1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve as mayor.
I have a Bachelors' Degree in Business Administration from Morgan State University. I am a former member of the Baltimore City Council, having served from 1983-1991, representing the 3rd Council District. During my time on the Council, I was a full-time Councilman and developed a special expertise on tax and budget matters.
I have more than 30 years of professional executive experience, in running various organizations and have been involved in numerous environmental and service organizations in a volunteer leadership capacity. For the past 13 years I have served as the Executive Vice President of the Greater Baltimore Board of REALTORS®, where I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the issues affecting the real estate market in the City and the entire region. I played a major role in pulling the various REALTOR® organizations in the Greater Baltimore Metro Area for the purpose of offering shared services to members.
I also served on the Founding Board of Directors of RB Intel, a subsidiary real estate data company wholly owned by MRIS. I served for several years on the Board of Directors of the Live Baltimore Marketing Center, including terms as Treasurer and President. You can view a more detailed background statement on my web site at www.landersformayor.com.
2. Why do you want to be mayor? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
I am running for Mayor -- Because I am passionate about improving Baltimore and reversing the decline of our population and of city services. We have to change the way the City government does business. Government as usual is not good enough. I am a life-long resident of Baltimore, and I am deeply committed to bringing a common sense, balanced approach to leading the City and serving the citizens.
I got into this race, because the existing Mayor has not been willing to address the fundamental problems and underlying fiscal issues that are hampering the City's ability to grow.
My top 10 priorities for the next four years will be:
1. Reducing the level of violent and property crime in City neighborhoods, and keeping children safe.
2. Improving public schools and expanding charter school options.
3. Demolishing, clearing and/or redeveloping at least 25% of the vacant and blighted properties in the City, through the creation of a Land Bank.
4. Opening up access to drug treatment.
5. Maintain recreation services and access to productive and wholesome activities for young people.
6. Reducing the City property tax rate in order to retain and attract residents and businesses to the City, by completely revamping the Property tax structure.
7. Halting the general decline of City services. Eg. Elimination of free bulk trash pickup.
8. Reversing the population losses that the City has experienced over the past 20 years.
9. Partnering with neighborhoods in keeping every neighborhood cleaner and greener.
10. Reducing the rat population in the City which has reached epidemic proportions
3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you pursue to improve public safety in the city?
I do think that concentrating enforcement efforts on violent, repeat offenders makes sense. However, I do not think the City has focused enough attention on crime prevention and dealing with some of the root causes of crime. Simply hiring more police officers, while we are reducing services and access to recreational programs, makes no sense. We must have a balanced approach in the way we deal with crime. In the words of Frederick Douglass, "It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men." We also need to revamp and overhaul the way we operate recreational and alternative programs for youth to make the programs more relevant, accessible and accountable.
I am also a strong advocate for opening up and simplifying access to drug treatment services -- in particular treatment with opiate substitute medications like buprenorphine, which have been shown to be highly effective in weaning addicts off of their drug habit. We have to make it easier for addicts to get the help they need when they need it. I am a proponent of the strategies and policies put forth by Public Policy Professor, Mark Kleiman, (a Baltimore Native), at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment. Professor Kleiman makes a very persuasive argument that we have to end the bias against opiate substitution therapies that have been shown to dramatically reduce crime among those who receive them.
4. Do you support the recent reforms in the Baltimore City school system? Do you believe any changes are needed in the schools' governance structure (such as direct mayoral control or an elected school board)?
I do support many of the recent reforms in the school system. However I am concerned about recent moves to reduce the number of seasoned teachers in the system and with the high turnover of principals. I would forge a strong working relationship with the School Superintendent, in order to be in a position to both influence and support the Superintendents agenda and goals.
There are a number of reasons that reform movements in the early part of the 20th century removed schools systems from direct political control by Mayors and Governors, and I happen to think those reasons are still valid today, so I support having the superintendent report to the a volunteer School Board.
I think the idea of having school board members jointly appointed by the Governor and the Mayor makes sense, especially when the City school system is dependent on the State for more than 70% of its annual operating budget. I would be concerned that it would make it easier for the State to shirk its responsibility to provide funding, if the Governor were completely detached from the system. Plus, in the rest of the Counties throughout the State, the Governor appoints School Board members. It was only in the City that the Mayor made the appointments.
