Mayoral hopefuls discuss plans, visions

THE BALTIMORE SUN

On Nov. 2, Baltimoreans will vote to decide who will lead the city into the new century. Recently, Democratic mayoral nominee Martin O'Malley and Republican candidate David F. Tufaro talked to City Hall reporter Gerard Shields of The Sun about how to improve life in the city.

How can you as mayor stop the exodus of businesses from the city?

Martin O'Malley

I think you've got to be tough. I really want to partner with business leaders in Baltimore City, but I really need to say ... you are not a business leader if you take 500 jobs out of the city during a transitional period from one mayor to another. [CareFirst BlueCross Blue-Shield recently announced that it will move 500 administrative employees out of the city to a new headquarters in Owings Mills.] That is not being a business leader of Baltimore City. While I really want partnerships with business leaders of Baltimore City, now is the worst time to move out of the city.

I know things are dirty, I know the secretaries don't like to stay downtown late at night, I know the panhandlers are a pain, I know you have to pay more property taxes and rent to be in the city. But if you're going to be leaders of Baltimore City, you've got to stay in this, because the people of Baltimore City made a big statement that they want to change things.

I want to partner with business leaders in Baltimore City, but if you take 500 jobs out of the city, I will not return your calls, I will not tell you it's OK and understandable.

The mayor needs to challenge the business leaders of this city to be part of the solution and not part of the exodus. I think the bottom line is, we need to show improvements in public safety, and we need to show improvements in the cleanliness and the livability of this city and make this a desirable place to live and work despite the fact that it's a little more expensive.

The city property tax rate is double that of any other jurisdiction in Maryland. How do you intend to reduce the tax rate?

I can't reduce the city property tax rate until I turn around the loss of city residents. Hopefully, over the next couple of years, as the city becomes a dramatically cleaner and safer place, we'll be in the position again to start to reduce the property tax in meaningful ways that will make us more competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.

With the state now a partner in the city school system, what is the mayor's role, and how do you intend to improve city schools?

I believe I can be a very effective leader for our school system by advocating for additional dollars to expand pre-kindergarten programs for our kids, implement the sort of parent-student-teacher contracts that they have in Chicago, to advocate for more dollars for mandatory summer school after third grade so we can end the social promotion that has misdiagnosed so many of our children into special education.

And if a child knows his or her ABCs by the age of five, they are far more likely to read and write by the time they end third grade.

Urban experts agree that the key to turning cities such as Baltimore around is keeping middle-class families from leaving the city. How do you intend to halt the loss of 1,000 city residents per month from Baltimore?

We're going to make this city a cleaner place and a dramatically safer place. We're going to do it in short order, and as violent crime starts to dramatically decline, you will see our population dramatically increase.

During the last 10 years, the city has had about 300 murders a year. How do you intend to reduce the city's violent crime?

We're going to use strategies that have worked in other cities like New York, Boston and New Orleans, to be more effective in how we police. We can't arrest our way out of this problem. We also have to start investing in the youth of this city by bringing together great initiatives like Safe and Sound and Child First [programs that provide after-school activities] and investing more money in our recreation programs that have been cut by $15 million in the last 10 years. We also need to create some urgency to the goal of expanding drug treatment options by consolidating programs to stay open for longer hours and increasing the availability of drug treatment options. It's a three-pronged approach: We have to do more for kids, we have to be smarter about how we police, and we have to expand drug treatment.

The latest health department estimates show that 59,000 Baltimore city residents, or one in eight adults, is a drug addict. How do you intend to reduce the number of drug addicts in Baltimore?

I think we need to dedicate more drug treatment slots to the courts. I think that the most effective drug treatment is drug treatment where there is some sort of incentive, where there is some sort of fear of the consequences that results from them falling off the wagon.

I think we've been involved in a kind of senseless debate in the last few years between those who think that drug treatment should be something purely optional and those who believe that all slots should be dedicated to the criminal justice system. You have to have both.

The other thing is, you have to create a city where there are more job opportunities and hope, where there is something else to do except drugs.

An estimated one in four city residents lives in poverty, with more than 60 percent of the region's poor in the city. What do you intend to do to aid the Baltimore's poor?

I think we need to invest more in job training programs, and I think we need to invest more in computers and the wiring that will accommodate them so that our kids in high school have some sort of basic proficiency in computer skills so they can get jobs that are out there today.

As much as we'd like to think poverty is the cause of crime, crime is also the cause of poverty. I won this primary election largely with a lot of votes from the most crime-ravaged, poor sections of the city. And the reason I did is because I think those voters understand that they can't hope to have new opportunities in their neighborhood if we can't roll back these drug corners and make their neighborhoods safer places to live.

An estimated 22,000 families are on city waiting lists for public housing. How do you intend to reduce that number?

I'd like to see us de-politicize the waiting list. I'd also like to see us have a separate head of the housing authority. And the head of the housing authority may well even report to the head of the Department of Housing and Community Development [HCD].

Running a housing authority of this size is a colossal undertaking for any one human being. And to have to do that while you are also the head of HCD, I think, is asking a little much.

I would like to see an independent head of the housing authority that is focused on providing shelter for poor families who can't afford it. I think it's a clear mission, I think it's a focused mission, and I think it should have [at] the head of that agency a man or woman who is committed to that goal. It's a big enough job in and of itself.

