Three Democratic candidates for City Council president addressed a crowd of about 400 people packed into a sweltering Fells Point church yesterday afternoon, telling the cheering group that, if elected, they would support a $50 million bond proposal to fight blight in Baltimore.
City Council President Sheila Dixon and challengers Carl Stokes and Catherine E. Pugh each drew applause for their plans of action to revive dilapidated sections of Baltimore at yesterday's forum sponsored by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, an organization of churches and community groups.
BUILD organized the event at St. Patrick's Parish to find out where the three stood on the group's initiative to acquire and demolish some of the city's estimated 40,000 abandoned properties.
"Our city is in such bad shape that immigrants won't even settle here," said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church and the group's co-chairman. "We have concentrated poverty and unemployment two times the national average. If we don't do something now, Baltimore will be a ghost town by the year 2020."
Stokes, a former councilman, told the crowd he would support the bond, and try to find other public or private funds to match. He also said city government should hire Baltimore companies and residents to demolish and build houses.
"They will build these homes and they will live in these homes, as the Bible says," Stokes said.
Pugh, a councilwoman, said she wanted to pair the bond money with funds for city schools. She said the city needs to concentrate on children and education, citing a 38 percent adult illiteracy rate in the city.
"We need to invest in the front end rather than the back end," Pugh said.
Dixon said she would "walk the streets of Baltimore" talking to residents about blight to show her support for BUILD's proposal. She also defended her record as City Council president for the past three and a half years, saying she already has a plan in progress to fight run-down areas of Baltimore.
"I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk," Dixon said.