In TRNN’s first in-depth interview with mayoral candidates former mayor Shelia Dixon says the city needs to change course on policing, public housing, and tax policy
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: This is Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. Our first in-depth interviews of mayoral candidates starts with Sheila Dixon. Dixon was appointed mayor in 2006 when Martin O’Malley took the governorship. She was elected in 2007, but was ousted after a scandal involving gift cards. We spoke with her about her vision for the future, including policing, housing, and education.
JANIS: The defense said that, you know, the police [inaud.] doesn’t come up with the rules, and that [inaud.] not, that really, like, general orders are not followed. Basically they do what they want to do. What do you have to–what do you say? SHEILA DIXON: I’m very disappointed. And I’m disappointed because in different positions, and particularly the police department, fire department, you know, health inspectors, et cetera et cetera, I mean, there are certain policies that you have to follow. And when you come in as a cadet and you’re trained, and as you go into, you know, certain years and levels of positions, I mean, that’s part of what your job is, and to be able to retain, maintain, and make sure that you direct your officers to follow those protocols and procedures, to avoid any type of mishap. For an example, in not putting a seatbelt on an individual going into a paddywagon. You know, and I understand, because I asked some officers off the record, you know, why don’t you? And they said, because you end up being so close to the person, and your, your weapon is right by you. Well, then, you need to figure out how to do it in a way that protects you as well as helps that person be safe. JANIS: And we have spent more on policing than on education. DIXON: Oh, we have. It’s, it’s getting really disappointing. What, what frustrates me, and this is where we’ve got to really reverse what we’re doing here–and we were beginning to do that, Steve, as you know. You know, we had a really targeted plan of crime and getting guns off the street, and doing holistic approaches in addressing crime. And we’ve got to get back to that in order to put more in education. Because not that education is, is the all withal to solving some of the problems, but it’s a big piece of it. JANIS: That’s going to be part of making choices, because you’re going to have to, on some level, you know, reallocate money. Are you willing to reallocate money from policing into education? DIXON: I’m willing to reallocate, but also, under my administration, we did increase the budget. And we did that in a strategic manner. But keep in mind, we’ve got to today, based on many of the polls that are done, including one that I did, crime is the primary issue. We’ve got to get it under control, but we also have to do a performance audit and make sure that the monies that are being spent are being spent strategically with results. JANIS: Well, that brings you–you know, that the city is starting to do audits. Do you support that process? Because it seems like the mayor’s administration has been dragging their feet. Do we need to do these fiscal audits? DIXON: You know, Steve, you’ve been around as long as I have. I’ve been a supporter of audits for years, because that’s the only way we expose everything that’s going on, where the waste is, where we need to make corrections and to improve. And it’s important. And that’s why I think, you know, particularly coming out of the comptroller’s office. I welcome audits because we don’t know everything that goes on. JANIS: You know, there was a huge tax break, $100 million in Harbor Point. And we’ve got a history of giving away a lot of future tax revenues. Do you think we should continue this policy of giving tax breaks to developers? DIXON: What I believe we need to do, because as you know, we don’t have millions of dollars to write a check to contribute as the city’s contribution to a project. What we have to do is look at it project by project. But when we look at a project that’s going on–and let’s take Harbor point for an example. I believe that, and I understand that, you know, I wasn’t a part of it so I don’t know the particulars. But I think in that case, Exelon should have been a contributor to that. Because the first phase of it is for Exelon. And BGE and Exelon is doing extremely well. JANIS: There has been a lot of controversy about public housing, sex for repairs scheme, you know, the current, Graziano says that the way you fix it is through privatization. How would you address public housing? You have 11,000 units. What do you think needs to be done? DIXON: Well, first of all, they have [started] the privatizers now. But the question is, is privatization going to be the answer? And then secondly, we’ve got to take a, on a different philosophy on public housing. Because what we need to do is, first of all, make sure people live in quality housing, no matter if it’s public subsidized or not, and we have control over it. Secondly, we’ve got to begin to, begin to put a plan together where people don’t make this a permanent location generation after generation. And I know folks don’t necessarily want to hear that, and they probably will be upset about that. This is something with temporary