Candidate for mayor Carl Stokes tells TRNN’s Stephen Janis that the campaign focus may shift as past policies come under fire
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello, this is Stephen Janis for the Real News Network in Baltimore. We are just back from City Hall where the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has said she will not run for reelection, a stunning announcement that has shocked many people at City Hall. And one of them I’m sure is a potential candidate for mayor, Councilman Carl Stokes. So just right off the bat, what’s your reaction to [the mayor’s]. CARL STOKES, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCIL, DISTRICT 12: My first reaction was surprise. It caught me very much off guard. I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t know about it in advance. My second reaction was frankly to reach out to the mayor, I haven’t reached her yet, to say thank you. Thank you for your 20 years of service to the citizens of Baltimore. Public service is often not very easy, but I appreciate the fact that she did it. My third reaction was that I appreciate the fact that she made the decision today because I would think that in her heart that she wants to finish the job she started. And that she feels that there’s still a lot to do, and she’d rather not leave unfinished. And yet I think she looked around the city and saw what was about to happen with the six trials. She sees a city that’s on edge. She sees a very contentious campaign season about to start. And she felt in the best interests of the citizens that she should step aside and relieve some of that tension that’s in our city. So I appreciate the fact of what she did, but I was very surprised. JANIS: And bear in mind, you’re a candidate for mayor, but how do you think this changes the dynamics of the mayor’s [race] going forward? I mean, you have the incumbent out and also maybe her policies, too, sort of off the table. How do you think this changes the dynamics of the mayor’s race, of the conversation? STOKES: I think it clears the deck for much of the conversation going forward. Now, we had intended to campaign not on today’s or yesterday’s policies. We are laying out a policy and a vision going forward, in terms of transforming government in a dramatic way. So it doesn’t change my particular candidacy. But I think it does open the debate somewhat wider now that, as you say, her policies are off the table, so to speak. JANIS: Well, you also mention–this has always been sort of the third rail of Baltimore City politics, talking about policing, because people say we want more police. You’re one of the first people to say, well, maybe we need to put more into education and reduce policing. Do you think that’s actually something that can be politically palatable coming up, given what’s happening in City Hall? STOKES: Yeah, I think 15 years ago when I talked about this before, when I said if we want stronger public safety that we have to do education, we have to do jobs, we have to pay attention to the neighborhoods, and that will give us the public safety we want. Other candidates said no, we got to lock up people. We’ve got to keep locking them up. We’ve got to bring more police in, we’ve got to raise the budget three times. Well, we’ve had 15 years of that, and what do we have. It’s worse than ever. We have continually the highest homicide rate in the United States of America, rivaling the world in terms of a homicide rate. And people realize, you know what, that wasn’t the best policy. That wasn’t the best policy. And so I think they’re open to listening to Stokes and others this time who say education, jobs, after school engaging young people, is the better way to go. That that is as big a portion of public safety, and maybe a larger portion–I believe that it’s a larger portion–than law enforcement. JANIS: And now the other topic I think that has been sort of off the table and not really discussed has been downtown tax breaks for developers. Specifically just two or three years ago you fought against a $100 million tax break. Do you think that that also will enter into the debate? And if so do you think the public is really aware of it, and more, even wants to hear about it? STOKES: I think the public was very aware of it, not just tax incentives for the billionaire developers while the neighborhood suffered. I think also the whole issue of transparency of government. You know, I came in and the mayor said, we’re going to close 15 rec centers. And I said, why? And she said, because we don’t have money. And I said, well, can I see the books? And they said, there aren’t any books. I said, what do you mean there are no books? I said I want to audit recreation and parks. And other colleagues stood with me. Then I learned that there’d been no audits for over 30 years of most of the city agencies. And we’re still waiting for the audits of the city agencies that two years, two and a half years now, the public voted. Almost three years the public voted that we should have audits at least every four years of our agencies. And we still don’t have audits of most of our agencies of city government. So I think that Downtown incentives, not just Downtown, but the incentives to a couple of developers on the harbor. Not just Downtown because Downtown, old, traditional, commercial Downtown had not received great incentives. There has been an apartment incentive, but I think it’s a good thing. But the fact that we’ve given away–for years now. I’m saying, in other words, our grandchildren will still be paying for the incentives that we’ve given in the past five years to certain developers in the harbor. And I think people are very bothered by it. I think they’re angry about it. I think that they’ve seen that we have not invested in neighborhoods all around town, and that is great. I think that the national media showed Baltimore in a way that the citizens know it is to be, but regretted having to see it shown nationally. All of these neighborhoods were boarded up, abandoned property, people hanging on corners. Little or no green space. I think that’s, that vision also, I think, played into the mayor’s decision not to seek reelection. JANIS: So, last question. It seemed to me that the legacy of her, the legacy of her predecessors, are tied to what happened with Freddie Gray and the aftermath. Now that you’re not running against her, what do you think Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s legacy will be? STOKES: I think the fact that she did get a handle on a structural budget deficit that she inherited when she came into the office, and that she did reduce it by at least half and had a plan to continue to reduce it, I think that frankly she did–that would be her strongest achievement. JANIS: Okay. Well, thank you, Councilman. Appreciate it. I appreciate you talking to us. We’ll be talking to you more as the race goes on. This is Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore. We’ll be covering the mayor’s race and continue to bring you new news on what’s going on at City Hall. Thank you.