1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve as mayor.
Baltimore is my hometown and I have lived here my whole life--graduating from Western High School and I am proud to send my daughter to Baltimore City Public Schools. My father, who grew up in public housing, taught me that a good education is the way up and the way out to a future full of opportunity. In 1992, I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. I earned my Juris Doctor from the University Of Maryland School Of Law in 1995 and was subsequently admitted to the Maryland Bar and Federal Bar. In 1995, I was honored to be the youngest person ever elected to the City Council representing communities in West and Northwest Baltimore. While a member of the City Council, I chaired the Budget and Appropriations Committee and advocated on behalf of the City Council during budget negotiations with the Administration, ensuring that constituent concerns had a strong voice in the City's annual budget process. From November 2007 to February 2010, I served as President of the City Council before becoming Baltimore's 49th Mayor. From 1998 to 2006, while serving on the Council, I also served full-time as an attorney with the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender, representing many low-income and underprivileged clients in Southern District Court. There, I witnessed first-hand the tragic impact of drug addiction on Baltimore families and learned the inner-workings of our criminal justice system. All of these experiences, including my up-bringing by two wonderful parents, have taught me the importance of honest and passionate public service.
2. Why do you want to be mayor? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
I wake up every day determined to reduce crime, make our schools better, create jobs and provide vital services move Baltimore forward and help our City reach its greatest potential. Baltimore's best days are ahead and my top priorities are the people's priorities--improving public education, reducing violent crime, strengthening neighborhoods and creating more jobs--all to help our City grow again. At a time of national uncertainty, our city needs strength, stability, straight talk and no-nonsense leadership. I can provide that leadership, whereas my opponents offer plans that would defund City government and would require deep cuts to schools, police, youth services and career centers.
Citizens can read more about my comprehensive solutions for Baltimore by visiting www.rawlingsblake.com.
3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you pursue to improve public safety in the city?
Crime is down in Baltimore but that's not enough. During my first year in office our crime fighting strategy produced the lowest homicide count since 1985 when William Donald Schaefer was Mayor. Gun homicides declined 13% Juvenile homicides and shootings declined 35% and overall gun crime declined 16%--498 fewer victims of gun crime than the year before.
These statistics are not a cause for celebration but a call for further action. Baltimore can be a safer city and we must do more to protect our citizens. That's why I'm continuing to strengthen our crime fighting strategy by: fighting for tougher state penalties for illegal guns, targeting criminals with a history of violence, hiring hundreds of new police officers, investing in new technology including adding 60 new "smart" crime cameras, protecting women from domestic violence and abuse, fully-investigating rape and sex crimes, engaging the community in the crime fighting, and focusing on youth violence prevention.
As Mayor, I will protect public safety from radical and reckless economic plans that would drastically cut City revenue and force devastating cuts to essential programs that prevent crime and protect Baltimore's citizens.
Citizens can read more about my detailed Anti-Crime Plan by visiting www.rawlingsblake.com.
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)?
I went to public schools in Baltimore and I'm proud to send my daughter to public school here in Baltimore. As Mayor, I will do everything in my power to improve public schools here in our city. Every child in our city should go to a good school and have the chance to do well in life. That's my passion, and it's why I'm working hand-in-hand with Dr. Alonso and the School Board to improve our public schools.
I fully support many of the reform efforts currently underway in the school system, including the new landmark teachers' contract which is a national model for school reform that increases starting pay for teachers, adds new accountability measures and rewards teachers for professional growth. Since the contract was approved, new teacher applications for this school year doubled, showing that the reforms are helping to attract a larger pool of qualified teachers for Baltimore.
My administration has demonstrated a strong commitment to public education despite historic budget deficits by: Fully-funding the City's obligation to the school system and effective after-school programs, restoring funding for advanced school-based health centers to keep students healthy and in the classroom, fully-funding neighborhood libraries to promote literacy; doubling Baltimore's investment in Teach for America to attract the best and brightest new teachers and maintaining funding to the Experience Corps program to increase volunteers in City schools.
Under the current school governance structure, overall academic achievement has improved since 2007. The dropout rate has been reduced by half. African American males are now a driving force in the improving high school graduation rate--instead of falling through the cracks. Zoned schools have improved while many failing schools have been closed. Dozens of new charter and transformational schools are up and running to provide more choices for families. And, for the first time in decades, enrollment in our public school system has increased two years in a row. There is no evidence to support the notion that an elected school board will result in better academic results for our kids and I do not support any governance structure that could result in losing much-needed additional state funding support for the school system.
Citizens can read more about my plans to improve public education by visiting www.rawlingsblake.com.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
Baltimore City and Baltimore County are burdened with the oldest school buildings in the State of Maryland and Baltimore City's tax base is not sufficient to raise enough revenue to reconstruct, repair and rebuild our schools without significant state support. This is a daunting problem that cannot be solved overnight, but we are not waiting to take action. That's why I'm fighting in Annapolis for more state funding for construction and renovation of our school building especially to improve climate conditions so kids can stay in school longer despite extreme outdoor heat.
