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C. Fraser Smith: A citizen’s candidate questionnaire

Who says the political questionnaire should be the sole province of newspapers or civic groups? Not that we don’t appreciate the work. We do.

But others could join in the fun, offering their own list of questions. It’s a bit of work, to be sure. But it would be an extraordinary service in year like this when we have a total of 29 candidates for mayor Baltimore – 13 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

(Didn’t anyone tell these GOP candidates that Baltimore is 100 percent Democrat? Well not exactly, just 9-to-1. But I digress.)

The point is we have more than a quorum of candidates on both sides of the electoral equation. You can’t identify the players or  know what they stand for without a program.

Even better, says the Southwest Partnership’s Bill Marker, if you can find out how the candidates think about the issues that matter to you.

You could go to a candidates forum or two, but maybe not more than that. And, with candidate fields that approach the city’s population, you’re not likely to hear anything about the issues that matter to you.

Realizing this and having been a candidate himself a few times, Marker decided to make his own questionnaire. He’s delivered the document to all 29 candidates.

Some of his questions, he says, have citywide significance. Some are strictly neighborhood-centered.

“I do not claim or intend for the questionnaire to be a comprehensive survey of issues awaiting our next Mayor,” he says in a letter accompanying his questionnaire, “but I do hope it will raise questions in the campaign.”

Recalling a post-Freddie Gray idea for moving people to “safer neighborhoods,” he wonders if the candidates would be for or against this idea.

“What (would be) the effect of such subsidized escape…?  Should we move the jobs, not the people?  Would it be better to spend those resources serving those neighborhoods and their residents?”

And so it goes, item by item through all the issues that concern him:

Fair property taxation: One major problem facing Baltimore City is our high property tax rate. Will you, as mayor, initiate and coordinate an effort with the leaders of the counties that are also harmed by our current property tax structure to move us to a fair structure?

History and civics education: Does focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education critically diminish vital knowledge of history and exercise of civics among our population?

Casino neighborhoods boundaries: Since the original establishment of the Baltimore Local Development Council, which recommends how the casino impact funds should be spent, the allowable area for spending these funds has been expanded to the east and to the south, but not to the west and the north. Was this appropriate? If not, how will you revise the area of permissible expenditures?

Pigtown vs. Washington Village: Will you officially and for all city purposes acknowledge that the community along Washington Boulevard between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Monroe Street is Pigtown, not Washington Village?

The Walters Bathhouse: Should the Walters Bathhouse, 904-906 Washington Boulevard, the last building to have served as a public bathhouse and long the organizational center of Pigtown, be allowed to leave public hands and stop serving a public function?

Getting over Martin Luther King Boulevard: The communities of the Southwest Partnership, as well as State Center and the communities to its south, need connection to the University of Maryland and downtown without the divide of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Acres of (elevated) land could be created and the divide literally overcome if structures were built over much of MLK Boulevard.  Additionally, this might enable a higher use possible for the various parcels of undeveloped land along MLK.  Is this an intriguing idea worth exploring by your administration?

Walking and bicycling along MLK Boulevard: Will you encourage walking and bicycling on the path on the west of MLK Boulevard. (The ways of doing so are then enumerated: Issuing tickets to drivers of vehicles that block the pathway when stopped by a red light, for example.

Airplane advertising: To relieve residents of incessant buzzing before sports events, should airplane advertising be prohibited near stadiums?

All politics is local.

As Marker’s effort suggests, a winning mayoral candidate would be better-prepared for the job if she or he knew what mattered to people.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.