There are many neighbors still trying to decide who to support for City Council here in the 1st District. I’ve put together some resources to review and make an informed decision. Please share away and make well-informed choices on Election Day!
Roughly Speaking with Dan Rodricks (eight candidates)
First Edition with Sean Yoes (four candidates).
Interview with Roberto Alejandro from On Background (Just me–Zeke has one too on that site).
Transportation Forum with Marc Steiner (four candidates)
Written Voters Guides & Questionnaires
The Baltimore Sun
The League of Women Voters
CrowdPAC Candidate Overview (good financial breakdowns)
Housing Policy Watch Questionnaire (two candidates).
Bikemore Questionnaire (four candidates)
Candidate Profile in the Baltimore Guide
(note: there’s no one link which connects to all the profiles, but simply search the other candidates’ names at BaltimoreGuide.com and you’ll find them)
The “Mimi” DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park is a key public resource for families in Southeast Baltimore. It is a rarity – a low-cost public ice rink that’s so accessible that more than 1,800 kids at three neighborhood schools are less than a ten- minute walk from the ice. And now, with the rink at a crossroads in its existence, the city proposes removing it from our diverse neighborhood and relocating it closer to county residents who can pay more for the privilege of ice time.
On a daily basis during skating season, the “Mimi Dome” welcomes kids, families, and adults of all backgrounds. More than 70,000 residents live within a mile and a half of the family skating center, meaning families from throughout East and Southeast Baltimore can easily come together by foot, by bike, and by bus to share time on the ice. Children learning to skate, couples embarrassing themselves on a date, flirting teenagers crisscrossing the rink, parents trying to keep up with kids, adults playing broomball, kids learning hockey – at the Mimi Dome, the ice has room for all of us.
Unfortunately, that time may soon come to an end. During my involvement in the Patterson Park Master Plan process, it became clear that the residents’ goals for the future of the rink did not mesh with the city’s mandates. Running the rink is an expensive proposition, made more so as it ages. The rink cannot continue for long in its present state and is in need of replacement. The mayor’s office decided in recent years that the rink has to generate enough revenue to cover its operating costs without support from the city’s general fund. The city budget office expects our ice rink to function like a private suburban skating facility, prioritizing revenue over public benefit. Meanwhile, in the 2015 budget, the city spent 36% more money on our police than on city schools, recreation, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library combined – yet the ice rink, unlike our parks and pools, must pay for itself.
And so a search has begun for a new location to allow the rink to be “revenue neutral” – a site with abundant parking where suburban residents can stream in by car from points north and east of the city. Access to the ice would be effectively limited by the relative poverty and lack of transportation of many of the rink’s current users. A proposal to move the rink to the Canton waterfront was greeted coolly by residents there. But another potential shift has also been discussed, to an industrial area east of Haven Street – significantly less accessible to neighborhood residents. If such a proposal moves forward, make no mistake as to its implications – the rink’s users would, overnight, become whiter and wealthier, and travel far more than a mile and a half to use a relatively inaccessible “public” facility built using our tax dollars.
As a city, we’ve talked a lot in the last year about how Baltimore’s history of racial segregation, its pervasive economic inequality, and its mind-numbing approach to transit shaped a city and a metro area of haves and have-nots, communities of poverty and communities of means. The General Assembly has recognized the historic pattern of disinvestment regarding children and families as a root cause of our struggles, and is pushing forward legislation to increase mentoring programs, improve city parks, provide college scholarships, extend library hours, expand after school & summer programs, and restore some lost funding to our public schools.
With that context in mind, we have the Mimi Dome–an affordable public ice rink used by residents of all races and circumstances, which is supposed to be relocated to better accommodate wealthier residents from the county. The relocation of the ice rink would be yet another message to young people in our community that their lives don’t matter–that they are an afterthought in our public policy. Instead of moving the rink, we should come together to change the mandate for a revenue-neutral ice rink and identify a location for the rebuilt family skating center in the heart of our community.
* First published in the Baltimore Guide, April 13, 2016 *
The $535 million tax increment financing request from Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development for Port Covington deserves lengthy public conversation and independent review.
It is far too significant a project, and far too large a request, for the current Mayor and City Council to approve this year on their way out the door. Let the current elected leadership of the city finish up their important work on Transform Baltimore (comprehensive rezoning), on the financial and performance audits that are due this year, and on the details of the city budget for next fiscal year.
