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Q&A: Catherine Pugh

1. The Daily Record has published a number of articles this year about the $1.8 billion redevelopment of Middle East by East Baltimore Development Inc. How would you rate the EBDI development so far in terms of public accountability, financial transparency and economic impact? How do you see its impact on the city’s future?

I believe we have a serious problem with the pace and actual status of EBDI’s progress in East Baltimore. I read with interest the series in The Daily Record and was concerned with the amount of taxpayer dollars that have been expended in this project and the lack of return on that investment. Hundreds of citizens have been displaced with the promise and the hope of a revitalized community to return to. At this point, with only a few units and a handful of residents having been given the opportunity to return, it appears someone has been asleep at the wheel.

The board and senior leadership of EBDI, along with their partner Johns Hopkins Medical Systems, are making a lot of promises regarding reforming the process. There must be more accountability to the taxpaying residents of Baltimore and more oversight by the political leadership at City Hall. Too many questions remain unanswered and, quite frankly, I want to see a return to the founding and core mission of EBDI and a stepped-up process which makes residents of East Baltimore and the corporate, nonprofit and political sponsors of this project whole. As mayor I will hold EBDI, its board and its staff to a much higher standard. I remain hopeful that things can be put on track and EBDI can achieve its goals and objectives.

2. Describe your plan to lower the city’s residential property tax rate.

I will appoint a Property Tax Reduction Commission that will move quickly to build upon my ideas for bringing property tax relief to the citizens of Baltimore. No political leader in decades has focused on growing Baltimore’s tax base internally and partnering that effort with creating a city that can compete to bring residents to Baltimore to grow our population.

My plan starts with transforming a third of the city’s renters into homeowners annually during my first term. Although renters contribute to their landlords’ property tax payment, producing a new generation of property owners will increase the city’s revenue substantially. I also want to work with leaders of the city’s colleges and universities to begin to capture the thousands of graduates who traditionally leave Baltimore when they complete their studies. Creating a pipeline directly from these students to homeownership will add thousands of productive and taxpaying citizens that will take an interest in their communities and neighborhoods and again, generate new revenue for our coffers.

3. With property tax revenues declining and many federal programs likely on the chopping block, how will you overhaul the city budget to reflect new funding realities?

I will bring a new attitude to the budgeting process. I have the experience and a vision that keeps our obligations to provide resources and assistance to our residents but also roots out waste and financial abuse in our city agencies. I want a lean city government that delivers services efficiently and effectively.

Declining assistance from the federal government has been a reality for some time. I will create stronger partnerships with the philanthropic and business communities that assist us in providing opportunities for young people, neighborhood development and other needed services. I have seen the incredible work that can be done by the private sector to supplement the government when it comes to addressing social and economic community issues. I will surround myself with new leaders in the budget and finance offices at City Hall that have new energy and are well-versed in the latest thinking in municipal budgeting.

4. With the city’s unemployment rate more than 10 percent, what will you do to provide jobs and stimulate economic development?

We must create an environment in city government that cuts the red tape and barriers to helping small businesses thrive and grow. I want renewed energy at the Baltimore Development Corporation that focuses on growing our business base across the city and on neighborhood economic development rather than brokering billion-dollar deals for downtown alone. There must be a balance. Small businesses can hire large numbers of new employees if they can grow and not be stifled by burdensome taxes and regulations.

I want to travel the nation with a goal of bringing corporate headquarters back to Baltimore. It’s a new day economically across the country, and we can create incentives that don’t drain our financial resources and still give corporations that need new employees a reason to locate in Baltimore. I will give a mandate to my Office of Employee Development to partner with the growing private sector industries in health care, hospitality, technology and the growing green movement to train residents to work in these fields.

I also want to ensure that city contracts on major development projects prioritize giving jobs to city residents. It is also a priority of mine to work with the remaining large employers in our city to seek opportunities for them to use Baltimore-based companies for supplies, equipment and services.

5. The 2010 Census found there are 47,000 vacant dwellings in Baltimore. How will you address this issue?

There must be top-to-bottom change in the leadership at HABC and HCD. There is a lack of energy that permeates the housing authority in Baltimore. Instead of addressing the vacant issue with focus and determination, it appears that we have fallen into a maintenance mentality that is allowing this problem to grow and drain our city of opportunities.

I will split the federal and city components of housing into two autonomous agencies with separate leaders so that they can focus more clearly on their missions. Community development must be driven by the vision of residents and neighborhoods. The creation and support of more community development corporations will be key to seeing our neighborhoods change in a positive way.

I will create a Marshall Plan that brings a passionate focus on finding the latest and best practices in addressing this issue. There are people across the country that are seeing success in addressing vacant and boarded-up properties such as in Chicago and Atlanta.

I want to redefine the city’s relationship with the development and business community. It’s time to stop turning over blocks of vacants to developers simply to put them in different hands. We must require a stronger relationship by these developers with the neighborhoods they are seeking to impact.

I will also create a program similar to the former Dollar House Program that gives Baltimoreans renewed opportunities for homeownership. I want citizens to have access to these properties with property tax breaks for 10 years while they rehabilitate and ultimately live in these homes.

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