Voter guide: Maria Mandela Vismale, City Council (5), Baltimore City
For The Baltimore Sun|
May 12, 2020 at 1:14 PM
Maria Mandela Vismale
Republican candidate for Baltimore City Council D5
Residence Grove Park, Baltimore City
Occupation Defense Investigator
Education Western College Prep High School, Study abroad Anglo-American University of Prague, Bachelor's degree in English with Pre-law certificate Lincoln University of Pennsylvania (an HBCU), coursework at Stevenson University and American University, Yale University; Women’s Campaign School (political management)
I am running for office because my commitment to this district has spanned decades. I am a third generation Baltimorean whose family has long resided in District 5. I am an HBCU graduate, a dedicated community advocate, and a devout Catholic. For many years, my family has operated a soup kitchen at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church ministering to those in need.
My friends quip that advocacy and service are in my DNA. It first began when I was a mere 12-year-old who was allowed by my strict parents to join other youth community organizers with Patterson Park Association. I was driven and passionate in my work. Collectively, I worked with other organizers to get a Shoppers grocery store in place (to replace a proposed gas station) along Gwynn Falls Parkway. Then, as a 17-year-old teenager, I took on a more public role and was asked to provide testimony to Baltimore City Council. I wanted then to underscore the impact of gang violence on young women like myself. That enthusiasm still guides me in my work today.
I have learned to defy the odds and pursue higher education at a renown HBCU in Pennsylvania in addition to coursework at Yale and American Universities. I now work as a defense investigator pulling together evidence, which affords me the analytical skills to address key issues. I complement my formal employment with several volunteer activities. Among the most notable are my services as a volunteer Sunday school teacher and my work with families, particularly low-income families in Northwest Baltimore. I largely focus on improving financial literacy and maintaining a healthy credit score. I have devoted countless hours and days to serving those who are less fortunate. I do so because my commitment to serving others is unyielding. I am confident that this commitment will allow me to effect transformative change as the next councilwoman for District 5.
What are the most pressing issues in your district, and how would you address them?
The three biggest issues are crime/corruption, education, and the economy.Crime, if elected, I will spearhead efforts to explore the role of community liaisons/public meetings in the fed/local consent decree-focus. In Grove Park alone, according to Crime Map, there has been an increase in vandalism and theft this month. I will make neighborhood associations stronger by providing funding to communities that meet specific guidelines.
Education, if elected, I will establish private-sector/public-school partnerships that combine school with technical training and paid work. I will audit the Baltimore City Public School System to identify and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. I will reduce the current 7:1 administrator: student ratio. I will explore vouchers and charter school options for students in failing schools. Coming from a family of educators, I understand some students need extra attention. Accordingly, I will push for a contest to allow successful teachers to deliver feasible learning solutions. There must be more system-wide emphasis on providing parent outreach that is attractive to families in that it meets needs for communication and self- identified advocacy.
To address the economy, as it relates to workers, homeowners, and businesses, if elected, I will increase employment training and promote trades such as plumbing, welding, and electrician jobs for those looking to immediately enter the workforce. To assist homeowners and small business owners, I will look to create private/public partnerships to reinvest in and rebuild boarded-up homes. I will prioritize a comprehensive audit of current city expenditures, drastically decrease administrative bloat, and reduce property tax rates.
How do you assess the current police commissioner’s performance and the department’s approach to fighting violent crime, specifically murder?
It can be improved. If elected, I will allocate more pay increases combined with more training of police officers and more resources.
How would you address the issue of squeegee kids in the city’s intersections?
If elected, I will invest in educational resources and recreation centers. I will lead a task force to procure grant money for juvenile services and to revamp after-school initiatives.
What strategies would you pursue to reduce drug addiction and associated ills, such as overdose deaths and crime?
If elected, I will ensure that methadone clinics are in the business of rehabilitating patients, not profiting from drug-dependent persons. I will ramp-up community-based diversion programs for first-time, non-violent offenders, and improve harm reduction strategies for substance use disorders and chronic drug users. I will collaborate with healthcare providers to form a citywide task force on health disparities with a goal of designing strategies to reduce health disparities by 2030. Mental health can contribute to overdoses and crime, so I will look to holistic treatment and community support surrounding decreased funding for clinics and increased funding for therapy and holistic CBD treatment.
How do you propose Baltimore pay for its expected share of the Kirwan education commission reforms?
If elected, I will implement a 10-year tax on casinos and make them pay for the Kirwan bill since they are directly benefiting by urging policy makers to adjust the budget accordingly. I will address that Baltimore pays teachers more and spends 22% more per student nationwide. I will not increase taxes since Baltimoreans are already spread too thin financially.
What are the overlooked opportunities for economic development and job creation in Baltimore, and how will you encourage their implementation?
If elected, I will host bi-annual financial literacy conferences to teach about savings, home ownership, and money management. I will talk about Opportunity Zones, Opportunity Zones, Opportunity Zones! If a business hires a specific amount of local residents, it will get a tax break. I will have links on my website and host monthly “Employ Marylander” livestreams where local companies can hire local residents.
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?
I would like for the mayor and city council to better address the needs of the people. Accordingly, as councilwoman, I will impose routine evaluations to be submitted by council members for feedback. I am a new candidate, thus will need to get a feel for the dynamic first, and then make a more informed conclusion on the power structure.
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.
Smart decision: banning plastic bags. Not smart: failing to bill luxury condos and big companies for water. Overall, politicians must prioritize, vocalize, and activate education, criminal justice reform, and economic initiatives so people will become more active themselves and less jaded about the current state of Baltimore. Allocation of funds is another issue: It cost $19M to pass the Baltimore Water Accountability Act which does not help the majority of residents since most Baltimoreans do not own homes (only 45% own homes). Those who live in apartments will not notice any savings or changes in their water bill since the water is calculated in rent.
What weaknesses do you see in the delivery of city services? What can be done to improve response time and resident satisfaction?
Policies are not designed to benefit the people, but they should be, and they can be. We must take a more practical approach. For instance, public transportation is subpar. Our infrastructure is sub-par. In order to provide better services, we must be more responsible in properly allocating funds. If elected, I will address contractor overruns to optimize funding and rebuild streets; monitor responsiveness to 211 requests for service; and identify ways to incentivize private employers to subsidize use of public transportation for employees.