Candidates debate city issues in TV forum

Half-hour segment to be aired Sunday features 4 Democrats seeking council presidency

August 24, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

The four Democratic candidates for City Council President yesterday promoted their credentials and laid out similar visions for the city in a forum to be televised Sunday.

Questions on crime, development and education dominated the discussion, which is set to air on WBAL-TV on Sunday morning, a little more than two weeks before the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

Within the 30-minute debate, the candidates differed most sharply when asked to name the single most important bill they would seek to pass if they win.

Only Charles Ulysses Smith, a perennial candidate who works for a nonprofit that builds homes in low-income neighborhoods, cited crime as his response. Incumbent Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake stressed that there is no "silver bullet" to solving the city's problems, but ultimately said reducing the property tax rate would encourage more people to move into the city.

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said he is torn between crime and education, but concluded that because educational opportunities improved his life, improving the school system would be his top priority.

And Michael Sarbanes, who was executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and an aide to former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, said he would have the city take out a $100 million bond to buy vacant and abandoned properties to spark redevelopment in neighborhoods.

"We should not be accepting a landscape of 40,000 vacant properties as the way things are in Baltimore," said Sarbanes.

"That's an action we can do right now," he added.

Rawlings-Blake focused on her experience as making her most qualified for the position, noting her support of the Healthy Neighborhoods program, a nonprofit that helps unstable communities, as an accomplishment.

Elected to the City Council in 1995, Rawlings-Blake was elected by her colleagues to serve as the interim Council President in January. "The citizens of Baltimore expect not only a vision for the city but someone with the experience to deliver," she said.

Harris portrayed himself as an independent voice on the council who has a record of delivering millions of dollars for recreation centers and scholarships, as well as demanding accountability, such as calling for an audit of the school system. "I bring checks and balances and the type of independence that is needed," he said.

Sarbanes talked about his 15 years of experience in communities across the city. "I'm in this race because I think Baltimore is at a crossroads," he said. "I think the promise of the city is enormous."

With regard to crime, Rawlings-Blake said she supports an approach that includes targeted enforcement, providing more opportunities to youth to give them an alternative to gangs, improving the school system and reducing drug addiction.

Sarbanes pointed to his four-part plan that includes focusing on neighborhood patrols; transforming areas of crime; breaking cycles of drug addiction and shootings; and combating gangs.

Harris said he supports shifting one-third of the officers in specialized units to the city's nine districts, in addition to devoting more resources to recreation centers and scholarships.

"You can't just fight crime with a crime plan," he said, "You need an economic piece in addition to a crime plan."

The 30-minute forum will air on WBAL-TV Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on the "11 TV Hill" show.

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