The open seat at City Hall | WYPR

The open seat at City Hall

Oct 20, 2016

For the first time since 1999, the seat for Baltimore Mayor is open because Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake isn’t seeking a second elected term in office.

On November 8, city residents will have a choice between Democrat Catherine Pugh, Republican Alan Walden and the Green Party’s Joshua Harris.

For nearly half a century, the general election has been a mere formality for the Democratic candidate running to lead Charm City.  That was evident when Rawlings-Blake commented on the race in September.

“Baltimore is a very heavy Democratic city and I think the better than even money is on the fact that Senator Pugh will be our next mayor,” she said.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh (D)

Pugh, the Democratic nominee, has represented the city in Annapolis for more than a decade.  But she’s not ready to declare victory yet, stressing the importance of other races.

“It’s not just about being mayor of the city; it is a U.S. Senate race in the city, there’s a congressional race in the city, there’s a presidential race in the city,” she said.  “So, I don’t want anybody to think I’ve been crowned anything until November the 8th.”

Pugh says she is spending every moment she can looking at ways to move Baltimore forward.  She says she wants the city to grow at a faster rate than the 10,000 families in a decade Rawlings-Blake has proposed; adding that it’s crucial if Baltimore wants a strong voice in the General Assembly.

“This is a city that was built for a million people; down to 640,000,” she said. “And this was a city that had 10 state senators; now five and a quarter.  It’s essential that we grow our city.”

Pugh says she wants to reduce property taxes; with a goal of a $1.50 per $100 of assessed value or less.  The rate is currently $2.12.  And she also has an eye towards developing neighborhoods – particularly where vacant properties are plentiful - in partnership with the community.

“We have areas of the city that hasn’t even been developed yet. We’ve got areas that have been torn down and worn down,” she said.  “We own 15,000 boarded up houses - the city does in this city - with private developers owning another 15,000.  So if we’re going to recreate neighborhoods and communities, I say let’s look at scale.”

Pugh says she teamed up with John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Government to find ways to make city government better.

“Looking at the various departments and agencies in terms of how they currently function; whether they’re effective,” she said. “When you have agencies that have been in place for decades, I think at some point you begin to take a look and see how are we actually functioning and what do we need to do to improve the outcomes for our citizens.”

Alan Walden (R)

Alan Walden, a regular presence on WBAL Radio for two decades, says he wants to make city government smaller.

“There are layers of bureaucracy within government that simply have to be eliminated,” Walden said.  “Now, I’m not trying to go out there and hack away at people’s jobs and people’s livelihood.  That’s the farthest thing I have from my mind.”

Walden says with the exception of police, fire and schools, all city agencies and departments would be under a microscope. 

He suggested that Baltimore Housing “need[s] a working over,” for example.

“Public assistance, difficult; we’d have to look very careful about various public assistance programs,” he added.

Walden wants to cut the property taxes as well, but adds the current pace of the rate cut is taking too long.

“I want to cut taxes 30 percent…in one year,” he proclaimed.

He also says Baltimore needs to be redefined and celebrated, not apologized for.

“We spend too much of our time apologizing rather than celebrating,” he said.  “And after we finish apologizing, we spend too much of our time looking for places to wallow in collective guilt or in collective mourning over something that’s happened.”

Walden says Baltimore still has a lot of cool left.  And that the time apologizing could be used for dealing with city problems.

Joshua Harris (Green)

One of the city’s problems, according to Green Party candidate Joshua Harris, is a divided city.

“We know the tale of two cities; one that gets investment, one that gets resources and one that doesn’t,” he said.  “One that’s been undervalued, ignored; the Baltimore that we saw in Spring 2015; the Baltimore that we see every day in East and West Baltimore.”

Harris says he wants to unite the city; first by leveling the field economically. 

He’s proposing the city create its own bank to hold its money, rather than relying on commercial institutions.  He brings up the state-operated Bank of North Dakota as an example.

“We can leverage and make the exact same investments that they do on Wall Street but every penny of interest earned – every dollar – comes back to the citizens of Baltimore and back into the city,” he said.

Harris says the interest could pay for more teachers, clean up lead problems in school water supplies and invest in transportation and sewers.

“We can say that we want another 20 percent of interest earned to go to directly towards road repairs and infrastructure cost,” he said, “so that our citizens can stop footing the burden of having to replace tires and axles on their cars so frequently because of the ridiculous amount of potholes we have in the city.”

Harris, who has worked as a legislative aide in Annapolis, says he would represent a clean slate for Baltimore.  He’s not a Democrat and he’s not a Republican.  But the possibility of pushing more progressive policies with a new city council and a state legislature long dominated by Democrats excites him.

“Maryland is in theory a progressive state and Baltimore is a progressive city,” he suggested.  “And so, this isn’t a Democrat/Republican dynamic that we’re looking at.  This is really a dynamic that will work in favor of putting forth progressive policy solutions, I believe.”

Not counting the odds

Harris, however, is not going along with the current mayor’s prediction that Senator Pugh will be the next mayor. He pointed to the last gubernatorial election as evidence.

“They declared the winner in 2014 as Anthony Brown., every poll, every media outlet.  And, look, we have Governor Larry Hogan, don’t we?”

Alan Walden doesn’t think much of Rawlings-Blake’s better than even bet, either.  He’s banking on his ideas and passion for Baltimore.  He’s also counting on being active on the campaign trail.

“I show up.  I talk to people.  I shake hands.  I talk to them one on one or in small groups or in larger groups,” Walden said.

The write-in: Sheila Dixon

Credit P. Kenneth Burns

The mayor’s race grew by one last week as former Mayor Sheila Dixon launched a write-in campaign.

At a news conference announcing her campaign, Dixon says her platform has not changed from the primary, when she lost to Pugh.

“My leadership ability, my qualifications; and my drive to be able to make change and to really address some of the issues that we are facing here in the city,” she said.  “None of the other candidates can begin to start addressing that.”

While Dixon will have to get people to write her name in – correctly – on Election Day, Walden, Pugh and Harris will have their names printed on the ballot.