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12 Baltimore mayoral candidates debate taxes, schools, jobs

12 Baltimore mayoral candidates debate taxes, schools, jobs
City Councilman Carl Stokes speaks at a mayoral candidate forum in Riverside

With less than two months to go until April 26's primary election, 12 Democrats vying to become Baltimore's next mayor debated Thursday in Riverside at the National Federation of the Blind.

The candidates -- including former Mayor Sheila Dixon and her top challenger state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh -- were not asked about crime, which is traditionally the biggest issue on Baltimore voters' minds. But they debated how best to run the schools, grow jobs and cut taxes, among other matters.

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On property taxes, City Councilman Carl Stokes offered the most dramatic plan, pledging to cut Baltimore's property tax rate — which is double the state's other jurisdictions — in half. He has proposed paying for it with increased revenue as the city's economy grows.

City Councilman Nick J. Mosby said he would cut property taxes by 15 percent and pay for it by imposing a fee on garbage collection. He has described this plan as more "responsible" than Stokes' proposal.

Similarly, attorney Elizabeth Embry said she would continue Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's plan to cut the property tax rate by 20 cents by 2020.

Businessman David L. Warnock and engineer Calvin Young III said they couldn't make any such promises, until there are full audits of city agencies.

"We've got to get a handle on our finances in Baltimore City," Warnock said.

On education, Pugh, Stokes and Warnock pointed to the schools they've helped open in Baltimore.

Warnock said his charter school Green Street Academy, which has a tilapia farm, is the "most chosen middle school in the city."

Stokes, a former school board member, said his charter schools have helped fill in gaps where the traditional public schools have failed students. Thousands of black students leave the city schools with an inadequate education, Stokes said.

"The school system is the most racist institution in the city of Baltimore," Stokes said.

Pugh has submitted legislation in the General Assembly to take back mayoral control of the schools. Stokes, Mosby and Embry argued that a mayor who asserts his or herself would already have functional control of the schools, and the legislation is unnecessary.

DeRay Mckesson, the former school administrator turned Black Lives Matter activist, cautioned that taking back a more than $1 billion organization wouldn't be as simple as it sounds.

He said the city needs to close a gap to make sure 1,000 kids who need pre-k services can get them. And, he endorsed visits from city workers to youths' homes that could address issues such as lead paint in homes and a lack of child libraries.

On fiscal responsibility, Mosby took aim at city agencies that allow contractors to run well over-budget on jobs.

"We do not finish our projects on time or on budget," he said.

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Warnock said developers have ripped off the city, taking advantage of subsidies for projects they could have built without them.

"We got out-negotiated by a bunch of developers," he said.

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon told forum attendees she would work create land bank that would cut down on the number of vacant homes in Baltimore.

"I know what it takes to run the city," she said.

Several candidates pointed to their lives as personal success stories.

Young, whose step-father was just released from prison, graduated from Harvard Business School.

Mosby talked about how he grew up without a father present in his life, but overcame the odds to become a city councilman.

"Statistically, I shouldn't be here," he said.

The forum came just hours after Mosby completed a 24-hour non-stop campaign day, in which he visited with voters at sites across the city, including Morgan State University.

Earlier Thursday, Warnock unveiled a campaign prop called the "Wheel of Misfortunate" that highlights financial failures in Baltimore.

"We are on a path to bankruptcy as a city," Warnock said.

Also Thursday, a fundraiser posted online advertised a fundraising event Mckesson is having in New York to raise campaign money. To date, he has more than $150,000 raised through the Internet site CrowdPac.

That total rivals Stokes' contributions, but trails Mosby's, Dixon's, Embry's, Pugh's and Warnock's.

Also participating in the former was former bank operations manager Patrick Gutierrez, who stressed that his campaign is picking up steam with dozens of yard signs posted in Edmondson Village;  police Sgt. Gersham Cupid, who said he was continuing campaign despite a tragedy in his family because of his deep "care" for Baltimore; researcher Cindy Walsh, who condemned international corporations' influence in Baltimore; and nurse Wilton Wilson, who urged voters to consider non-establishment candidates.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater 

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