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No Port Covington Deal until it benefits all of Baltimore

Op-ed: Don't approve Port Covington deal until it benefits all of Baltimore.

Baltimore, one year after the uprisings and the death of Freddie Gray, is at a crossroads. We could move forward as one united city — working to heal the wounds created by years of neglect and create jobs and opportunity for all our residents. Or, we will move forward as two cities, the haves and the have-nots.

Nothing typifies this choice so much as the proposed $535 million dollar giveaway for the proposed Port Covington development. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has gone to great lengths to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for this playground for the wealthy after it was requested by the CEO of Under Armour, who launched a pricey ad campaign to sway public opinion in his favor.

The proposed development includes high-rent housing and space for high-end businesses, and budgets more than $1 billion from local, state and federal governments.

The deal has been shrouded in secrecy and does not go far enough in its promises for local hiring, living wages or full benefits for workers. It has no provision for transit that interlocks with the city's poorest neighborhoods, so there is no guarantee people from poorer neighborhoods will benefit. And to top it all off, nearly everyone pushing the giveaway is retiring, leaving no one responsible in office to be held accountable if the deal goes south.

And it could: This is at least the third proposed development for the Port Covington area, and the previous two left taxpayers holding the bag with little to show for it.

Now, people pushing the Sagamore development will try to mislead you by saying this is not taxpayer money. But when the City of Baltimore borrows money, taxpayers are ultimately responsible if anything happens.

And tell me, where were Mayor Rawlings-Blake and her "investors" after the Baltimore uprisings? When people were in the streets demanding functioning schools and transit — a fair playing field for all of Baltimore's residents? They were nowhere to be found.

The mayor and City Council seem uninterested in floating bonds to help existing neighborhoods and communities. We don't have unlimited credit there.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake wants you to believe this isn't about choice, but it is. We either invest in neighborhoods that have been plundered for decades, or we invest in high-end development for the rich. The mayor, and anyone who stands with her on Port Covington, are making a choice for two cities. A choice to invest in building a city within a city for the wealthy, and a choice not to invest in neighborhoods that have been systematically denied access to quality education, transportation and jobs for years.

We have to stand up and fight for one Baltimore while we can, before they sell our opportunity to do so.

What critics of Port Covington are asking for is simple to provide: We want transparency on the deal, we want accountability if something goes wrong, and we want a significant "good jobs guarantee" that any and all jobs created by this taxpayer investment will include local hiring, living wages, full benefits and paid leave.

We also believe that if we decide to build this giant corporate park, we need it to be accessible to everyone. Poor people on the west side should be able to access jobs on the east side. We need a transit system to ensure that investments in development in East Baltimore also benefit families in West Baltimore.

We choose one Baltimore, where we all move forward together by investing in all of our residents. And we invite you to join us in opposing the Port Covington Development until it is transparent, accountable and has a Good Jobs Guarantee.

Charly Carter is executive director of Maryland Working Families, an independent political organization that fights for racial & social justice and an economy that works for all. Her email is ccarter@workingfamilies.org.

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