On Feb. 3, The Baltimore Sun devoted an article to comments I made in the Baltimore City Voters Facebook group, criticizing Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's decision to become an adviser in President Donald Trump's administration. I compared that decision to his company's Port Covington deal ("Baltimore City Councilman under fire for attacks on Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank").
I stand by the substance of these remarks, although they may have been framed in too shorthand a fashion for readers not involved with the forum. I spoke knowing that most readers of the forum understand the historical context, and that my remarks about Mr. Plank refer to systemic forces, not personal attributes.
There is a persistent notion that those who elected Mr. Trump can be viewed as cartoon racists: poor, uneducated rednecks who use racial slurs and spout hatred. The reality, however, is that Mr. Trump's win was carried by far more polished, professional types. Pew Research shows that Mr. Trump won college educated whites by a 4-point margin, and as CNN's exit polling shows, Mr. Trump won a majority of Americans making $50,000 or more, whereas Hillary Clinton won voters making less than $50,000 per year by a 12-point margin.
You will never hear most of these Trump voters use the n-word, foment Islamophobia, or promote sexual assault. I am comfortable assuming that Trump voters shy away from such language not just because it is impolitic but because they truly believe Mr. Trump is wrong in those areas. The problem is that these voters allow other issues, including economic issues, to become more important than misogyny, racism, xenophobia, or prejudice of any other sort. It is not a coincidence that those most likely to view matters of systemic inequality as secondary to other issues are also those who benefit from existing systems. By being willing to accept or ignore these systemic forces, including systemic racism, these men and women only help to perpetuate it.
No self-respecting Democrat can defend Donald Trump's track record of prejudice. For months now, we have heard a chorus of public figures talk about their commitment to not normalizing Mr. Trump's behavior, and not engaging with his administration as though it represents a legitimate approach to governance or the views of a majority of American voters. Yet it seems for some, I crossed a line by criticizing Kevin Plank for doing exactly that.
When Kevin Plank aligns himself with Donald Trump's administration by serving as an adviser to it, he is normalizing Mr. Trump's behavior and treating his administration as legitimate. He is also earning a significant amount of potential political capital with these actions. In the process, Mr. Plank has become a representative of sorts for our city within the Trump administration. We should look at Mr. Plank's track record to better understand what that might mean for Baltimore.
I do not pretend to know what is in Kevin Plank's heart, but I do know what is in his memorandum of understanding for Port Covington. In issues of public policy, it is the actual impact on people, not the intended impact, that ultimately matters.
Take Port Covington's inclusionary housing agreement. It makes 10 percent on-site affordable housing a goal, not a requirement, and defines affordability as 60 percent of area median income (AMI). It does not require that these units be built unless low income housing tax credits can be secured for them. If the tax credits are not secured, the memorandum raises the affordability ceiling to 80 percent of AMI. Again, 80 percent is a goal, not a requirement. Ultimately, the developer can pay a fee that is significantly less than the cost of providing the units to avoid building any on-site affordable housing at all.
Because AMI is calculated for the Baltimore-Towson-Columbia metropolitan area, a rent payment based on an income of up to $46,000 per year, or $22.12 per hour, would be counted as affordable. Keep in mind, the median household income for black households in Baltimore is $33,610, and the minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour. The workers responsible for building Port Covington may also be unable to afford its affordable housing. The negotiated minimum wage for Port Covington's skilled trades is lower than Baltimore City's prevailing wage for all but one of the 98 listed skilled trades, and also less than the hourly rate needed to afford an 80 percent AMI housing unit.
That means our majority-black city gave over a half-billion taxpayer dollars to a development that a majority of Baltimore's black residents may not be able to afford. Even Port Covington's off-site affordable housing only requires "a preference for, but not a limitation to, locations that do not further concentrate poverty, as determined by the developer." Those are tough facts to spin.
That is just the beginning. Even as the vision of Port Covington remains mostly on the drawing board, its priority for city resources and attention has surpassed that of most Baltimore neighborhoods. Consider how our political capital to bargain for federal or state transportation funding is now occupied by the I-95 off ramps or Port Covington's anticipated light rail spur, while infrastructure across most of the city's majority black neighborhoods continues to languish as it has for decades, having been cut in line yet again by waterfront development.
More broadly, consider the school funding issue. The state's formula cuts funds when Baltimore's tax base grows, in anticipation of more local taxes. Tax deals of the kind Port Covington is receiving mean those new funds won't be available to cover the shortfall. We are told that a short-term fix has been fashioned, and that a long-term formula fix is coming. However, advocates have been warning all along of these consequences, and the time for fashioning a solution was before those consequences manifested themselves. City schools ran a $50 million deficit in the two years preceding the deal and suffered a $130 million shortfall this year. Who is harmed? A public school population that is 90 percent black and brown, in spite of white residents representing over 30 percent of the city's population.
This is exactly how systemic forces take the actions of well-intentioned people and use them to perpetuate a fundamentally racist allocation of benefits and costs. The system that organizes benefits and costs this way is called white supremacy. If I choose not to speak out against it just because it does not harm me directly, I am enabling it. Port Covington — at least this round — is a done deal, but we must learn from it going forward if we are to truly undo the structural racism holding our city back.
I am glad that Kevin Plank has a philanthropic record, but Baltimore needs parity more than it needs charity. Charity, after all, is often aimed at the effects of structural ills (funding shortfalls) not the causes (unjust development). Addressing the latter requires a willingness to speak about it in clear terms. It also should not take a white city councilman to generate this degree of attention to the issue when black residents have made these same points for decades.
Ryan Dorsey, Baltimore
Ryan Dorsey, Baltimore
The writer, a Democrat, represents the 3rd District on the City Council.