Otis Rolley — the man with a plan, and only some of it as silly as an ammunition tax

July 21, 2011|By Ron Smith

Baltimore mayoral candidate Otis Rolley needed to get some attention and to boost his name recognition. That he has done, though most of the attention from his proposal to tax ammunition at a dollar a round in the city has been derisory.

The Internet is abuzz with reaction to his suggested ammo tax, just one of 12 steps he promises to take as mayor to "make every neighborhood in Baltimore safer."

Calling himself "the man with a plan," the challenger to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's attempt to win a term on her own after succeeding the ousted Sheila Dixon says he's not at all disturbed by the scorn stirred up by his tax idea.

Obviously the fact that ammunition is available over the Internet or by taking a short trip outside city limits makes the ammo tax a nonsensical scheme. It's dumber than those gun buyback programs, which is saying a lot.

In defense of this, he told me one benefit would be to cut down on those mindless celebratory firings of weapons into the air on holidays. I don't see how, but maybe that's just me.

One of the things he accomplished by floating this bad idea was to wind up sitting for an interview in my studio on Tuesday. I doubt this would have happened had it not been for the ammo tax fuss. I'm glad it did, because Otis Rolley is an interesting man.

At the tender age of 29, Mr. Rolley was appointed head of the planning office for Baltimore in 2003 by then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. He has a masters degree in urban planning from MIT. As one might expect, he has a number of plans he promises to implement should he pull an upset and beat the incumbent — and stave off the several other challengers in the race.

Not only does he promise to make the city safer, he says he also will preside over needed reforms to the school system, reduce the stifling property taxes by 50 percent, make Baltimore's government more efficient, transparent and accountable, and turn the city into paradise on earth. (Just kidding on the last part).

We all know that promises are easy to make and difficult to keep and that the problems in Baltimore City are many and deep-rooted, some of them perhaps beyond fixable. Still, it's good to hear someone with a background such as his say the future could be considerably brighter than the present for Baltimore.

In reading through his many proposals — which one can easily access on the Internet — one can see some that seem promising and some that come across as fantasy. An example of the former is improving recruitment standards, training and compensation for the scandal-plagued police department. An example of the latter would be, well, the above-mentioned ammo tax.

I'm no expert on city politics, so I asked someone who is whether Otis Rolley, whom he admires, has any chance of winning the upcoming election. He said it's most unlikely. Though Mayor Rawlings-Blake has some problems, such as being seen by some as a tool of Gov. Martin O'Malley, being not the warmest or friendliest of politicians, and being perceived by many voters as something of a princess from a politically distinguished family, she has incredible advantages.

The mayor can raise more money for her campaign than any opponent could hope to do and has tremendous name recognition, which my source says can't really be overcome in two short months.

She does face a crowded field in the Democratic Primary, which is the actual election. There are four other candidates, including two current office holders, a situation that would seem to favor the incumbent.

This newspaper is co-sponsoring debates next month between mayoral candidates and candidates for president of the city council. I hope to have the other mayoral candidates on my radio show as well.

This will be an interesting and entertaining election.

Ron Smith's column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His email is rsmith@wbal.com.

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