A panel of lower-polling Democrats running for mayor of Baltimore promoted their visions at a forum Wednesday: They want to teach children computer coding in schools, recruit police drawn to a calling to public service and support small businesses in incubators.
Patrick Gutierrez, a former bank operations manager who bills himself as a "turnaround specialist," said he would scrub the city government with financial and performance audits to find money for new workforce development programs and small business micro-loan funds.
"We don't have a resource problem in this city; we have a resource management problem," said Gutierrez, 43, a father of two who lives in Taylor Heights.
He was joined by DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist; Cindy Walsh, a researcher; and Calvin Allen Young III, an engineer. The forum followed one held Tuesday for the challengers who led the field in polling conducted this month for The Baltimore Sun and University of Baltimore. The primary will be held April 26.
The forum Wednesday was sponsored by The Baltimore Sun, University of Baltimore and Baltimore City League of Women Voters.
Mckesson, 30, began many of his answers with a pledge to always "tell the truth in public."
"I believe in the promise and possibility of this city," said Mckesson, a former teacher and school administrator who gained a national audience and 320,000 Twitter followers through his activism. He recently returned to Baltimore and lives in the guest room of a friend's house in North Roland Park.
"I know its joys as much as its challenges. I know this city needs new leadership," he said. "This election is about the difference between the politics as usual and the politics of change."
Mckesson said growing Baltimore's economy depends on much more than business development.
He wants to combat the adult illiteracy rate, develop programs that grant diplomas instead of GEDs, and address the causes of chronic absenteeism in pre-kindergarten classrooms. The city also needs a $15 minimum wage, development bundled around the planned construction of new city schools and stronger partnerships with anchor institutions such as universities, he said.
Walsh, 59, a former UPS manager who lives in Charles Village, stuck closely to her campaign's central message of deconstructing the city's relationships with corporations. She said tying Baltimore's economy with global commerce is a mistake that has cost residents good jobs with labor protection.
"You're going to have a global corporate campus that exploits, abuses and pushes a Third World wage," she said.
Young, 28, of Glenham-Belhar, said building a better economy in Baltimore starts with better preparing children for careers. Three educational opportunities, he said, can be tied to future success: offering pre-K for all 4-year-olds, algebra for seventh-graders and calculus for high school juniors.
Young said "the entrenched political establishment" has failed to deliver long-term solutions for the city. He believes his background makes him the best positioned person. He graduated from Harvard Business School and New York University, served on the White House's National Economic Council and instituted science and engineering programs for thousands of youth around the world through his involvement with the National Society of Black Engineers.
"Our city is still in a state of emergency. We recently had 344 homicides, we face a $75 million budget deficit and over a quarter of our citizens live in poverty," Young said. "We're in need of new, fresh leadership. The difference between me and other candidates is, they'll talk about the past and ask, 'Why.' I'm going to talk about the future and ask, 'Why not.'"
More than 50 people attended the forum, including a class from Digital Harbor High School. Sophomore JàKaha Monroe said Young's plans closely align with the ideals she and her friends have for the city. Although at 15 she can't vote, JàKaha said she would talk to her family members and adults in her neighborhood about why they should vote for Young.
"He should be mayor," she said. "He was talking about everything we talk about in school."
Zinnaeah Johnson, 35, an attorney from Bolton Hill, said the debate left her considering each as a contender for mayor. Gutierrez stood out to her for his plans to improve city management. Mckesson impressed her for his breadth of knowledge.
"Everyone did really well," she said. "I am still very much undecided. I will be doing a lot more research."