I am not in favor of an elected school board. I would not want the school board to simply become a political stepping stone for persons interested in making a name for themselves. Persons serving on the school board should be there for one reason and one reason only, serving the best interests of the children. I would not want people elected to the school board solely because they were able to raise more campaign money or do a better job of marketing themselves than their opponents. I fail to see how an elected school board would better serve the interests of the children and/or improve the school system.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
I would work with the school board and the parent advisory committee to develop a priority list of the schools in the greatest need of replacement and renovation, so that we could chart out a plan to address the most severe problems. In some cases we should simply close schools that would be too costly to renovate and consolidate the programs in newer facilities. I would favor increasing the level of bonded indebtedness that the City would assume in order to expedite the building and rehabilitation schedule. I would also explore, with some of the large employers in the City, the possibility of building a school or taking over space on the employer's site.
6. Property taxes have become a major issue in this year's election. Do you believe the city's tax rate needs to be cut? If so, by how much, and what steps would you take to keep the city's budget in balance while lowering the rate?
Yes - the property tax rate needs to be reduced and we have to put a greater emphasis on growing the tax base. My target goal would be to reduce the tax rate by 25-35% over the next 4-6 years, which would place the target tax rate at between 1.45% and 1.7%, whereas the present City tax rate is 2.268%.
First, I would completely revamp the City property tax structure and model it after the property tax system in Washington, DC, which permits different tax rates to be applied to different categories of property. In Washington, inhabited residential properties pay the lowest property tax rate -- less than 1 percent. The second category of property is occupied commercial property, which bears a variable tax rate of less than 1.8 percent. The third category of property is comprised of vacant properties, whether commercial or residential, that have been vacant for more than a year and are not being actively marketed. The tax rate on vacant properties is 5 percent. Properties designated as "blighted" -- meaning they pose a hazard to surrounding residents and businesses -- would pay a tax rate of 10 percent. Employing a tiered property tax structure creates an incentive for property owners to either invest in their property or to divest and dispose of their property. Property owners who maintain and improve their properties are helping to increase the tax base, and would benefit from a lower tax rate, and those who are detracting from the tax base would pay a higher share of taxes. Growing the base will help facilitate rate reductions.
Second, given the large number of vacant properties that already exist and the likelihood that more vacant properties would be abandoned to tax sale due the increased tax rate on vacants, I would act promptly to establish a Land Bank in Baltimore. The land bank would be wholly owned by the City, and would be instrumental in reforming the entire tax sale process. The Land Bank would have the responsibility for assembling, stabilizing, managing and redeveloping City owned and tax delinquent properties. Here again, the purpose of redeveloping vacant property, which may mean building new housing, creating a shopping area, or establishing a park or greenway, building a community play area, or planting an urban farm, is to increase the tax base. The large number of vacant properties is a serious problem, but it also presents the City with a tremendous opportunity to add green space and public amenities to neighborhoods for the purpose of growing the tax base.
I will also work with local business leaders to implement and promote home-buying incentives for employees. My goal will be to involve every major employer in the City with efforts to promote City living and to provide incentives for buying a home in a City neighborhood.
Ironically, the growth in the property tax base over the past several years, when the real estate market was booming, equated to an 80 cent or 35% increase in the tax rate. Had the City adopted a policy of setting aside just one third of this increase in the base and devoted it to property tax relief, our rate would now be below 2%.
7. The city has faced large budget shortfalls in recent years. If that trend continues, what top priorites would you protect from cuts? In what areas would you pursue spending reductions?
The large budget shortfalls did not happen overnight and because of shortsighted fiscal policies and the failure of the Mayor and City Council to plan appropriately, the shortfalls mushroomed to crisis proportions. We have to fundamentally change the way the City conducts its business. I will look at all agencies and programs to see where we can streamline services and save money, so that funds can be applied to priority programs. We will seriously look at the City's office and space needs and look to sell off properties that are no longer needed and put the properties back on the tax rolls. The number of positions connected with the Mayor's office and the number of deputies in the various agencies has exploded over the past couple of decades. I will begin implementing spending reductions by cutting the number of staff in the Mayor's office by 20%.
8. Baltimore has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade. What would you do to encourage economic development and provide employment opportunities for city residents?
