COVID-19 Threatens Maryland Campaign To Bring Mass Transit To Black Neighborhoods
Thursday, July 30, 2020
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor. Transportation has always been central to the struggle for equality, from Frederick Douglass seeking to ride a whites-only train in 1841 to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, and that fight has never ended. In a clip that’s gone viral, Maryland governor Larry Hogan was confronted over his civil rights record, including transit equity, by Sunny Hostin on The View.
Sunny Hostin: Governor, as you know, when you were here last I mentioned to you that I lived in Maryland and in Baltimore particular, so it’s a city that’s very dear to my heart. My son was born there. And reading your book, you describe Freddie Gray as a Crips gang connected street level drug dealer. There’s no evidence that he was affiliated with any Crips gang, and I’m sure you didn’t intend to imply that his death was deserved. But the Black Lives Matter movement is not just about Black deaths at the hands of police, right? It’s about systemic racism. And you’ve been accused of contributing to the problem by killing the Red Line Transit Project that would have connected thousands of Black Baltimore residents to better jobs and improve air quality, because I live there and I know that would have helped. And you also proposed cuts to the public school system and, in fact, you cut, I think, about $36 million from school budgets but you approve $30 million to build a youth jail in Baltimore.
Jaisal Noor: Well, residents continue to fight back against all of Hogan’s attacks on Baltimore, including the cancellation of the Red Line, a mass transit project that would have connected disinvested Black neighborhoods with badly needed jobs and opportunities. Well, now joining us to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is endangering Baltimore residents’ push for better transportation is Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition. Thank you so much for joining us.
Samuel Jordan: Thank you. Thank you so much, Jaisal.
Jaisal Noor: So, the August 3rd deadline is fast approaching to collect 10,000 signatures to put the creation of a regional transportation authority on the November ballot. Baltimore is one of the few major cities without a regional transportation authority and, for anyone that hasn’t been to Baltimore, the transportation system here, compared to any other big city, is just appallingly bad. Having a transportation authority that’s connected regionally would be a first step in trying to remedy that. Talk about where we stand right now.
Samuel Jordan: Well, first, Jaisal, you’re correct. The loss of the red line was a dramatic, colossal error on the part of the governor. It is an example, as we see it, as an example of structural racism, in that it follows Baltimore’s tradition of segregationist transportation policy since the earliest part of the 20th century, as a matter of fact. And what we have decided, of course, with our Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, is to make an appropriate, appropriate and proportionate response to Hogan’s cancellation of the red line. That is, we want to recover from the damage done by the loss of the red line. I can tell you that it was tremendous a boost to the regional economy.
What we’re doing is, first, transportation is lived and experienced at the regional level. That’s where decisions should be made. So, we are opposing and we seek to abandon the commandist, sort of dictatorial approach of the M.MTA model, and substitute it with a regional transportation authority. We’re doing that, one, because we want to improve and address the transit equity issues that have arisen and have been with us for awhile. But we also want to take advantage of one important fact, that over the past four decades, the most robust generator of economic development in this country has been light rail. In fact, the mantra in the industry is development follows rail, buses follow development. Another way we put it is that banks don’t invest in bus stops.
So, we’re pursuing the Red Line Light Rail Project. I was a nine year volunteer planner and community educator on the red line project. I went to Portland, Seattle, Denver, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Charlotte, to make sure we had best practices. So, we’re taking this step to force, compel, the city of Baltimore to take the first steps toward the creation of a regional transportation authority with regional jurisdictions.
Jaisal Noor: So, when Hogan … Well, first of all, you’re approaching this deadline. Where do you stand right now? You need 10, at least 10,000 signatures, probably closer to something like 14,000, of voters in the area, to be able to get this in on the ballot November. How far do you have to go to get that?
Samuel Jordan: Jaisal, you mentioned it earlier. The COVID pandemic has played a great role. We were underway with in-person canvassing. In fact, we launched our campaign officially on February 29th, we began collecting signatures, but we had to abandon it shortly after the governor imposed his executive directives, ordering a shelter in place, and it was impossible. We couldn’t keep social distancing and do in-person canvassing, so we had to suspend our campaign. We could only reopen after the state approved electronic petitioning, and it took also another two weeks before we were approved for the app program that we had to conduct electronic petitioning. So, we were in May before we could begin the electronic petitioning, alert networks of our allies and get them to distribute the link to our petition as widely as possible. So, we’re just under, we’re under 3000 petitions.
Now, the goal, or the required goal is 10,000 valid petitions. Now, there are fewer mistakes or errors in petitions with the electronic method, as we have determined and have provided with our app. But nevertheless, the statewide campaigns of the Green party, the Libertarian party, were required to submit 10,000 valid petitions, but they got relief from the state to 5,000 valid petitions. We haven’t been able to get that relief. The governor himself can actually order his own state board of elections to accept 5,000 petitions from us. But even so, time is short, as you mentioned. August 3rd is a deadline for submission and we’re running close. It’s not over until it’s over, but it is uphill from here.
