Northwest Baltimore could wind up dealing with traffic and parking problems from an entirely different source -- Annapolis. Gov. Martin O'Malley has suggested that slot machines could very well be on their way to Maryland's racetracks, including Pimlico, to help balance the state's budget. City government will not have a direct say in the matter, but it will be affected.
In other cities, local leaders have used the bully pulpit to negotiate for a portion of the revenue collected from slots. The city may need to improve the infrastructure around Pimlico to prepare for an influx of gamblers, and nearby residents could be affected by the traffic. Some slots advocates have even suggested looking to places beyond the tracks, such as the Inner Harbor.
Aaron Meisner, who is vice president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association but who also leads an anti-slots initiative, said he hopes the next mayor puts up a fight against gambling altogether.
"If the city leadership isn't out front saying things like, `We don't need another predator, we've got enough addictions, let's solve some of our problems first,' then the silence is read in Annapolis as stick it in Pimlico," Meisner said. "There is an important role in the debate for the leadership in city government."
In the near-term, successful candidates will finalize contracts with the city's public safety unions, choose a police commissioner and other agency heads, and begin to enforce the smoking ban that goes into effect Feb. 1.
More systemic problems include the huge number of city-owned vacant properties and the growing drain city retirement benefits might have on the budget.
Already under way is a competition with area jurisdictions to attract new military families moving into the region through base realignment. While Baltimore's newly elected officials will be able to promote the possibilities offered by the city -- including potential new developments intended to replace vast swaths of abandoned housing -- they must also allay these families' concerns about such things as the troubled public school system and safety on the streets.
Donald F. Norris, a professor and chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, noted that there are even more fundamental issues leaders must consider dealing with, including poverty and population loss.
The poverty rate for individuals in Baltimore is nearly 23 percent, and for families nearly 19 percent, almost double the national average, according the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent American Community Survey. The underlying problem of poverty contributes to crime and failing schools.
Maryland's median household income of $65,144 was reported by the bureau last month to be the highest in the nation -- though the city's median income was far lower, only $36,031.
"As long as the city is essentially Maryland's warehouse for the poor and the poor are highly concentrated ... in the city, then these social pathologies are gong to continue," Norris said. "Nobody talks about that."
Norris, who teaches urban policy, also said city leadership must work to stem Baltimore's population loss -- a drop-off of 85,000 from 1990 to 2000. Though the decline appears to be slowing -- the city's population dropped nearly 20,000 between 2000 and 2006 -- it is still an issue.
"What the mayor of Baltimore will face in the next four years, eight years or 20 years is more of the same that we've seen. And I think it's going to take a very strong mayor who is willing to exert a lot of influence, use [her or his] power to get in there, shake things up and make changes," Norris said. "But if it's business as usual than there's no reason to believe that any change will occur."
Baltimore's primary election
Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
To find your polling location, call Baltimore's Board of Elections at 410-396-5550 or go to www.elections.state.md.us/voting/where.html