David F. Tufaro

Urban experts agree that the key to turning cities such as Baltimore around is keeping middle-class families from leaving the city. How do you intend to halt the loss of 1,000 city residents per month from Baltimore?

It's addressing the reasons people move out. Crime is No. 1 in the polls that we all see, schools is No. 2. I see taxes as No. 3, but there are other nuisances, such as poor sanitation, trash.

During the last 10 years, the city has had about 300 murders a year. How do you intend to reduce the city's violent crime?

We know, since Baltimore is running behind other cities in reducing violent crime, we have the ability to look at the success of those cities and programs that have worked and to set some very clear objectives, and I have said that we need to focus.

If you look at the whole police force, prosecution and the court side, you have to look at it in the totality and say, "How am I going to take those resources and get the violent repeat offenders off the street?" You've got a hard-core group estimated at 4,000 people that are committing the vast majority of violent crime. That's a pretty small percentage out of a city of 640,000 people. And a lot of these people are identifiable.

Project Exile, which goes by some other name here, Project Disarm, is taking felons who are caught committing crime with a gun and saying they are subject to automatic prosecution with a minimum of five years, [and] has worked effectively. They have reduced the homicide rate by 50 percent in Richmond. And Richmond had one of the highest homicide rates in the country.

It must have taken very strong leadership, but they got the cooperation of the Richmond police, state troopers and FBI and ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms]. And when a policeman or any kind of police enforcement person comes across a situation, they immediately call the ATF within 24 hours and they make an assessment of whether it is prosecutable under the federal law; if it is, they merely start the process. And they can arrest, incarcerate, they have very high bail requirements, they have a very high success rate in putting people in jail. That ought to be the focus.

The city property tax rate is double that of any other jurisdiction in Maryland. How do you intend to reduce the tax rate?

Two things. One is we don't offer special tax breaks indiscriminately, which is really a drain on future revenues from the city. They should be used judiciously with a specific public purpose in mind. And now they're not being used with any known standards whatsoever.

The second factor is to address the cost side of operating the government, the competitive delivery of services. The introduction of competition, both public and private, will force the kinds of savings that other cities have achieved. Indianapolis now has achieved, between 1992 and 1999, $422 million in savings ranging from small items like $50,000 for a courier service to $6 million for copy services to $55 million for water treatment to $15 million for trash collection. But in many cases, it involves employees bidding on that work and getting the work. Somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the work that has been so-called "contracted out" has been won by employee groups.

The latest health department estimates show that 59,000 Baltimore city residents, or one in eight adults, is a drug addict. How do you intend to reduce the number of drug addicts in Baltimore?

Our greatest failure over the last dozen years is that we've put 40,000 black, uneducated males on the street. And we've got to address it in our current school system, starting from the very beginning, before we lose any more kids.

Some of these [drug treatment] programs need to be modified. There are no performance criteria whatsoever; if they just show up, the providers get paid. We need to tie it to a demonstration that we are really helping these people. And we need more programs that involve the whole family as opposed to the individual, because often the drug problems become [a] family problem.

We need to reduce the demand for drugs. We have over half of the drug buying in the city coming from people outside the city. We need an effective system, one that's been used where we use a very heavy citation; $250 has been used effectively in Jersey City. People get chased out, and that reduces the demand side.

With the state now a partner in the city school system, what is the mayor's role, and how do you intend to improve city schools?

One is giving principals much more freedom to run our schools than they are currently given. There is too much control from [city school headquarters]. Expand the pool of qualified teachers. We're still too tied down to the traditional certification requirements. It should be made easy if somebody is coming from another state, if they are otherwise a qualified teacher, to be able to immediately teach here.

We need to restore order to our schools, [with] zero tolerance for drugs, guns and violence in our schools. The city does have a new conduct code which is working with some success but is not universally successful.

We've already seen in the Florida experience that the threat of using school vouchers for the worst performing schools is pushing other schools to make themselves better. That is the purpose. I think the mayor, in fact, can play a larger role, because a void has been created by the fact that we don't have any elected official that is solely responsible. The governor has partial responsibility, the mayor has partial responsibility, but nobody is in charge. I think the mayor needs to step up to the plate and say, "I'll take responsibility, I'll be held accountable, and I'm going to set some goals."

How can you as mayor stop the exodus of businesses from the city?

It includes the reduction of taxes, an across-the-board reduction. It's creating a business-friendly environment. Reduced regulations, easy access, if you're opening a business, if you're building a building, to make the process as simple as possible.

An estimated one in four city residents lives in poverty, with more than 60 percent of the region's poor in the city. What do you intend to do to aid the Baltimore's poor?

The role of the city is to create an environment in which people get trained for jobs. Poverty is a function of the failure of our system to primarily educate our children. If people are educated, they can go out and get jobs.

An estimated 22,000 families are on city waiting lists for public housing. How do you intend to reduce that number?

One of the successes of the current administration has been to be able to attract hundreds of millions of dollars to Baltimore. I would much rather see that money used to strengthen our existing communities and rehab thousands of units in Baltimore. Rehabbing is not cheap, but in most cases, across a lifetime, it is cheaper than tearing down and rebuilding. I use the example of the Broadway [Homes] public housing complex: That is eminently rehabbable. There is now $21 million committed to tearing it down and building fewer units than are currently there. To me, that's a misallocation of resources.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
63°