Baltimore was a focus during this week’s second televised debate in Maryland’s gubernatorial primary, and for good reason. Politically, votes there are up for grabs, with the only two Baltimore candidates (attorney Jim Shea and author/entrepreneur Alec Ross) both political newcomers without established bases. And from a policy perspective, continued population loss, high crime rates, poor economic opportunities and struggling schools make the needs there more intense than in any other part of the state. And given Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to cancel the Red Line light rail project and the uncertainty over the future of the State Center redevelopment, it provides them an opening to attack the popular Republican incumbent.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has issued a plan specifically about how he would seek to revitalize Baltimore, and former NAACP leader Ben Jealous has an issue paper dedicated to strengthening Maryland’s cities, which primarily focuses on Baltimore. Other candidates have ideas that would help the city scattered throughout other policy proposals, often focusing on education — both in terms of financial support for schools and career/technical training — transportation, housing and economic development. Some of the highlights include:
- Mr. Baker’s plan to bring to Baltimore a version of the Transforming Neighborhood Initiative he created in Prince George’s County. It’s similar to Mayor Catherine Pugh’s effort to concentrate city services of all types in neighborhoods struggling with crime, which has shown great promise; expanding the concept with more state support is an excellent idea. Mr. Baker also has a specific focus on growing Baltimore’s population with a menu of retention incentives for current city residents who buy homes and relocation incentives for those who would move here.
- Mr. Jealous’ proposal to expand state investment and participation in Baltimore’s YouthWorks summer employment program. Year after year, the number of young people applying for jobs in YouthWorks increases, and for good reason — it provides exposure to opportunity and training in the kinds of soft skills that can make the difference for a young job seeker. Yet funding is a perennial struggle. It shouldn’t be. Mr. Jealous also has strong ideas about greater state support for low-income rent subsidies and investments in counseling and other services to help people move to neighborhoods with more jobs and better schools.
- Mr. Ross’ focus on career training and apprenticeship programs. His observation that Maryland has a barbell-shaped economy with people concentrated at the top and bottom of the income ladder is particularly apt in Baltimore City. Consequently, his ideas for building skills necessary for an economy with tremendous opportunities in technology, both among adults and through a transformation of our K-12 educational system, are essential.
- Mr. Shea’s transportation plans — beyond the unrealistic promise he shares with most other candidates to resuscitate the Red Line — include smart priorities: Establishing bus rapid transit in the city, particularly to facilitate east-west commutes, and creating better links between Metro and light rail stops in the suburbs and employment centers there, which would greatly benefit city residents who reverse-commute to the counties.
- State Sen. Rich Madaleno’s ideas for ways the state can relieve burdens from the city. Notably, he would have the state take over maintenance of key thoroughfares, including the JFX. It’s not just about fixing potholes (though that would be nice) but about freeing the city to devote more of its resources to higher priorities like public safety.
We would add two ways governors can use state agencies to help Baltimore, and one in which they can use their moral leadership:
- The strong partnership between state parole and probation officials and city law enforcement to focus resources on violent, repeat offenders withered over the years. It has begun to revive under the Hogan and Pugh administrations, and it needs to be a top priority of whoever is elected governor in November. Mr. Shea mentioned this issue at a recent debate. We achieved our greatest success in violence reduction when the governor felt just as responsible for the city’s homicide rate as the mayor.
- Improving the prospects for the thousands of people who return from prison to Baltimore is imperative. Mr. Jealous has some strong ideas for providing services both before and after release from prison, but we would add a big one: better drug treatment behind bars. Maryland generally does not offer medication-assisted treatment (methadone, buprenorphine and the like) behind bars. It should.
- Baltimore cannot be considered an island. The source of its woes — white flight-fueled depopulation and disinvestment — is the same as the source of the suburbs’ strength. The governor needs to be a champion of investment in the city by the state and to facilitate meaningful steps to strengthen ties across jurisdictional borders, up to and including a conversation about regional governance and school systems.