Mayor to select agency leader

Williams to become development group's first black chairman

January 14, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to announced today his choice of accountant and business leader Arnold Williams for the chairmanship of the board of Baltimore Development Corp., the agency charged with bolstering economic development in the city.

A member of the board since 1995, Williams would be the board's first African-American chairman, succeeding Roger C. Lipitz, who stepped down from the volunteer post in October.

Williams, managing director of the Baltimore accounting firm Abrams, Foster, Nole & Williams, also has served as head of the President's Roundtable, a group of minority business leaders that helped advise O'Malley after he took office in December 1999.

"Arnold's a successful businessman, a good person, and was very helpful during the transition," O'Malley said. "And I think he understands the importance of economic development."

Williams, 51, said he would be "extremely honored" to take the position and to support the mayor's economic development efforts, including a proposed biotechnology research park north of Johns Hopkins Hospital that Williams said would be "extremely important" to the redevelopment of the city's east side.

"It's going to take all of BDC, the Greater Baltimore Committee, people like the President's Roundtable as well as the communities and the faith institutions to come on board quickly for that opportunity," he said. "And as far as economic growth, it's my belief that it's [the east side] that will give us the greatest opportunity for the next 10 to 20 years."

Williams said that the mayor wants to encourage such redevelopment possibilities outside of downtown, and as the city makes its pitch to neighborhoods, Williams said his race and his history of active participation in the community would help.

"In some neighborhoods, there is a need to move with ... trust," he said. "In the urban community and especially in the faith-based community, my name is well-recognized, my efforts are well-recognized, and that goes a long way to begin the trust. People know that my reputation is that I do what I say. [And] I happen to be African-American, and that also will help."

At times over the years, African-American leaders have suggested the city's economic development subsidies, including low-interest loans and generous lease agreements, have tended to favor the white business establishment.

O'Malley said he was "conscious" of diversity in making the selection as he always is when he chooses an appointee, but that he didn't feel the BDC had a "bad reputation" that he had to rehabilitate by naming an African-American board chairman.

BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said the selection sends a "positive message."

"We're very confident ourselves as to what we're doing that we're largely engaged in neighborhoods," Brodie said. "But that's probably not conventional wisdom, and I think the kind of person Arnold is, not just because of his racial background but also personality, I think will help get that message across and will help bring us additional neighborhood prospects that we might not have come across ourselves."

City Council President Sheila Dixon, who has been talking for some time about the need to put more effort into building neighborhoods, praised the selection.

"He's a superb individual who is very sensitive to the needs of the community and who can look at the bigger picture," Dixon said. "I think his accounting background will also provide for good analysis when we do the various deals that we do."

Aside from his accounting firm and his service with the President's Roundtable, Williams serves as chairman of the board of Bon Secours Hospital, and served as chairman of the board of Liberty Medical Center before it merged with Bon Secours five years ago. He graduated in 1972 from the University of Baltimore with a bachelor of science degree in accounting.

Lipitz, the former BDC chairman, served for six years before stepping down in October. Deputy Mayor Laurie B. Schwartz, also a board member, had assumed the temporary duties of chairwoman since Lipitz left.

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