Candidate Mitchell offers economic development plan for city

The Baltimore Sun

Mayoral candidate and City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. announced yesterday his plan to spark economic development in the city.

His approach hinges on initiatives to stimulate small-business growth, but the candidate warns all the strategizing will come to nothing if Baltimore can't fix its crime problem and ailing schools.

"Any economic development plan must be based on a safer city and a smarter city," Mitchell said. "Unless we have a safer, smarter city, we will not have real growth."

Mitchell spoke outside the Northeast Market on East Monument Street, a once-thriving commercial corridor sandwiched between blighted residential streets and the burgeoning Johns Hopkins Hospital and Patterson Park areas.

He promised to support businesses like those trying to make a go of it along Monument Street and other Baltimore communities outside the city's flush Inner Harbor area.

Mitchell is running in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary election against seven other candidates -- including Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Other candidates include schools administrator Andrey Bundley, Del. Jill P. Carter, Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, socialist A. Robert Kaufman, businessman Mike Schaefer and PTA president Phillip A. Brown Jr.

Mitchell proposes requiring banks to lend money to inner-city businesses, particularly those that would serve working-class people. He bases the Community Reinvestment Act on similar measures in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

He would also create a $10 million fund that would distribute seed money to deserving businesses in $100,000 to $200,000 increments.

Mitchell would aim the loans at businesses rejected by venture capital firms.

Mitchell also suggests a number of ways to strengthen the area's work force. He would create a "regional skills alliance" to connect unions, colleges and employers so that people could train for the type of jobs needed locally.

After reading through Mitchell's plan, Dixon's campaign manager, Martha McKenna said, "It's not a groundbreaking work."

"There's some good ideas in there that Mayor Dixon is already implementing," she added.

McKenna also said Mitchell needs to demonstrate how he will pay for these initiatives -- even as he plans to cut the city's tax rate.

"His promises far outweigh his ability to pay for these things," she said. "Mayor Dixon has been dealing with the reality of a budget."

Mitchell's plan also includes:

Cutting the red tape in the permitting process for those trying to open new businesses.

Establishing "ShopBal" to help smaller local companies market themselves internationally.

Reducing abandoned properties that blight neighborhoods. He would charge city staff members with getting city-owned properties into private hands within six to nine months.

Reducing taxes and fees. He promises to introduce legislation to cut the property tax by 12 cents.

Creating a task force to study ways to upgrade and restore public buildings, including libraries, recreation centers and schools. In particular, Mitchell would target the Enoch Pratt library system in an attempt to make it "the most electronically connected library in the nation."

Creating a way to nurture small technology start-up businesses.

Establishing tax credits for research and development to complement the state's incentive program.

Charging the housing department and the Baltimore Development Corp. with devising a way to redevelop the city's public housing communities.


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