Mayoral hopefuls discuss plans, visions

October 17, 1999

On Nov. 2, Baltimoreans will vote to decide who will lead the city into the new century. Recently, Democratic mayoral nominee Martin O'Malley and Republican candidate David F. Tufaro talked to City Hall reporter Gerard Shields of The Sun about how to improve life in the city.

How can you as mayor stop the exodus of businesses from the city?

Martin O'Malley

I think you've got to be tough. I really want to partner with business leaders in Baltimore City, but I really need to say ... you are not a business leader if you take 500 jobs out of the city during a transitional period from one mayor to another. [CareFirst BlueCross Blue-Shield recently announced that it will move 500 administrative employees out of the city to a new headquarters in Owings Mills.] That is not being a business leader of Baltimore City. While I really want partnerships with business leaders of Baltimore City, now is the worst time to move out of the city.

I know things are dirty, I know the secretaries don't like to stay downtown late at night, I know the panhandlers are a pain, I know you have to pay more property taxes and rent to be in the city. But if you're going to be leaders of Baltimore City, you've got to stay in this, because the people of Baltimore City made a big statement that they want to change things.

I want to partner with business leaders in Baltimore City, but if you take 500 jobs out of the city, I will not return your calls, I will not tell you it's OK and understandable.

The mayor needs to challenge the business leaders of this city to be part of the solution and not part of the exodus. I think the bottom line is, we need to show improvements in public safety, and we need to show improvements in the cleanliness and the livability of this city and make this a desirable place to live and work despite the fact that it's a little more expensive.

The city property tax rate is double that of any other jurisdiction in Maryland. How do you intend to reduce the tax rate?

I can't reduce the city property tax rate until I turn around the loss of city residents. Hopefully, over the next couple of years, as the city becomes a dramatically cleaner and safer place, we'll be in the position again to start to reduce the property tax in meaningful ways that will make us more competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.

With the state now a partner in the city school system, what is the mayor's role, and how do you intend to improve city schools?

I believe I can be a very effective leader for our school system by advocating for additional dollars to expand pre-kindergarten programs for our kids, implement the sort of parent-student-teacher contracts that they have in Chicago, to advocate for more dollars for mandatory summer school after third grade so we can end the social promotion that has misdiagnosed so many of our children into special education.

And if a child knows his or her ABCs by the age of five, they are far more likely to read and write by the time they end third grade.

Urban experts agree that the key to turning cities such as Baltimore around is keeping middle-class families from leaving the city. How do you intend to halt the loss of 1,000 city residents per month from Baltimore?

We're going to make this city a cleaner place and a dramatically safer place. We're going to do it in short order, and as violent crime starts to dramatically decline, you will see our population dramatically increase.

During the last 10 years, the city has had about 300 murders a year. How do you intend to reduce the city's violent crime?

We're going to use strategies that have worked in other cities like New York, Boston and New Orleans, to be more effective in how we police. We can't arrest our way out of this problem. We also have to start investing in the youth of this city by bringing together great initiatives like Safe and Sound and Child First [programs that provide after-school activities] and investing more money in our recreation programs that have been cut by $15 million in the last 10 years. We also need to create some urgency to the goal of expanding drug treatment options by consolidating programs to stay open for longer hours and increasing the availability of drug treatment options. It's a three-pronged approach: We have to do more for kids, we have to be smarter about how we police, and we have to expand drug treatment.

The latest health department estimates show that 59,000 Baltimore city residents, or one in eight adults, is a drug addict. How do you intend to reduce the number of drug addicts in Baltimore?

I think we need to dedicate more drug treatment slots to the courts. I think that the most effective drug treatment is drug treatment where there is some sort of incentive, where there is some sort of fear of the consequences that results from them falling off the wagon.

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