Pierre Brings D.c. Credentials

The Race For Mayor

She Says She'll Use Federal Experience To Aid Annapolis

July 12, 2009|By Olivia Bobrowsky | Olivia Bobrowsky,olivia.bobrowsky@baltsun.com

As a young girl, Zina Pierre said, she watched her pastor tackle social issues in Annapolis. And by high school, she had an idea of what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

"I grew up understanding that helping someone else was more important than helping yourself," said Pierre, 44, a Democrat who's channeling that spirit in her candidacy for Annapolis mayor. "It's about serving above oneself. My grandmother, Edna Weems, taught me that. We did it from a church perspective, not from a political perspective."

The Weems family is one of the oldest in Annapolis, but Pierre ventured beyond the city's borders. With a diploma from Anne Arundel Community College and Catholic University of America, Pierre worked in the television industry for 10 years and then got a job in the Clinton White House in 1993. She used her television experience to produce and moderate a national talk show and then became the director of communications for the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau.

There, she traveled across the country making sure women knew their rights in the workplace, using her position to work directly with individuals. The rest of her career mirrored that formula, as she helped direct the president's welfare-to-work initiative and later acted as a liaison between small towns and the federal government. Through those positions, she said, she helped move more than 200,000 people off the welfare rolls and into small businesses, and helped mayors tackle government agencies.

At one point, the mayor of Riviera Beach, Fla., could not persuade a company to take responsibility for a chemical spill in the area. So Pierre said she invited the mayor to Washington to meet with the EPA.

"When [the mayor] left and went back to Florida, things were straightened out," she said. "The company paid for the spill, and the rest was history."

Pierre now owns and manages a D.C. consulting firm, but she said her relationships in the nation's capital would prove invaluable to her hometown if she's mayor.

"It's not enough to have gained all the experience that I gained over the years and not give this back to a city that I love," she said. "That's the bottom line."

Pierre's idea of giving back means to "reform, revitalize and reinvest." Specifically, she wants to reform businesses in Annapolis, focusing not just on Market House but the whole city. As a businesswoman, Pierre said she understands the small-business owners' plight and will smooth out the permit process. She'll also develop an orientation program for new businesses, so they can understand Annapolis' rules, but more importantly, she said, "know that they have a partner in this city."

Jessica Jordan, the president of the Annapolis Business Association and the owner of a retail store on Main Street, said the association wants a mayor who can attract new businesses downtown and keep them there.

"We're looking for candidates that are concerned about streamlining the process for opening new businesses and looking at collecting better data for business downtown in general," Jordan said.

Pierre is focused on data. She's set her eye on a program modeled after Citistat, which should use hard numbers to increase government efficiency. It would improve city services, she said, and eliminate the need for the proposed city manager form of government.

Besides businesses, she'll also focus on revitalizing public housing and reinvesting in the community. Pierre said she spent part of her life living in public housing, and she wants to ensure it's not a long-term plan for anyone.

"We want to make sure that public housing works for the people and that everyone should have a decent quality of life if they choose to," she said. "It's not a privilege. It's a right."

George Phelps, 83, a family friend who's known Pierre since she was born, said she's always carried that attitude.

"She's a dedicated creature. She's a forgiving person; she's a strong person, a loving person," the retired Annapolis resident said. "And she can make history here in Annapolis."

Some residents say she hasn't been around the city enough to deserve the position of mayor, but Phelps said her time away from Annapolis only made her smarter.

"You can't be third-generation and be an outsider," Pierre said. "But more importantly, had I not gone outside, I would not be sitting here today telling you that I worked for the president of the free world."

Still, throughout all her work in the White House, she stressed her work has never really been just about government.

"You can see that I'm excited about this because I care," she said. "This isn't politics for me. This is just who I am. It is more about responsibility."

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