Given the long-term financial implications of this request, the still unresolved situation regarding the impact of TIFs on city schools’ funding (the current legislation in Annapolis to ‘fix’ this issue has been amended to only have a three year window), and the robust conversations regarding TIFs/development taking place throughout the city this campaign season–this needs to be the first order of business for our new City Council and Mayor, not the last order of business for a group of incumbents who will soon be out of office.
To recap the numbers below: the total project cost is $5.5 billion. The infrastructure is $1.4 billion. Of the infrastructure costs, Sagamore imagines that 37% would come from the TIF, 24% from the state, 16% from the federal government, and 23% from their own funds.
To those who have pushed me to have a yes/no position on this TIF request, to do so at this point would be irresponsible. Each proposal needs to be evaluated in detail. I will make it a priority to attend the City Council hearings on this TIF request in order to be as informed as possible. My main concerns are: 1) impact on state education funding; 2) long-term manufacturing jobs; 3) public transportation; 4) environmental impacts, parks, and green space; 5) affordable housing; and 6) what revenue sources will be used to pay for the police/fire/school/trash services of future Port Covington residents if the entirety of their property taxes are being used to pay bonds floated to cover up-front infrastructure costs?
There are a lot of strong candidates in this race, and we agree on a lot of policy areas. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my fellow candidates and expect we’ll have the opportunity to be friends and colleagues for many years in the future. But though we may appear similar at first glance, there are real differences in experience, leadership skills, and community engagement.
I’m a Baltimore native who is personally and professionally dedicated to our community. We’re raising our children here just like my parents raised me in South Baltimore. I have been a full-time public servant in Southeast Baltimore for six years, collaborating with fellow neighbors, public officials, government agencies, and local non-profits to make real progress on education, public safety, our parks, opportunities for our young people, and the environment. I’ve worked for our communities at the Liquor Board, the zoning board, the planning commission, the board of education, the City Council, and the General Assembly. I speak Spanish and work alongside our Latino neighbors so that they can succeed here like every preceding group of immigrants in Southeast Baltimore. This is who I am. This is what I have done and what I will continue to do. My commitment to public service didn’t begin with and won’t end with this election.
And that difference is reflected in the structure and funding of campaigns. Whereas the other campaigns are poised to spend $400,000+ wooing the 5,000 voters who will turn up on April 26th, inundating your doors with mail and hiring staff to make calls, knock on doors, and run the campaign–we’re on track to spend $60,000 working entirely with volunteers.
I serve on three local school boards. I serve on three local non-profit boards. I participate in a lot of budget meetings. I know firsthand that there are better ways to use hundreds of thousands of dollars than spending more than $100 per every vote received in a campaign for local office. Shoot, with a budget of $140,000 our church in 2015 was able to involve 300+ kids and adults in different ongoing programs (for more than 5100 contact-days), mobilize 60+ local volunteers, provide school supplies to more than 300 children, serve more than 6500 meals, and assist 45 households with water bills, food, BGE, and eviction prevention. I’ll say it again: there are better ways to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in Southeast Baltimore than on a City Council campaign–especially in a city where our government struggles with efficiency and accountability.
Money also says a lot about the background, commitments, and support of a campaign. Taken as a percentage of the total unique donations to our campaign, as of February 22nd, 39% of our donations were made by neighbors in the 1st district, 66% from people in Baltimore City, and 85% from people living in the Baltimore metro area. And, as of our campaign finance filing in January, 85% of our expenditures were within the city.
Meanwhile the three top fundraisers in our district, when all of the dollars are added together, only raised 11% of their money in the district and 20% in the City of Baltimore. All three of them took donations from PACs. And 79% of the money they have raised came from outside of Baltimore–a shocking 51% from outside of Maryland altogether. It might be nice to have connections like that, I suppose–but I’ll stick with the support of my neighbors who share this beautiful and flawed and exciting and infuriating city with my family.
The way you campaign and fundraise is likely to be the way you will serve in office. I will serve with energy and dedication, working alongside my neighbors and relying on their support and skills so that together we will improve life in our district and our city. I will be a responsible steward of our city budget, pushing for accountability and efficiency in every agency. Just like with the hard-earned money donated to this campaign by our neighbors, I know that every tax dollar we spend as a city is something that has been entrusted to the care of our mayor and council by my neighbors and needs to be used responsibly to actually address the significant challenges and opportunities before us.