Spotlight On Human Relations

Annapolis Commission Holds First Forum For 7 Mayoral Candidates

April 19, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

Candidates running to be Annapolis' next mayor spoke Wednesday night about their views on equal opportunity and human relations - the first time the candidates have gathered in a public forum this race.

All but one of the seven candidates who have announced their candidacies made brief statements at the Annapolis Human Relations Commission's open house, held at City Hall. Josh Cohen, an Anne Arundel County councilman, was unable to attend the meeting, but offered a written statement in his absence.

The purpose of the open house was to give the candidates a chance to address how they would support equal opportunity and human relations if elected mayor, said Mike Keller, commission chairman.

The Human Relations Commission is the city's oldest board, founded in 1963. It has 15 members, appointed by the mayor, and "seeks to ensure equal opportunity to Annapolis" by handling discrimination complaints from residents, mediating human relations disagreements, holding public programs and making recommendations to the mayor and city council on human relations practices in the city.

Mayor Ellen Moyer, whose second and final term expires this year, opened the forum by commending the commission on its work in the city.

"This commission has really led the way to combat the kinds of actions that divide us," Moyer said.

David Cordle, a current alderman on the city council and investigator with the county state's attorney's office, is a member of the Anne Arundel County Human Rights Commission. He discussed how he would, as mayor, look for ways for the city and county commissions to work together.

"We face a lot of similar issues," said Cordle, who noted the growing Latino population in Annapolis with needs that must be addressed.

Trudy McFall, founder and chairwoman of an Annapolis-based affordable-housing nonprofit, discussed being raised by parents who encouraged diversity appreciation. McFall has spent all of her working career working on affordable-housing issues.

"I have spent my whole life working on issues of equal opportunity," McFall said, adding that she thinks the city's human rights challenges are more on a human level, rather than on a governmental level.

Zina Pierre, president and chief executive officer of a consulting firm based in Washington, is expected to announce her candidacy for the city's top job on Friday. Pierre, who grew up in Annapolis' public housing developments, said she would like to continue the commission's work, as well as look for more resources and grant opportunities to support the commission.

"I've never experienced racism, quite frankly, growing up in the city of Annapolis," Pierre said. "I want to continue the legacy that the commission has already brought forth."

Gilbert Renaut, a retired federal litigation attorney, said he now works as a court-appointed mediator for Anne Arundel County's conflict resolution program. He stressed the importance of the mayor's relationship with public schooling.

"I think we're going to have more and more people look to the public schools," Renaut said. "If a mayor were actively involved with the schools ... I know it would make a difference."

Sam Shropshire, a current Annapolis alderman, has worked on international and local human rights issues for decades and founded a faith-based non-profit to help people living with HIV and AIDS. He stressed that he would work with children who live in the city's public housing to help them learn about the opportunities life can offer them.

"The evils in our society don't discriminate, and neither should the good things in our city," Shropshire said.

Wayne Taylor, community engagement coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Community Action Agency, said he would like to see the nonprofits of the city work together to provide resources for residents in need, as well as create "facilitated relationship building."

"As mayor, that's one of the things [that] would be at the top of our list - creating one Annapolis," said Taylor, a former alderman.

Cohen, a program director for the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, said in his written statement that he would aim to enact domestic partner benefits for city employees.

"All persons have a right to follow their dreams and to succeed on their merits, without regard to race, color, gender, religion, sexual orientation and so many other labels that get applied," Cohen wrote.

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