Jaisal Noor: Can you tell us how many signatures you still need?
Samuel Jordan: I just said that we have under 3000 signatures.
Jaisal Noor: Okay, so you need to get more than a thousand a day in these last few days.
Samuel Jordan: Absolutely, we need that many.
Jaisal Noor: So, one of the challenges to the red line, when governor Hogan vetoed it in 2015, at the same time, he also green-lighted expansion of mass transit in the wealthy DC suburbs, but he called this a boondoggle. He said this was a waste of taxpayer money. So, critics say throughout Hogan’s tenure, he’s appealed to racial resentment, right? Because his argument is that suburban taxpayers shouldn’t subsidized services for the inner city. The racial resentment, those appeals are, critics say, have been throughout his administration. But regardless, you’re going to have to win over some, some suburban voters to get mass transit expanded in Baltimore. What do you say to those voters?
Samuel Jordan: Well, let’s sort of take it piece by piece. First of all, you’re correct. He did call it a boondoggle, but he’s never documented why he’s called it a boondoggle. In fact, you’re correct. He canceled the red line, but he you approve the more expensive purple line in the Maryland, DC/Maryland suburbs going from Montgomery County, Bethesda to New Carrollton, a 15 mile corridor longer than the Red Line and more expensive. So, this is repetition of what know to be almost standard practice when you’re in a racist regime, anything for Black people and children is always too expensive. Okay? In fact, what we always say, and make sure that it’s clear, racism is the most important suppressor of investments in public transportation. One. And two, public transportation is racially conflicted wherever people of color live in this nation.
This is not a new phenomenon. What we’re doing is undertaking a challenge to the way the decisions and the decision-making process is structured. Structural racism is that racism complicit, that has complicity with and from the government. So, we’re changing. We want to change the locus of decision-making in transportation policy and services from Annapolis to the Baltimore region, where transportation is lived and experienced and where the decisions should be made.
Now, with respect to this boondoggle, it’s also very close to Koch brothers language, that’s Koch brothers terminology. We have followed the Koch brothers around the country. Wherever there’s a rail project, there’s Koch opposition. In fact, I went down to Phoenix in August and September to celebrate with them after a historic victory over the Koch brothers, the very same. You see, Hogan holds himself out as a moderate Republican, but keep in mind, after all the demonstrations in Charlottesville in 2017 that outraged the nation, the skinheads, the Klans, and the neo-Nazis, not one of them threw away 10,000 jobs, about 7,000 of which would have gone to Black people. Okay? In Charlottesville, not one skinhead, not in one neo-Nazi sentenced an entire metropolitan region to economic decline. Larry Hogan did. That economic decline in a region which featured Baltimore, the state’s a city with the highest Black population, and, in fact, it nevertheless was 49% of the state’s economy.
So, what he’s done is he’s Balkanized the state’s economy as well. Baltimore to decline the purple line corridor in Montgomery and Prince George’s economic vitality. In fact, the purple line has already attracted $12 billion in project commitments. That is the type of money that should have been spent, and will be spent when we complete the red line project, here in Baltimore. That’s the generator. That’s the power that can power the economy for Baltimore. In fact, we have greater chances of transit equity when such a system is built.
Hogan never said in your clip from Hostin, what the benefits of the red lines are, 10,000 jobs, dramatically reduce commute times. Right now, two out of three jobs in Baltimore require 90 minutes or more by public transportation. We’ve asked MTA to calculate the loss to the general economy, to the regional economy. They refuse to do so, of course. But there’s also, with that, six and a half billion dollars in transit oriented development and an additional 3000 jobs. The red line itself was planned to do just that, transform the economy. Remember, the red line course, 14.2 miles, 19 stations from Bayview in the east to Woodlawn CMS in the west, also passed through communities where over 30 to 40% of the residents don’t have access to automobiles.
Okay, when you have a red line that would get from Bayview to CMS Woodlawn in 45 minutes, we reduce dramatically those commutes that go out into other areas in the region requiring 90 minutes or more. We call that transit detention. Well, you see, we understand clearly that if we’re to have command over transit policy and conditions, and addition address issues like the environment, the connection between housing and transportation services, the public health issues with respect to the harmful emissions by the transportation sector, which you know generate 40% of the country’s harmful emissions and greenhouse gases.
So, we have every good reason to promote the creation of a regional transportation authority. It’s in Baltimore’s best interest. In fact, we make a case against the M.MTA model. There are a number of reasons why it is not suitable for our region.
Jaisal Noor: Now, if people want to learn more about this campaign, what’s the website?
Samuel Jordan: Moretransitequity.com. That’s our website at the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, moretransitequity.com.
Jaisal Noor: All right. Well, Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, thank you so much for speaking with us. And we’ll keep up coverage of this important topic. It’s not going to be over on August 3rd, the fight will continue. So, thank you so much for joining us.
Samuel Jordan: Thank you so much, Jaisal. Structural racism must be met with structural change.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.