Thursday, February 4, 2010

Open letter to the honorable Mayor of Baltimore City

Cc: The Governor of Maryland, Senators Cummings, Mikulski

Dear Mrs. Rawlings-Blake,

Best wishes to you and prayers as you take on the responsibility of Mayor of Baltimore City. Certainly, it would be counterproductive for anyone who is sincerely concerned about the needs, problems and hopes of our city to do anything but pray your strength and wisdom that you may achieve what is best for Baltimore. In that respect, I wish to respond to some of the statements regarding the goals and priorities that you have outlined for your administration:

First, you have assured the continuation of leadership in both the police and fire departments to maintain security and safety; second, you plan to push the completion of certain economic projects which have been stalled for many years ostensibly to empower the impoverished areas; and third, you plan to emphasize ethics and greater transparency in government to ensure accountability.

These priorities sound good on the surface but because of certain realities they will not achieve substantive goals relative to the severe problems that exist in the city. History has proven that a focus on symptoms, instead of causes, never solves problems. In the same vein, a focus on safety and security per se does not save lives in communities such as the Oliver neighborhood in East Baltimore. Since you announced your priorities a few days ago, at least three people have been shot and killed within a one-mile radius of East Oliver and North Caroline. In addition, four persons died in a house fire in that same vicinity. Regarding accountability, it has become common knowledge that the chairperson of the Ethics Board has not filed disclosure statements since 2007.

I believe that as Mayor you should get serious about the eradication of economic conditions which make the probability of these tragic realities higher in neighborhoods like Oliver than in more affluent areas. Granted, we need police, firemen and ethics panels but more important is the need to begin to address the true issues of empowering the underclass in Baltimore which has been ignored despite promises of economic empowerment and renewal over the last few decades.

Despite the expenditure of billions of dollars allegedly aimed at uplifting these communities, all objective evaluations substantiate an abject failure of policies which prioritize downtown development and public safety as a strategy for community empowerment. Conditions continue to get worse rather than better.

There is a critical need for us to begin to ask ourselves why things are deteriorating; why more people are being killed; why folk are still burning up; why there are more vacant houses now than ten years ago; why hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on Westside Downtown Development while at the same time neighborhoods such as Oliver continue to be locked in crime, unsafe housing, chronic blight and long-term decline?

A continued focus on putting more and more tax payer money into wasteful downtown projects and public safety overlooks the multipliers that come from the reestablishment of families as wholesome and viable economic entities. The reestablishment of families comes when there is an accessible infrastructure of sound and effective financial institutions which provide the recirculation of income, capital availability, credit for business, an enabling climate of entrepreneurship, jobs, and income. In the context of these realities, families can grow and actualize their own economic hope. This will generate a multiplier of more jobs, more businesses, more income, better homes, less crime, less need for social services, less need for prisons, and indeed less need for continued public expenditure on the multiplicity of social dysfunctions that occur when people and communities have no economic hope.

A significant part of the money spent on redeveloping downtown should be refocused on developing blighted neighborhoods which could become economic multipliers to empower families to live and provide for themselves in these communities. Indeed, the millions of dollars which will be spent to develop just one building downtown could be a much more productive seed in changing communities such as Oliver.

This priority shift could be almost costless; it simply requires a refocusing of redevelopment goals and priorities to empower indigent and community-based entrepreneurs with real capital and economic hope. A simple formula of recirculation of income in communities, widespread entrepreneurship, and capital availability to business, would work as well in Oliver as it has for most developed and prosperous economies at all levels.

In places where persons experience real economic empowerment, murder rates go down, fewer lives are lost in fires, and legalisms concerning ethics take a back seat to the achievement of your purpose as mayor.

God Bless You