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Rawlings-Blake says she will be aggressive in Baltimore’s economic development

Hours after her victory in the city’s Democratic primary, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a news conference she plans to take aggressive strides in local economic development, including a restructuring of the Baltimore Development Corp.

Rawlings-Blake, 41, defeated five challengers to win the nomination Tuesday with 52 percent of the vote.

“The election is over and for me, the mandate is to move the city forward,” Rawlings-Blake said.

During a 10-minute question-and-answer session in the ornate ceremonial room at City Hall Wednesday morning, the mayor said the addition of a slots parlor near M&T Bank Stadium is essential for the city’s future economic security.

She also said she planned to focus on boosting private participation in economic development in Baltimore and shepherding mega developments such as the Superblock.

Those efforts also include restructuring the BDC, the mayor said, although she declined to answer if BDC President M.J. “Jay” Brodie would be asked to leave.

“I am constantly evaluating my leadership team,” she said. “That process will continue.”

The BDC is a nonprofit, quasi-public agency centered on development in Baltimore. The group has formed partnerships with many city-based groups such as the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Committee and has overseen the city’s 10 Main Street projects, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Brodie, an architect, has been BDC president since 1996.

He said Wednesday the BDC had already embarked on a restructuring over the past year that has led to a reduction of the staff by nine employees. The BDC, he said, has shuttered its planning and design efforts and is focusing on three elements: business retention, expansion and attraction; real estate; and improvement and promotion of retail districts beyond downtown.

“We’re in lean years,” Brodie said, adding the group’s budget was cut 10 percent by the city for fiscal 2012. “Economic development is a lot more than BDC by itself. It also is built on a foundation of people’s understandings and perceptions of the city — positive, negative and neutral.”

Brodie said he is a member of a new strategic economic development group in Baltimore that also includes representatives from the GBC and the Economic Alliance for Greater Baltimore. This private sector group is drawing up a report for the city’s future economic development tactics over the next four years, Brodie said.

“Our approach is how we grow the economy in Baltimore and what are the assets and what are the challenges,” Brodie said.

Such assets include building on the city’s life sciences base, the Port of Baltimore, warehouse and distribution efforts and tourism, he said. A report is expected to be presented to Rawlings-Blake by the end of the year, Brodie said.

Donald C. Fry, president of the GBC, said Wednesday that economic growth and job creation are going to have to be a centerpiece of the mayor’s administration.

“That is the only way the city is going to move forward,” he said.

“During the campaign, there was a lot of discussion about the future of Baltimore and expanding the tax base. The only way to do that is by expanding the number of businesses in the city and the number of people who work downtown.”

In the meantime, the mayor on Wednesday offered no details of how she planned to launch new economic development efforts or what those efforts might consist of.

Of the primary election turnout, which drew a historic low 16.9 percent of the city’s registered voters, she said she was dissatisfied. When asked what the overall message was from the voters because of the apathy, Rawlings-Blake declined to answer.

“It’s up to you to speculate,” she said.

The mayor said she hoped to continue to work with state Sen. Catherine Pugh, who ran a hard-charging campaign critical of Rawlings-Blake’s leadership style.

“This is nothing new. People have campaigns every four years,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I intend to continue working with everyone.

“There were some small lessons and some big lessons,” she added of the campaign, which at times became bitter as her opponents attacked her on issues such as public safety, property tax rates and the city’s vacant housing crisis.

“I learned about the needs of the city, and I look forward to moving the city forward in this next term.”

With voter registration in the city overwhelmingly Democratic, she is expected to earn an easy win in the Nov. 8 general election. The Republican primary, between Alfred V. Griffin and Vicki Ann Harding, was too close to call Wednesday.

“I am very excited that the race is over and we can continue to move Baltimore forward,” Rawlings-Blake said, repeating part of her campaign slogan.