What Baltimore should ask gubernatorial candidates

Our quality of life and sense of well-being are shaped by the health of Baltimore, whether we live inside the city or a surrounding county. Most of the region’s best professional opportunities are in Baltimore, with its world class financial, health, academic and tech institutions, and the city’s cultural offerings are unparalleled in the area.

But if the city does not function well, if it cannot provide opportunities for economic stability and good health to each of its residents, then the entire region falls short. It is therefore in the self-interest of everyone in the region to make sure that Baltimore thrives by making the welfare of the city and its residents a top priority . There have been decades of disinvestment in certain neighborhoods, and we are all living with the consequences.

The upcoming gubernatorial race offers an opportunity to act on the city’s behalf, to insist that state policies and budget allocations over the next four years are not just city-friendly but shaped by an understanding of the critical role Baltimore has played and can play in the state. As you consider which candidate to support, ask them the following questions:

  1. How quickly will you implement the Kirwan Commission recommendations on appropriate funding for schools in Maryland, and what resources will you use?
  2. Will you support regulations to implement ESSA (the federal Every Student Succeeds Act) that carefully track student suspensions, attendance and performance?
  3. What transit systems will you support to connect Baltimore residents to jobs, both inside and outside of the city?
  4. Will you remove yourself from parole decisions, consistent with policies in 47 other states, so political factors do not undercut the decisions of the Parole Commission?
  5. Will you support policies and make funding allocations that increase the workforce development training and employment options available to low-income Baltimore residents and that change outmoded and unnecessary regulations that do not protect public safety but restrict the employment options of people with criminal histories?
  6. Will you provide support to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which diverts people with substance use disorders from arrest to treatment, so that people with addiction receive the treatment they need and police can focus on serious crime?
  7. Will you direct the Department of Corrections to right-size the incarcerated population, without jeopardizing public safety, so that state funds can be allocated to more fruitful purposes, such as education?
  8. Will you instruct the Department of Corrections to offer buprenorphine to people detained in the Baltimore jail who are addicted to opioids so that they are not released to the streets in withdrawal?
  9. Will you support bail reform and fund pretrial services statewide so that people who come into contact with the criminal justice system are not jailed as a matter of practice and penalized for their economic status?
  10. Will you promote the legal and due process rights of all immigrants, regardless of status, oppose family separation and protect public safety by discouraging local law enforcement from holding undocumented immigrants who have committed no crime?

At the Open Society Institute, we focus on removing the barriers that people in our poorest neighborhoods confront, the result of redlining and years of disinvestment. We work to establish welcoming and rigorous schools, accessible treatment for addiction, strong communities and unimpeded access to good jobs and housing. Some of this work requires policy change. But, in many instances, significant change requires additional funding or different funding allocations to state agencies. The leadership that the governor provides is critical in establishing a vision for the state, including the Baltimore region, and creating bold strategies to realize that vision.

We know too much to put our heads in the sand. We have seen the frustration, hopelessness and stymied potential that result from decrepit housing, untreated addiction and families fractured by unemployment and over-incarceration. We know that, rich or poor, our lives are less full and less satisfying when the state’s key city and its residents are suffering. Yet Maryland, the wealthiest state in the country, has ample resources and an incredible pool of talent to improve city conditions dramatically.

Let’s make the choice. Let’s recognize the difference an election can make. Let’s tell our gubernatorial candidates what we expect from them.

Diana Morris is director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore. Her email address is diana.morris@opensocietyfoundations.org.

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