There were five mayoral hopefuls and a lone Republican, but no sign of the current mayor at the Aug. 2 debate forum at Empowerment Temple AME Church.
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and radio host Marc Steiner questioned the candidates about their positions on education, crime and growing the city’s tax base.
But throughout the evening, candidates and Empowerment Temple pastor The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant blasted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for skipping the forum, which was likely the most well attended debate to date.
Earlier in the day, Rawlings-Blake released a schedule, which included half a dozen stops in various neighborhoods for National Night Out.
“She should have been here,” said State Sen. Catherine Pugh, one of the mayoral candidates to attend.
Pugh said she would fight for an elected school board and push more resources into children and schools rather than events such as the Grand Prix to grow the city’s tax base. She twice scorned the city’s handling of the lead paint cases and said her fashion and design school, which is currently under construction, is a testament to her commitment to education.
“We have a responsibility to our children,” Pugh said. “This mayor talks about maintaining; a real mayor sets a vision.”
Pugh said she would call for an audit of the police department’s crime statistics, would reorganize the police department and encourage more relationships between colleges and the community.
Former Planning Director Otis Rolley likened schools to “prison preps instead of college preps” and asserted that the city has money to rebuild schools, but doesn’t “know how to use it properly.”
Rolley said he would reduce property taxes but also improve how the city delivers services. “If you change the prices at a bad restaurant it still sucks,” he said.
To improve the police department, he said the city must oust the department’s boss, Rawlings-Blake.
In closing statements, Rolley said he experienced the same struggles as inner-city residents, suffering physical and sexual abuse from his stepfather.
All of the candidates seemed to agree that the Baltimore City Public School system is “failing,” in the words of Steele, but Joseph T. “Jody” Landers, former head of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, took the least aggressive stance, insisting that trust must be restored in the school system. He said he did not support an elected school board.
Landers outlined one of his major platforms—his plan to create a multi-tiered property tax structure. He added that the police department has “lost public trust” and the city must address access to drug treatment.
Clerk of the Court Frank Conaway stressed that “learning begins at home” and parents should be more involved in their children’s’ education. He added that the city should not build new schools as Rolley says, but renovate current ones.
“When I was going to that segregated school system,…it was better than what we have now,” Conaway said.
He called his contenders’ plans to chop property taxes a fairy tale and said only “jobs, jobs, jobs” will “straighten out the city.” He also said since Blacks are the majority of the city’s population, they should be the general contractors and Whites should be the minority contractors.
Wilton Wilson, a nurse, said he would oust city schools CEO Andres Alonso. He said he would advocate for a partially elected school board, revamp school curriculum and stress smaller classrooms with single-sex schools. He also pledged to immediately cut property taxes once in office and direct 2 percent of funds from all contracts to recreation centers and pools.
Vicki Harding, a community activist and the panel’s lone Republican, also vowed to fire Alonso.
Harding also asserted that the police commissioner should be replaced. She pointed to city corruption and school cheating scandals as proof that city government is not working and referenced a need to reduce waste and fraud. She also affirmed her position as a non-politician.
“They can make you all the promises they want…but these are politicians,” she said.
The candidates were scheduled to debate on disabilities with the mayor on Aug. 4.