Reducing the tax burden in the City will help encourage companies and jobs to locate here. In addition to the property tax, businesses pay taxes on all personal property used in connection with the business, and the tax rate on personal property is 2.5x's the rate on real property. It is not surprising that most new developments in the City come in asking for a tax break.
Dealing with vacant properties in the City more aggressively, with the support of the Land Bank, will also help to create construction jobs for City residents. I will work to attach a local hiring preference to all major City contracts, whether for services or goods. The City must do a better job of working with the MTA to link bus and rail transportation services from the City to regional employment centers in order to open up employment opportunities for City residents. Simplifying, and modernizing the permit process and making it easier for businesses to locate in the City will also help to create employment opportunities.
The number of ex-offenders who live in the City and are unable to find work is overwhelming. Currently there are only a few programs offering training and placement for these ex-cons. We must do a better job of promoting the federal and state tax credits that are available for hiring ex-offenders. We also need to lobby for increases in the federal bonding program that is available to companies in order to attract more employers into the program.
9. Do you support construction of the light rail Red Line? If so, what would you do to mitigate concerns in some neighborhoods about the impact of the project? What other changes to the Baltimore mass transit system would you pursue to provide transportation options for those who lack access to a car?
Yes -- I do support the construction of the Red Line, although I would be more enthusiastic if the Red Line actually intersected with the current Green Line. I would work with the neighborhoods to do whatever is feasible to mitigate and reduce any negative impact. However, most economic studies have shown that access to public transit is a net plus, as far as quality of life and property values are concerned. I would like to explore the possibility of extending the existing Green Line north on Broadway so that a connection could be made with the MARC Train Line in East Baltimore. I will also work to establish green ways and more bicycle routes in the City to permit residents to safely get around the City using bike transportation.
10. Do you support the Greater Baltimore Committee's proposal for an expanded convention center/arena/hotel complex downtown? If not, what alternative, if any, do you support for replacing 1st Mariner Arena?
My support or lack of support will depend to a great extent on the amount of local dollars or tax concessions the City is being asked to contribute to the project. I will advocate for the establishment of a regional economic development authority, wherein all of the counties in the region help to bear a portion of the project's costs.. This type of regional attraction and job generator should not be solely funded by the tax payers of Baltimore City.
11. Do you support current plans for redevelopment of the West Side Superblock and the State Center office complex?
I do support the current plans for the redevelopment of the West Side. I am not in support of the State Center office complex, as it is presently structured and envisioned. I am concerned about the status of the downtown office market, and how it might be negatively affected by the State Center Project. I am also concerned about the sustainability of the project and politically how it will affect the General Assembly's willingness to support other worthy projects in the City.
12. Do you support the city's plans for a slot machine gambling parlor near the downtown stadium complex? Would you pursue any changes to the program, through either local or state legislation? Would you support an eventual expansion to table games there or elsewhere in the city?
Yes, I do support the plans for the slots gaming parlor near downtown. The Blue Ribbon Committee on Taxes and Fees, which I Co-chaired under Mayor Sheila Dixon, strongly supported the slots proposal as a way to generate revenue to reduce the property tax rate. The Committee actually went on record in support of having full table games at the City gaming venue, because we felt that table games would be an added attraction for the City convention business. In addition, table games generate more and higher paying jobs than simple slots venues and tend to attract overnight visitors with higher incomes, whereas slots venues attract day-trippers and moderate to lower income patrons. So the answer is yes -- I would support allowing table game gambling in the City.
13. Recent corruption scandals in the police and fire departments and other city agencies have diminished public trust in government. What steps would you take to ensure that the public is receiving the honest services of all city employees and elected officials?
I would make it clear at the outset of my administration that any sort of corruption or conflict of interest would be dealt with swiftly and effectively, including being prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Agency heads and supervisory personnel must be held accountable for failing to take action against employees who violate the public trust. Barring any court orders or legal restrictions to the contrary the results of corruption investigations would be made public, along with the corrective or disciplinary actions taken. Furthermore, I would be zealous in protecting the rights of whistleblowers and I would institute an evaluation and feedback process for all City services provided to the public. We need to hear feedback from citizens on how City employees and programs are performing, in order to improve services and reduce costs. The results of these service evaluations will also factor into individual employee performance evaluations.