Trade, cyber security and this spring's unrest in Baltimore City were the major topics of interest Friday morning when Maryland's Sen. Ben Cardin stopped by the Charlestown senior living community for a town hall-style meeting with residents and area seniors.
"I always enjoy the discussion that I have with Charlestown residents," Cardin told attendees at the start of his 50-minute discussion, held in the second floor gallery of the Charlestown Square building.
The talk, originally scheduled for 10:30 a.m., was pushed up to 10 a.m. at the last minute to allow Cardin to catch a train to Delaware to join Vice President Joe Biden's family for services in remembrance of Biden's son, who died May 30.
Maryland's junior senator, a Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, gave the Charlestown residents a brief rundown of the biggest issues currently facing Congress before opening the floor for questions.
He encouraged attendees to ask him questions on a far range of topics, from health care to veterans care to foreign policy.
Phyl Lansing, a Charlestown resident for 12 years and president of the senior community's Resident Council, volunteered the first question. She asked Cardin to explain the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the United States and 12 Asian countries that has divided Congress.
The TPP is a great opportunity for American business and the American economy, Cardin said. In a recent trip to Vietnam, he told the crowd, it was apparent to him how enthusiastic the country is for trade with the U.S.
When it comes to looking for beneficial trade partners, he said, "we haven't been spending enough time on Asia."
Another resident asked about cyber security and what those who don't use much technology on a daily basis can do to protect themselves from threats.
"As you've seen, we've been vulnerable and we've been naive," Cardin said of the U.S. approach to defending against cyber attacks.
There are three kinds of cyber threats, he said. There are cyber criminals, who want to steal money and other goods; there are cyber terrorists, who want to use their skills to harm people; and there are cyber soldiers, who do the bidding of other countries by launching organized attacks on foreign countries.
"There are countries attacking us and trying to attack us every day," he said.
As much as Americans are vested in their individual privacy, he said, the country will soon have to address how to balance protecting citizens' right to privacy with protecting the nation as a whole against this modern-day threat.
Cardin fielded a number of questions about this spring's unrest in Baltimore City after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Attendees asked the senator for his take on the situation and about what people living in Baltimore County can do to help the situation.
"Baltimore's not perfect. Its had its problems over the years," Cardin said. But "what happened in Baltimore could have happened in any city in America."
Fixing the problem comes down to two things, he said. First, the police and community must renew their trust in each other. Second, businesses in the city must have support so that they can, in turn, offer opportunities and jobs to the city's young people.
Residents of Baltimore County, though removed somewhat by distance from the city's problems, can do a lot to help, he said.
In addition to placing their support behind programs aimed at helping city residents, he said, the crowd at Charlestown can patronize city restaurants and other attractions to help the city rebound.
Charlestown resident Bonnie Clendaniel said after the talk that she was happy to see other residents interested in the situation in the city.
A former city resident who moved to Catonsville for the area's schools, she still feels a close connection to Baltimore City, she said.
She had come prepared to ask for the senator's take on the situation, but ended up not needing to. The talk "encompassed a lot of the issues that are on the minds of the people at Charlestown," she said.
She said she wished it could have gone on longer. "I wish he had the time to go into a little more detail," she said.