Baltimore City residents are widely perceived as apathetic to the city’s political process, but many have a lot to say about the city’s upcoming mayoral election.

The AFRO took to the city’s streets, schools, restaurants and supermarkets to ask everyday Baltimoreans what issues matter most in the city. Public safety, property taxes and job creation were commonly referenced, but so were a plethora of other issues they feel the city’s mayoral candidates haven’t addressed, including homelessness, youth opportunities and money management.

Isa Olufemi, a Charles Village resident, said he usually doesn’t follow politics because city leaders “never seem to address the real issues,” such as homelessness.

“I’m looking for them to get homeless people off the street,” he said, while eating lunch inside a mid-town Baltimore café. “When you come into the city and see homeless people at the end of the bridge, what does that say about your city?”

The history and science teacher, who owns the private Pan-African school, Isa Academy, said the next mayor should also make it easier for youth program organizers to find office buildings.

“A lot of programs need space and you have these abandoned buildings everywhere. Why not let them use these buildings for youth programs?” he questioned. “The homeless should have homes and children should have space for their programs, so they can be successful.”

Kenneth Wilson, a young man from East Baltimore, said there is “nowhere for African Americans to go …. We need to create more opportunities for youth; if not, where are they going but to commit crimes?” he said.

The Baltimore-bred resident plans to move out of the city in the next few years. “This city is so poverty-stricken; it’s almost like Detroit,” Wilson said.

Several residents expressed concerns over recent school closures.

A 17-year-old senior at a local charter high school said she would like to see more mayoral hopefuls present a detailed plan to improve the education system.

Breonna Rogers called mayoral candidate and former planning director Otis Rolley’s recently released education agenda that would provide education vouchers for middle schoolers zoned to poor performing schools and build or renovate 50 more schools, “really radical.”

“It’s not necessary to build new schools,” she said. “I think, if anything, money should be put into improving the schools we have.”

Rogers rolled her eyes when asked about current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s education efforts. “What has she done?…. If she has done something, I haven’t seen it,” she said.

Carl Johnson, of Northeast Baltimore, seemed to concur, saying Rawlings-Blake didn’t uphold promises to uplift the community and instead focuses on “big business.”

But the AFRO did run into a few strong Rawlings-Blake supporters, including Gerilyn Manning of Northwest Baltimore.

“I think she is an excellent mayor,” Manning said, while preparing to exit a store parking lot.

Two employees and one student at Morgan State University struck up a conversation with the AFRO in the student center about other city issues.

They all agreed that the next mayor should be a straightforward, money manager.

“When you take tax money, use it for what you said it will be used for,” said Towanda Barney, Morgan’s information desk supervisor. “We need a good, honest system for handling money. We don’t need a race track just to build up our streets; we should have been fixed our street.”

The women also said the city’s top leader should create a “Citizen’s Appreciation Day” and refocus the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development to be more helpful for residents recently laid off.

“They are more quick to help someone who has been homeless than to help somebody who just lost their job,” said Patricia Johnson, the school’s housekeeping manager.

Barney said she is leaning towards supporting Pugh.

“I think Pugh has the right idea because she has been working in the community. I’ve seen her in action.”

But, a restaurant owner in lower Charles Village said none of the most recognizable mayoral candidates are best for the job.

“When you have the same rotten apples and rotten batch, you are going to get the same return,” said Terence J. Dickson.

“Politicians are not talking about a Black agenda, and the Blacks are suffering and what’s worse is it’s Black people that are making them suffer,” he said. “The small man doesn’t have a chance in this town.”

The women at Morgan seemed to concur.

“People don’t ask for our opinion enough. We are this city,” said Geneva Harris, a 51-year-old Morgan student.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO