consider the formation of a Baltimore City School building trust fund donations to which would be 100% tax deductible from the property taxes of City residents.
To my knowledge no one has put forth a perfect solution to this problem. In my opinion, it's going to take funds from a variety of sources and some innovative thinking on behalf of the Mayor and City Council to address this situation.
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?
The City has suffered greatly from years of oppressive property taxes. Over the course of the last decade Baltimore City lost nearly 5% of our population. Many of those citizens fled Baltimore City for the more affordable housing available in the adjacent jurisdictions. As explained in great detail by Professors Steve H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University and Stephen J. K. Walters of Loyola University of Maryland in an article published in The Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2011, lowering the tax rate on Baltimore City homes would have a profound effect on rebuilding the middle class in Baltimore City. Rebuilding the middle class will increase the number of tax payers. An increase in the number of taxpayers will have a positive effect on total revenues collected. In short, the key to increasing tax revenues is not by increasing tax rates but rather by growing the tax base. This is a concept which has been ignored by Baltimore City leadership for many, many years.
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?
Whenever there are budgetary issues in Baltimore City, the politicians immediately step forward and tell the citizens that there is no money and public safety or public sanitation must be cut. The message is clear, unless something is done immediately, you and your family will be left defenseless against the criminal elements of the City and/or you will be overrun by rats. It's a despicable, but effective, scare tactic intended to ease the announcement of a new round of taxes (or revenue enhancements to those who believe the government's plunder is less offensive wrapped in a pretty bow). What is not on the table for cuts if I am elected is reasonable funding for Police, Firefighters and Sanitation workers.
What cuts should be targeted in individual government spending options can be very difficult if not impossible to ascertain as a private citizen. The City's spending habits are not transparent to the general public. There is no reason why a Baltimore City taxpayer shouldn't be able go online and view the total cost of any government undertaking in a few seconds. At this point, that information is not readily available.
There are numerous examples of Baltimore City's tax dollars being spent imprudently. There was $500,000 paid to a marketing firm to come up with that not so catchy slogan, "Baltimore, get in on it". There was $12,000,000 in federal stimulus money originally provided for improvements and maintenance to infrastructure (roads, bridges, tunnels) which got reallocated for "infrastructure" (repaved track roads and road barriers) related to the Baltimore Grand Prix. There is the approximately $300,000,000 for the Hilton Convention Center Hotel whose projected revenues for the City were grossly overstated. And the list goes on.
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 see my role on the City Council as a promoter for the City of Baltimore. Baltimore is centrally located on the eastern seaboard of the United States and is home to one of the busiest ports in the world. We have thousands of citizens ready, willing and able to perform a variety of jobs if simply given the chance. It is an employer's paradise with one exception the City government.
We've all heard the expression "lead, follow or get out of the way." The City Council must lead the way to economic opportunity for all of our citizens by actively recruiting businesses to come to Baltimore. Since it appears from our Council's track record that they are either unable or unwilling to do so, they can follow me or simply get out of the way. (I would prefer that they follow. The sooner we get everyone on the same page, the sooner our friends and neighbors will get to earn their share of the American Dream.)
When I say get out of the way, I mean stop the political games like those undertaken with the 25th Street development in the 12th District. With literally thousands of citizens out of work and living in poverty, the City Council erected road block after road block to delay the creation of an estimated 700 temporary construction jobs and 200-300 permanent jobs.
One of those road blocks was the requirement that the new businesses pay their employees a "living wage." This means the government wanted to tell the folks putting up all the money and taking all the risk, how much they had to pay their employees. A "living wage" is not the same as the state mandated minimum wage. It has nothing to do with the prevailing wage which companies have to pay in order to keep good employees from going to the competition. It is a purely arbitrary number that politicians believe will curry them favor among voters. After all, why shouldn't you support the government stepping in to essentially give you a raise from day one on the job? This is why. That brand new shopping center on 25th Street was originally scheduled to open in September, 2011. At this time, nothing is built and one of the biggest employers in the development, Lowe's, has pulled out of the deal. For those one hundred or so would be Lowe's employees, day one on the job will never come.
Our citizens want and deserve the opportunity to work, to provide for their families and to achieve the highest level of economic success that their talents, hard work and divine providence will allow. As a member of the City Council I will work to see that every citizen gets an equal opportunity to do just that.