Boyd Rutherford, the State’s ninth Lt. Governor and third African-American elected to the position, signaled that 2017 might be the Happy New Year Baltimoreans have needed since the 2015 unrest that shocked the city and nation.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford says he and the Hogan administration are ready to work with new Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. (Courtesy photo)
In an exclusive interview with the AFRO Rutherford said that he and Gov. Larry Hogan are ready to press the reset button with Mayor Catherine Pugh to address a range of issues including the demolition and redevelopment process, education and transportation challenges that have been longstanding points of frustration with Baltimore residents.
Moving Forward with Vacant Building Demolition Program
“We will accelerate what previous governors tried to do with those vacant properties,” Rutherford said in reference to the state’s major demolition program known as Project C.O.R.E. that announced $16 million in demolition grants for community projects December 9th.
Community members like Joyce Smith with Project RENEW (Residents engaged in Neighborhood Empowerment and Wellbeing) remain concerned about community input in the State funded demolition process.
“We need to include residents living here who like their neighborhoods with whatever hardships people may see, to bring about neighborhoods change,” Joyce told the AFRO.
Rutherford agrees. “It’s up to the City to decide what to do with the property. I don’t necessarily mean City Hall. I mean the people who City Hall represents will decide what it is they want in those communities,” he said.
Transferring Control of Baltimore City Public Schools Back to Baltimore
Rutherford projected big changes ahead for Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS).
“The Mayor would like to end the partnership and have the city take back control of the schools and I agree with that,” said Rutherford referring to the present system of joint oversight of Baltimore City Public schools by the Governor’s Office and The City of Baltimore. Currently the Governor and Mayor jointly appoint the City’s Board of School Commissioners who in turn hire and oversee Baltimore City Schools C.E.O. Sonja Santilesis.
“The challenge with the partnership is that no one is in control,” Said Rutherford. “I think there should have been an audit of the school system called for years ago,” he said expressing concern over BCPS’s current $129 million deficit.
Rutherford is waiting for the City of Baltimore to develop a process to transfer full control of BCPS back into the hands of the Mayor’s office.
“We anticipate the City taking full control of schools. It’s just a matter of how that process unwinds,” Rutherford said. “There’s a lot of State and local money that doesn’t seem to always reach the classroom, so there’s concern there,” he cautioned.
“When takes it over I think it’s smart on her part to call for a full audit. How do you get yourself in the position of a $129 million shortfall?” Rutherford said.
“We need to see what the city’s going to do to address that issue before they come to the State. I think the new Superintendent is trying to get her arms around what’s going on,” he said.
Rutherford emphasized that he and the Governor continue to invest in innovative projects like P Tech schools to transform education across the state
“We’ve been trying to educate kids the same way for 100 years and we need to bring innovation to the process,” Rutherford said.
“Last year we introduced P-Tech Schools at Carver and at Dunbar. The next locations for P-Tech Schools will be Prince Georges, Lower Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.”
“Those programs (P-Tech schools) are set up so the kids will be first in line for the skilled jobs that are here today and will be here in the coming years,” Rutherford said.
P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) is an educational model co-developed by IBM International blending an integrated six-year high school, college and work place skills program. Students graduate with both their high school diploma and a two-year post-secondary degree from an accredited community college.
A New Slate for A Baltimore Transportation Plan
Rutherford is open to new ideas to expand transit options for Baltimoreans, referring to the failed Red Line project championed by Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
“If you are going to come up with a rail system, it should be an integrated system,” Rutherford said of the $2.9 billion rail line project proposed by the Blake administration. Red Line advocates said that the project would allow West Baltimoreans access to jobs on the city’s East side.
Rutherford said the proposal offered by Rawlings-Blake did not provide connectivity between the city’s current rail lines. “If you look at D.C.’s metro system, it is an integrated system. Baltimore has a Metro that is on one line and Light Rail system that don’t connect.”
“The plan was to run a third system, the Red Line, that wouldn’t connect with either one of those. In my opinion, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Working with Mayor Catherine Pugh
Rutherford will do all he can to work with current Mayor Catherine Pugh to reset the agenda in areas where city-state cooperation is essential.
“I think the relationship with the new mayor is going to be something good. I’ve known her for a number of years and the Governor and she have a good relationship.”
“I think we can work together on what the real needs are and come up with solutions that make will sense for everybody,” Rutherford said.