As a result of our administration's efforts, for the first time this year, Baltimore was able to count its contribution to teacher retiree healthcare towards its contribution to the school system--leveraging an additional $12 million in state funds for school construction--equaling $120 million to improve school facilities over the next 10 years.
We have also appointed a joint taskforce with the school system to find additional funding opportunities, to conduct an honest assessment of the true total cost of needs, to ensure we are getting the most out of our limited resources and to explore public/private funding options and new innovative financing tools to address the need. Additionally, we have also committed to dedicating 10% of the City's direct share of slots revenue to fund school construction and renovation in addition to state's share slots revenue that is already dedicated to the state's education trust fund. Finally, I will fight reckless plans that would force radical cuts in funding to 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?
We have a plan to reduce property taxes because it is key to promoting homeownership, strengthening our neighborhoods and attracting and retaining city residents. While my opponents have offered reckless plans that will devastate the City's budget for public safety and public schools, I am the only candidate with a realistic, achievable and responsible plan to actually get the job done.
Our plan reduces the effective property tax rate by 20 cents by 2020 for Baltimore City homeowners. The plan will target future property tax reductions to homeowners through a newly-created homeowner's tax credit program funded with revenue generated from the city's future slots location and by responsibly reducing City spending over several years. Under the proposal, an owner-occupied home in Baltimore assessed at $200,000 would see an annual tax reduction of $40 in 2013, growing to $400 by 2020. This plan is beginning of a continued effort to reduce the property tax burden in Baltimore, not the end. My administration is committed to doing more to reduce property taxes.
Fiscal responsibility is a key component of my property tax relief plan for homeowners. By gradually reducing the City's property tax rate and partially relying on new revenue from slots, the City will still have to make difficult budget choices, but will be able to adjust its spending plans and services in a responsible way. Our 10-year Financial Plan Initiative will identify options for reducing the City's structural budget deficit and creating a pro-growth tax structure. The difference between me and the other candidates is that I have a realistic plan that will actually reduce property taxes. My opponents are offering false promises that would reduce City revenue by as much as $400 million--but they will not tell voters what they will cut to pay for this lost revenue.
Citizens can read more about my plans reduce property taxes for homeowners by visiting www.rawlingsblake.com.
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?
When I took office, we inherited a fiscal crisis and the worst budget deficit in the City's modern history. We closed the $121 million deficit while fully-funding the City's obligation to public schools, maintaining every single police officer and firefighter even as other cities have been forced to layoff first responders, maintaining career centers and funding neighborhood libraries--all without raising property taxes by one single penny.
During the last two difficult budget years, we have pursued the right funding priorities for Baltimore--protecting critical city services, such as police, fire, sanitation, street repair, blight elimination and funding for public education.
We have made significant spending reductions totaling over $130 million dollars by cutting the Mayor's office budget by 19% over two years, reforming unsustainable pension and healthcare benefits, cutting central administrative budgets across all city agencies by 10%, cutting ineffective programs, streamlining city operations, and reducing bureaucracy and red tape. Our Outcome Budgeting effort, which was implemented during my first year in office, was recently praised in Governing Magazine, which said our solution to an historic budget crisis "was not the norm." We have also announced a new initiative to develop a 10-Year Financial Plan to address the City's longer-term fiscal challenges including reducing city spending on unsustainable fixed costs.
Twice since I took office, the major rating agencies have affirmed our bond rating citing our strong fiscal and economic development policies, including our new initiative to reduce vacant homes. As Mayor, I will continue this strong track record of fiscal responsibility and smart budgeting and will protect the core services that neighborhoods rely on while creating a pro-growth tax structure for Baltimore's future.
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?
My top economic development priority is to do everything possible to create new job opportunities for City residents of all skill levels, to focus our efforts on industries with growth potential and to lay the foundation for Baltimore to be a leader in creating the new jobs of the 21st century.
I will use every economic development tool at my disposal to help spur job creation and new investment in our City. If a business has a plan for a project that creates jobs and strengthens our neighborhoods, I will fight to make it happen. In addition to strongly supporting job-creating redevelopment projects throughout the City, I have an open door policy with the business community to offer assistance, predictability and continued dialogue focused on job creation.
During my short in office we have supported several strategies to encourage economic development and provide employment opportunities for city residents including:
• Fully funding the City's career centers so that all Baltimore residents have an opportunity to train for employment.
• Increasing funding for the City's Emerging Technology Center to grow 27 new start-up companies and create jobs for the future. To date, ETC companies have received over $1 billion in investment funding, have been issued nearly 200 patents and have created and estimated $270 million in economic activity for Baltimore.
• Signing a new Executive Order to encourage City Contractors to hire City Residents.
• Funding the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts to support cultural programming, More than 1,000,000 people will attend events sponsored by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts in Fiscal 2012, generating an estimated $100 million economic impact for the city.