housing. We’ve got to get people to understand that this is temporarily–we want them to be in here for a period of time because of certain needs that they have. And then let’s move them on so they can move up and not rely on public housing. Because eventually, if we take that philosophy, I believe we can eliminate the amount of public housing that we have. And potentially we’ll even use it for enhancing those individuals who are homeless, which is a huge issue, and you know what my–. JANIS: [Inaud.] DIXON: My, you know, drive, and, and, and passion to deal with homelessness. I’m very bothered by what I’ve seen over the last several years. JANIS: I want to ask you about that. You had–that was a centerpiece of your administration, was a ten, ten-year plan. What do you think about what’s happened since? DIXON: I’m very disappointed. I’ve seen more people out on the street than I’ve ever seen in the city of Baltimore. And obviously no one’s coming out, going on those corners, finding out what the needs of those individuals are. And of course you have various people who are homeless. You have mental people who have issues, you have families. You have people who are drug-addicted. But we’ve got to be more aggressive to deal with that. And to me, we’re going backwards instead of forward. JANIS: Is there a way to address some of the inequities in the property tax rate in Baltimore City in a way that would make us more competitive or, you know, give working families a chance to have some of the tax breaks that developers have? DIXON: Well, I think ways to give tax breaks to working families is by creating initiatives in partnership with the city, with various unions, through their pension plans as well as banks to create affordable housing, for people to become homeowners. I think that to be competitive it’s going to take a lot more than what we can do right now. JANIS: Some people say one of the things that could restore some economic equity is to have a living wage for people. I know it exists for city contractors. Would you expand the living wage beyond the city contractors, and if not, why? DIXON: I would. And I’ll tell you why, and I will start with our city workers. Because a lot of them are not at living wage. JANIS: What about people who don’t work for the city? DIXON: Well, but–you’ve got to lead by example. And if we can do it and lead by example, and show that it provides a family with a living wage in order to take care of their families, and then once we do it, you know, it’s like–you know, like the ban on cigarettes and other initiatives that we took on, that when we can lead by example and then begin to work with many of our larger employers to say, this is what our city workers are able to benefit from now. Some of them have now the potential to buy a home, or to move into a nicer neighborhood, and be able to take care of their families without necessarily having two and three other jobs. And use that as a way to leverage getting others to participate in that–I am, I’m all in support of that. JANIS: The relationship between the police department [inaud.] has deteriorated with the community, again. What reforms–you know, do we need to reform the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights? What reforms do you think need to be done to make the police department more community-oriented? DIXON: Well, what I’d like to do, Steve, is I’m not going to go into details, because we’re going to be launching our crime plan, that’s first plan. JANIS: When is it? DIXON: Soon. But what I will say is that we definitely have to–and I think that some things are starting to happen. But clearly we have to begin to address the distrust and the treatment and the collaboration that has to happen between our officers and the community. Of course getting them out walking the neighborhoods, really walking the neighborhoods, engaged and involved, but also working, coming into the schools. Going over to the rec centers. Participating and partnering with other resources that are in the neighborhood and communities that will actually show individuals that they are human just like we are. So there are a number of efforts that we have to definitely work on. JANIS: What do you–lastly, you know, there’s already been an attack ad on YouTube posted about what happened and why you left office, you know, the criminal conviction. Do you have anything you want to say to the people of the city about what happened in, you know, terms of what you learned from it, what you take–. DIXON: You know, Steve, I made a bad choice. A simple disclosure, I would still be in public office. But I’ve also moved on. And these attacks from whomever, who won’t disclose the funding source–. JANIS: Yeah, [inaud.] figure out who it is. DIXON: But there are bigger issues that we have to address. And I was expecting something, because I guess that’s the way people feel that they have to fight, in order to expose. And people already have been exposed. But that doesn’t break me down. And if that’s the way they feel that they have to move to try to win this, then to me I would not want them to be the leader of Baltimore City government. Because we need people that want to work on the issues, and that’s what my focus is. JANIS: Do you apologize to the people of the city? DIXON: Yes, I have, many times.
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