Mary Miller is running for mayor of Baltimore and just launched a television ad campaign to make sure everyone got the news. It might look like she’s trying to Bloomberg the mayor’s race by spending $500,000 on commercials 11 weeks before the April primary, but my fellow citizens need to pay attention. She’s a high-credential candidate in the most important Baltimore election of the 21st Century.
Just as the outcome of November’s presidential and congressional elections will be critical to the future of American democracy, the Democratic primary in Democratic-dominated Baltimore is the election where the road splits for the city. We either continue with the leadership we’ve had or move to someone with a larger vision for a future very different from our present. There are a few candidates who offer the latter choice. Mary Miller is one of them.
Miller is 64. She has lived in Baltimore since the mid-1980s and compiled an impressive background in financial markets and government. She managed a $55 billion investment fund at T. Rowe Price, then worked for five years in the Obama administration. She served as under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department, a job that put her at the center of federal efforts to recover from the Great Recession.
In Baltimore, Miller drew on her experiences in finance to work on growing the local economy through lending to small businesses, with an emphasis on those owned by women and minorities. That part of the resume gives credibility to her campaign pledge to foster “inclusive growth.”
Miller considered running last year after the “Healthy Holly” scandal exposed Catherine Pugh’s audacious and dumb corruption.
She looked at the trends — five years of horrific violence midst a surge in shootings; an understaffed police department tarnished by corruption; six police commissioners in seven years; four mayors in nine years, two of whom resigned in scandal; a loss of city population; schools without heat; thousands of vacant houses; a lack of lending by big banks to city businesses — and she decided to step into the race.
She didn’t see among other candidates the leadership power needed to pull Baltimore out of its tailspin.
“I think people are exhausted, I think they are very discouraged about leadership in Baltimore,” she says. “I don’t think we’re on a good path here. … I hear people who have been generous for a long time to Baltimore saying, ‘I’m done. I just can’t. I don’t see that we have any effective leadership.’
“This is a personal commitment for me. I’m not running for anything other than mayor. I want to get the city back on track. If I saw someone I thought was better equipped, who had the full arsenal and could do this job, I would have gotten behind them. I didn’t see that.”
In Miller’s first campaign commercial, she addresses crime, saying she supports Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s current strategy and wants to give it time to work.
“I think he’s the right man for the job,” she says of Harrison. “But you’ve got to give him the air cover and the support he needs to get the job done, and I have not seen that.”
Harrison needs more police officers — 300 more, according to a staffing plan released in December — and, Miller says, officers deserve salaries commensurate with those in Baltimore’s suburbs. Most importantly, she says, the next mayor needs to coordinate the crime fight with all players involved in law enforcement. Too often, they appear to be at odds. “The sniping, grandstanding and finger pointing is just sickening,” she says. “This is an emergency. People are dying, and I don’t see that coordination and that kind of teamwork going on, and that’s what the mayor is supposed to do.”
What’s really needed in the crime fight, Miller says, is a real push against poverty. That includes getting better results from the schools, expanding and funding job training, and fostering “inclusive growth” with investment in neglected neighborhoods.
Miller was co-author of a report from the Johns Hopkins 21st Century Cities Initiative that examined small-business lending in the city and found that it had dropped by 32% between 2007 and 2016 — a period when banks nearly doubled their deposits in the city, reaching $26.5 billion.
If big banks continue to redline certain parts of the city, Miller says, then Baltimore needs to find other capital for small businesses.
Baltimore Community Lending, a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution, has provided millions of dollars in financing for thousands of housing units in underserved areas of the city, with some 60% of its loans going to companies owned by people of color.
Miller joined the board of a BCL subsidiary, Baltimore Business Lending, to focus on neglected areas of the city with loans to startup businesses owned by minorities and women.
“Baltimore as a city has preferenced real estate development over jobs,” she says. “So we need to get more capital to jobs, and one way to do that is to help small businesses grow.”
Baltimore Business Lending has made 19 loans to 16 small businesses so far.
Miller also joined the board of Baltimore’s $52 million Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund. The fund had made $5.75 million in loans and other transactions by year’s end, and it has more in the pipeline.
All good, Miller says, but the effort needs to be scaled up. “We need a much bigger agenda for growth in Baltimore,” she says. The next mayor needs to get behind economic development that creates jobs with benefits and good wages, and generally increases income across the city.
“We have a huge crime problem, but we also have a huge opportunity problem,” Miller says. “If we don’t get after the economic issues in the city, I wonder if we will ever solve our crime problems.”