McFall's mayoral bid stresses 'a new era'

Annapolitan boasts extensive background in housing

January 25, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

For Trudy McFall, the impetus to be Annapolis' next mayor comes from a love for the city she has called home for nearly three decades and a desire to see it managed more professionally.

McFall says that yearning to improve Annapolis is why she began raising money months ago. She recently became the first candidate to officially declare a run to be the city's next mayor and succeed Ellen O. Moyer, whose second term expires this year.

"I have a great passion for Annapolis, and I just feel Annapolis could do things so much better on a variety of fronts," McFall said in an interview at her West Annapolis home.

"I also began to feel that the citizens of Annapolis might really feel hungry for someone like me. ... My sense is voters are ready for a new era."

The 65-year-old candidate notes her business management and budgeting experience, as well as her commitment to Annapolis, as traits that qualify her for the city's top job. In addition to founding the Annapolis-based nonprofit Homes for America 14 years ago, McFall worked 13 years as director of Maryland's housing agency, the Community Development Administration in the Department of Housing and Community Development.

McFall also was appointed by the mayor to be the Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners chairwoman, a position she held from 2002 to 2007. At an early point in her career, McFall worked on housing issues in Minnesota, developing approaches on how to share resources for low- and moderate-income people, she said.

She stayed in Minnesota for about 10 years, before working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during President Jimmy Carter's administration.

After that four-year stint, McFall started with the Maryland housing agency, a job she called "complex." At one point, McFall handled funds of a half-billion dollars a year, she said.

"Trust me, I know how to manage big-scale operations," McFall said.

Known for her years of work on public housing issues, McFall said she has tried to "break the perception that public housing is someone else's responsibility."

But some have criticized McFall's motives and methods for changing public housing in the city. And although some people say McFall's lack of political experience may be a drawback, she sees it as a plus in her campaign.

"I don't feel I'm part of the 'party machine' that's governed Annapolis," McFall said.

"Let's have some fresh faces, some new ideas."

Since 1994, Homes for America has bought and rehabbed about 45 properties that were sold to low- and moderate-income people through a lease-to-purchase program that the organization offers only in Annapolis, McFall said, calling the project "a sort of gift to our hometown." McFall has advocated that public housing be managed by the private sector, as well as redevelopment of public housing and creation of more opportunities for low- and moderate-income people to own homes.

But Robert Eades, a community activist and former public housing tenant, said that, having known McFall for about six years, he questions her motives for redeveloping public housing.

"The same idea that they're trying to push on people now is the same thing these banks did - giving people the opportunity to become homeowners of a house you can't afford, knowing down the road you're going to lose that house," said Eades, 52.

McFall defends the work of Homes for America, saying that "the whole national scene has been to move our public housing to public/private ownership."

"You can serve the same people in better ways," she said, noting that private companies have the staffing and expertise that the government often does not to manage the housing projects. She insisted that her goal is to improve the conditions of public housing in Annapolis, not rip it down.

Eades contended that McFall's interest lies in helping developers, many of whom contributed to her campaign. According to the latest campaign finance filings in July, McFall had raised more than $56,000.

Last year, one county Democrat criticized McFall for taking a $2,500 contribution from a developer who planned to build at Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole, a project that drew attention because some thought it would take business from the city's downtown. The Democrat also questioned why so many of McFall's contributors were developers and out-of-towners.

McFall has denied that her run for mayor is for any reason other than improving Annapolis.

Besides public housing, among McFall's priorities is "running the city in a professional manner." If elected, McFall said, she would have a city administrator, allowing the mayor to focus on policy.

"I think the city has not been well-run," McFall said. "You need another level of manager."

One reason she created the group Citizens for a Better Annapolis was to prepare reports to present to the city on various issues, including crime, "to show Annapolis that decisions are based on fact and logic."

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