• Working to successfully brining major events to Baltimore to create jobs, support small businesses and promote tourism.
• Employing over 5,000 young people this summer with the YouthWorks Summer Jobs Program, despite federal budget cuts.
• Restructuring the Baltimore Development Corporation to focus on key growth sectors such as cyber security, healthcare IT, biotech and life sciences and small neighborhood businesses.
In contrast, my opponents have proposed reckless economic plans that would force cuts in City government up to $400 million, making it impossible to fund these important economic development programs.
Citizens can read more about my plans to create new job opportunities by visiting www.rawlingsblake.com.
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?
I support the Red Line project because it represents a very important investment to improve Baltimore's multi-modal transportation network and will create new job opportunities for City residents at a time of great need. The Red Line Community Compact requires future Red Line contractors to register available jobs with the Mayor's Office of Employment and ensures The City and MTA will work with local educational institutions to promote transportation-related professions for young people. The Community Compact also demands the creation of a community-centered process for neighborhood station design and planning.
Despite a difficult budget environment, my administration is pursuing a number of new initiatives to increase transportation options for Baltimore citizens who do not own a car including, maintaining and expanding routes on the free Charm City Circulator, implementing a new innovative partnership with ZipCar and adding approximately twenty new lane miles of bike lane on city streets with more on the way. And, as Chair of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, I am working with neighboring County Executives to increase investment in the Baltimore region's transit infrastructure over the long term.
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?
Yes, I support the initial proposal because it represents a massive private-sector investment that will create jobs and make Baltimore more attractive for additional investment. That's why I have worked jointly with Governor O'Malley to request the Maryland Stadium Authority to conduct a detailed feasibility study of the project and its economic impact for the city.
11. Do you support current plans for redevelopment of the West Side Superblock and the State Center office complex?
Yes. I worked hard with community leaders to move the Superblock project forward. The project is estimated to create more than 600 construction jobs and, upon completion, approximately 750 permanent jobs. The redevelopment project will include 500,000 square feet of retail and residential space and parking, sparking further revitalization of the West Side. And the compromise put forward to preserve the exterior walls of the Read's Drug Store building in honor of the 1955 sit-in, together with an appropriate commemoration, is the right way to honor the past and provide new job opportunities for the future. In addition to the Superblock development, I have formed a new West Side Task Force co-chaired by myself and Dr. Jay Perman, President of the University of Maryland--Baltimore, to advance further revitalization of the West Side. The task force is working with stakeholders to implement the recommendations of an Urban Land Institute panel that I convened when I took office to take a fresh look at what we need to do to jump-start West Side revitalization. Regarding the State Center Project, I support the project and recently witnessed the signing of an "Economic Inclusion Plan" for the project that commits to hiring Baltimore City residents and providing job training and employment opportunities. State Center is a public-private partnership will dramatically overhaul the 28-acre site of office buildings and vast parking lots that feels so out of place in our city known for its diverse and connected neighborhoods. The new State Center will create minority contracting opportunities and thousands of new jobs while adding new retail and residential opportunities through a transit-oriented development. And the land will go back onto our tax rolls, ultimately helping to share the tax burden with homeowners and other companies across Baltimore.
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 believe that a new Video Lottery Terminal facility in South Baltimore can be the premier gaming destination in the mid-Atlantic region because of our great hotels, restaurants, sports stadiums and shops. My Administration has worked to correct the mistakes of the previous administration to improve the bidding process for a new VLT facility and I'm confident that the new terms and process will attract more competitive bids. It is important for the Mayor of Baltimore to support this project because it will likely create more than 1000 new jobs, provide much needed funding to the state's education trust fund which funds City schools, and revenue from ground lease will help to reduce the property tax burden for city residents. In accordance with the State Constitution, any expansion of gaming in the state of Maryland requires approval of the General Assembly and must be approved by Maryland voters as a ballot question. I do not oppose an expansion that meets the requirements of the State Constitution.
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?
My Administration will never tolerate corruption in City government and is working hard to root out bad employees that abuse the public trust. Our zero tolerance for corruption exposed many of these problems, so in fact many of the cases you read about in the news are a direct result of our efforts to uncover and stop fraud, waste and abuse in government. We will never sweep these cases under the rug and pretend problems do not exist for fear of public embarrassment. We will confront these cases head-on and take immediate action.
In my first week in office, we took action to improve ethics in government. During my short time in office, I have hired a new Inspector General with the power to fully investigate any instance of potential waste and abuse in city government--and this has resulted in successful cases against inappropriate conduct. We created a new reporting program that encourages individuals to come forward with information about these cases. I also introduced and signed the most significant changes to the City's ethics code in many years, restructuring the Ethics Board to make it more independent and closing gift disclosure loopholes. And, we have required new ethics training for city employees including mayor's office staff and cabinet officials, sending a clear message throughout city government that abuse of the public trust will not be tolerated. I am very committed to continuing to strengthen these efforts and others to restore trust and faith in our city's workforce.