I am running for Baltimore City Council, District 12 because it is time for real people to step up and help put this city back on track. I’ve lived in Baltimore for most of my life and have seen a lot of things happen that as a parent, taxpayer, and homeowner, upset me. It is time for a change.
For years, I’ve seen too many folks heading to city hall to provide kickbacks to their campaign donors or to line their own pockets, but nothing ever changes in neighborhoods throughout my district. The result: more crime, fewer jobs, more vacant homes, and more of the same false promises.
To change this, I want to use my management skills to draft blueprints/strategies on how to better District 12, talk to potential employers, and work in partnership with neighborhood associations, local police departments, and school administrators. I want to address three core issues: corruption, crime, and infrastructure.
Right now, folks in my district are hurting. They have no jobs, limited skills to get new jobs, rising utility bills, and dilapidated neighborhoods. This is made worse with the coronavirus pandemic. We cannot afford to have a councilperson that is far removed from the realities facing folks in my district. We need someone who understands us; I know that I am that someone. I want to lead. I want real change.
What are the most pressing issues in your district, and how would you address them?
Public Safety/Crime Reduction: Most District 12 folks will tell you that what we’re doing is not enough or just plain wrong. We’ve all read the headlines in local newspapers. And yet, we remain convinced that crime reduction is based on good policing or a new police commissioner. We’ve tried strategy after strategy and have replaced several commissioners, yet we still find ourselves in the same situation, if not worse. The real answer lies in the lack of work opportunities for our youth and in ensuring that they have access to jobs and the skills they need for those jobs. My story may sound lofty, but it is true: I studied at Baltimore City Community College where I focused on construction supervision, and I now make an honest living by monitoring construction projects and making sure the job gets done.Infrastructure: My district encompasses areas like Perkins Homes and Greenmount West. In these areas, the word on everyone’s lips is gentrification. We are told to fear it, that gentrification is a big word for when rich white folks move in and push out poor Black folks. We know the story but how about a solution: the city council should incentivize homeownership. Already in place are tax credits (incentives) for developers and senior homeowners. These tax credits can be extended to legacy residents who own their homes. Similarly, we can provide an opportunity for current long-term renters to convert to homeowner. This can be accomplished through a community-based organization that provides loan and rehabilitation services. Examples are the Neighborhood Housing Services program in Patterson Park and Irvington neighborhoods.
How do you assess the current police commissioner’s performance and the department’s approach to fighting violent crime, specifically murder?
Few folks in my neighborhood even know the name of the current police commissioner. The commish changes so often that it’s hard to keep up. The same holds true with policing strategies: today it’s one strategy; tomorrow, it’s another.Despite all the negative publicity that police have received since Freddie Gray, police do matter in protecting our neighborhoods. They play a huge role in reducing crime, especially by adopting evidence-based tactics like hot-spot policing. The problem is that they don’t solve enough cases, and if they’re driving around or parked somewhere, they aren’t doing much.
As councilman, I would monitor police response times and deployment strategies so that we can have equitable results in poorer neighborhoods. By micro-targeting key areas for violent crime, we can have effective use of scarce resources in each police district.
How would you address the issue of squeegee kids in the city’s intersections?
My interpretation of the issues facing squeegee kids is different than what it is for other city youth. I tie these issues to indifference to those whose voices politicians and well-heeled Baltimoreans never care to hear. For 20 years, I have worked in construction and have chatted with my coworkers about events in Baltimore and the political climate that allows folks to settle for the norm. People often suggest that I might be too idealistic, perhaps a bit impractical. The squeegee kids have grown used to being ignored; I have not, and I want to extend my voice to advocate for them.I tell my story because I genuinely think that working-class voices like mine should be heard. For too long, politicians have spoken about people like me. They have used our narratives to advance their agenda. When we turn to them for help, they speak to us as a parent would speak to a child.
But, my community is in ruins. Our neighborhoods are in ruins. Our infrastructure is in ruins. Our youth [many of them who are squeegee kids] are shooting at each other and coping with the loss of a loved one by using drugs and alcohol.
And yet, the same old tune plays on. My priorities are the priorities of people of color, of squeegee kids, of folks who have been sidelined by machine politics. I want to speak truth to power. I want to show that the voiceless can—and do—have a powerful voice.
What strategies would you pursue to reduce drug addiction and associated ills, such as overdose deaths and crime?
Long ago, I learned that drug use changes the brain, leading to addiction and other serious problems. Our key goal should be to prevent early use of drugs and alcohol. It may go a long way in reducing these risks.Risk of drug use increases greatly during times of transition like the current COVID-19 pandemic. For an adult, life-changing events like divorce or loss of a job may increase the risk of drug use. For young men—particularly young Black men—these events are even more impactful.
