Rolley to file as mayoral candidate

Former planning director criticizes Rawlings-Blake's response to lead paint settlements

April 13, 2011|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

Former city planning director Otis Rolley said he plans to formally file Wednesday as a candidate for mayor.

"I know the next five months are going to be the toughest five months of my life, until I get elected, and then they'll all be tough," Rolley said Tuesday at his campaign headquarters in Hampden.

Rolley's schedule is packed with community meetings, church visits, small gatherings at homes and fundraisers. He declined to say how much money he has raised, but said he was undaunted by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's substantial fundraising lead.

"We have a good finance committee. Things are pumping," he said. "I wouldn't be filing tomorrow and I wouldn't be excited about filing tomorrow if I weren't doing very well."

Rolley said he has been garnering smaller sums from many donors, rather than receiving big-ticket donations from developers and business owners.

"How I'm running this campaign is how I'll run the city as mayor," Rolley said. "We are going to give Baltimore back to the people of Baltimore."

Rolley says he plans to cut property tax rates in half over eight years, grow small businesses and focus on the city's neighborhoods, not just the downtown tourist areas. He said his slogan — "Elevate Baltimore," a play on the Otis Elevator Co. — is about "elevating expectations" for the city.

"I can't pay twice the rate of my neighbors and get one-third the service," said Rolley.

Rolley today criticized Rawlings-Blake's response to the refusal of the city housing authority to pay nearly $12 million in lead paint damage settlements. Rawlings-Blake concurred with housing authority executive director Paul T. Graziano that paying the settlements would keep the $300 million agency from paying other obligations.

"The courts have made a determination that we need to pay, and we have to pay," said Rolley. "This is more of the same, the city's leadership not taking responsibility. People were poisoned, and the housing authority, as determined by a judge, was responsible."

Although the housing authority is an independent agency, it is overseen by a board appointed by the mayor, and Graziano serves as her housing commissioner.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, who is also expected to enter the mayoral race, other state leaders and City Council members have called on the housing authority to explain why it has not paid the settlements.

Asked to respond to Rolley's comments, Rawlings-Blake campaign manager Travis Tazelaar said, "The campaign and the mayor are not going to get into a mud-slinging contest with the former mayor's chief of staff when he had the opportunity to fix things and he didn't."

Rolley served as the city's deputy housing commissioner and planning director under Mayor Martin O'Malley. He co-chaired Sheila Dixon's transition committee when she became mayor and served as her chief of staff for one year.

Rawlings-Blake and Dixon endorsed each other when they were running for council president and mayor in 2007.

Barring any surprises, Rolley will be the first in a field that is expected to grow to about half a dozen mayoral candidates. No one else had officially filed a candidacy by Tuesday afternoon, according to the city elections board. Candidates have until early July to register.

Rolley has captured much early press attention. Last week, Tom Loveland, a member of Rawlings-Blake's transition committee who was appointed the city's Google czar by the mayor, endorsed Rolley in a letter published in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Rawlings-Blake is likely to gather high-profile endorsements. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings was slated to endorse her at an event at Mondawmin Mall last Friday, but had to cancel because of federal budget negotiations.

She has a close relationship with Gov. Martin O'Malley, and many politicos feel a deep loyalty to her father, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings.

Yet Rolley professes that he can win by energizing communities and reaching out to residents through social networking.

"We're going to win this race. It's not crazy confidence, it's based on the pulse of the people," he said. "I feel the energy in the communities."

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