Our youth centers need to be at the front lines of this fight. As a councilman, I will form multi-neighborhood alliances to target at-risk youth and ensure that they are linked with programs to empower youth with needed job skills, employment opportunities, and support for being freed from drug/alcohol dependency. I want these centers to also work in partnership with drug courts so that young men are not falling through the cracks.
Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” These words are so true today when we discuss the issues surrounding drug dependency.
How do you propose Baltimore pay for its expected share of the Kirwan education commission reforms?
If we’re serious about supporting educational efforts, then we all got to chip in. I’ll start: If elected, I pledge to contribute one-third—yes, one-third—of my salary to an education-based charity in my district. I will do so because I believe that this gesture of humility will send a resounding message to my constituents and to other elected officials that we put our money where our mouth is. It’s one thing to vote for Kirwan’s recommendation and say that we support education. It’s another to actually chip in as we find means to pay for it.
What are the overlooked opportunities for economic development and job creation in Baltimore, and how will you encourage their implementation?
We have to find new avenues for revenue. Because we’ve taxed homeowners to the max, maybe it’s time that politicians start chipping in from their own salaries and campaign war chests.After that, we can have a serious discussion of what services need to get cut to make sure that the Kirwan recommendations are carried out and Baltimore City is paying its part.
We have yet to fully optimize the benefits of the federal Opportunity Zones program. In District 12, the number of vacant homes is only growing. With the recession that is about to come or is already here, we will only see more of the vacant dilapidated homes. We need to establish public-private partnerships via the federal government's Opportunity Zones program. With the support of area developers, we could revitalize District 12’s neighborhoods by providing training programs and jobs. This would also help increase the number of affordable housing units available in Baltimore.
Is the current structure of the City Council, and the balance of power between the mayor and council members, appropriate, and why or why not? If you would seek to change it, what would your model look like?
Baltimoreans know rats when they see them. We do everything to curb our rodent infestation, but when it comes to corrupt leaders, we somehow give them a pass, if not more cheese. We elect the same folks from the same party every election cycle. Like many District 12 folks, I am tired of the same basic politicians, tired of their indifference, tired of their boasting of raising cash in the five-digit or six-digit sums. My opponents boast of raising over $40k, but we should ask, where does this money come from? Who does it really benefit? We all know what moneyed-donors want—access to power—and if this power hurts District 12 residents, what good does more campaign money really do for residents?We cannot let donors and do-nothing politicians get away with it this time. Money may buy politicians, but it does not buy good public servants. If elected, I pledge to contribute one-third of my salary to an education-based charity in my district in addition to committing myself to serving at most two terms. I will do so because I want to send a message to my constituents and to the rest of Baltimore that I mean business. I am not campaigning to rub shoulders with other state and local politicians. I am doing so because I’ve seen my community really suffer. I have some ideas of how to improve my district. Now, it’s time for run-of-the-mill politicians to sit down and let folks like me lead.
What are the most important issues the council has dealt with in the last four years? Name several smart decisions and several not-so-smart choices members have made.
There are many things that the previous council ignored in trying to advance a strange agenda that rewarded campaign donors over working Baltimoreans. One example is the decision by the Baltimore City Board of Estimates to approve a 30 percent water rate increase for city residents, which began in mid-2019. This rate increase hit hard because it stood in stark contrast to the promises made prior when Baltimore City became the first city in the nation to ban water privatization through a charter amendment. Now, city residents face higher water bills, plus no alternatives to fix the city’s decaying water and wastewater infrastructure.To put salt in the wound, owner-occupied homes in Baltimore City can go to tax sale if they have at least $750 in unpaid bills that are at least nine months late. Per my understanding, there are no other jurisdictions in Maryland that threaten to take away homes or properties over water debt. Is this progress or a way of screwing over Baltimoreans all in the name of progress
What weaknesses do you see in the delivery of city services? What can be done to improve response time and resident satisfaction?
A few facts on just one city service that folks in District 12 constantly tell me about—public safety. In 2019, a study by security company ADT ranked Baltimore’s residents the “most robbed” in the U.S. That same year, there were 348 homicides in Baltimore; 32 percent of those killings were “cleared” by the Baltimore City Police Department. And the last fact: Baltimore City has an average police response time of 16 minutes.These facts may seem alarming to folks in nicer neighborhoods, but where I’m from, we know them all too well. We need to amplify public reporting of response rates and arrests/convictions for perpetrators of violent crimes. We need to ensure that all police departments have adequate resources and staff to respond to crimes. We also need to support of community-based diversion programs for first time, non-violent offenders.
If we don’t deal with city services as it pertains to public safety, then we are missing an important opportunity to really affect change in District 12.