In an interview with TRNN, the Democratic nominee for mayor Catherine Pugh says policing must change and the surrounding jurisdictions must help Baltimore tackle poverty and drug addiction as regional problems
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. The challenges facing Baltimore are both numerous and daunting. Entrenched poverty, a dysfunctional police department, the highest tax rate in the region, and the highest rate of violent crime. It’s an array of problems that don’t appear to have easy solutions. But solutions are exactly what the residents of Baltimore had in mind when they elected Catherine Pugh, the democratic nominee for mayor. Which is why Real News reported Stephen Janis sat down with state senator Pugh to discuss all these topics and what she plans to do about them if she wins in November. Stephen thanks for joining me. Can you give me a little bit of background on Catherine Pugh? STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Yea sure. She was first elected to the City Council in and interestingly lost to former Mayor Sheila Dickson in 2003 when she tried to run for City Council President. And then she took an interestingly different path than a lot of mayors to Annapolis. She was appointed state senator and won the election. So she’s really built a power base for herself in Annapolis. Not in Baltimore City. You know Dickson, Martin O’Malley, former mayors Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, current mayors up through the council. But Pugh went to Annapolis and was state senate majority leader there. And so her powerbase and her sort of career has evolved in the state capitol, not in the city. GRAHAM: So you started off your conversation with a topic that’s in the new right now, police reform. What did she do in Annapolis about civilian oversight in particular? JANIS: Well she was heavily involved in the legislative process. It produced this supposed package of police reform that we’re now dealing with at the moment. And one of them of course is a very controversial idea to put civilians on the internal disciplinary boards. It’s called trial boards. So she was part of that. So she was actually one of the architects. So it’s been very–now that has hit a roadblock where the union says it will not include or do not want to include civilians as far as we know, I asked her about that specifically. So number one, do you support having civilians on the– CATHERINE PUGH: Absolutely. I co-chaired the police reform commission for the state of Maryland. And absolutely do support civilians on the trial board and what the judiciary commission did was left it open for jurisdictions to negotiate doing that. But allowing for that to take place here in Baltimore as you well know. It’s become a negotiating factor for the police union and I think that what we’ll do this session is that I will ask the state legislature and the Baltimore delegation to take it out of the negotiations and to require individual citizens to be allowed to sit on the trial boards. It is absolutely important to developing that trust that we know needs to take place in Baltimore City, and to develop that kind of cooperation that I think that even those who are against it currently will see the difference that would have made down the road and that sometimes when we resist things we don’t know what the final outcome will be. But I believe that when we mandate that, through the state legislature that the city will benefit in the long run. JANIS: So you get to go and advocate for this in Annapolis as well. PUGH: Absolutely. No doubt about it. GRAHAM: Next you discussed a topic that’s been front and center. The Department of Justice’s scathing report on the Baltimore Police Department dealing with unconstitutional and illegal practices. Now you asked her what she plans to do about it but I think she told you how it made her feel. Let’s hear her answer. PUGH: Well let me just say that the report I think everybody in Baltimore City and perhaps in the state of Maryland should read the report because it does point out some of the systemic racist practices that have existed in our police department for years and I tell you, some of the stories that you read in this report are just shocking. Some of the ways that African Americans specifically were stopped, frisked, searched, cavity searches. There’s stories about police officers putting their hands down the pants of individuals and I think it was appalling. And it certainly as the report pointed out, things that just not should have occurred. That violated constitutional rights of individuals for a decade. This is just appalling. JANIS: It really struck you as something you want to change specifically? PUGH: Just stopping frisking. The stop and frisking I think is out of control. When you think about women, not just men but women, young people are who were subjected to that. Mentally ill people who were subjected to that. I don’t that there’s a category across the African American community, or community in general that was not touched by this so that has to stop. GRAHAM: She seemed pretty firm about stop and frisk. Why do you think so? JANIS: Well you know I think she personally, because I asked her what part of it really affected her and I think that part, the idea that people are constantly being harassed. This idea that if you go into a poor African American neighborhood and you just stop and harass and engage and continually put pressure on people, that something is going to change and that’s when she seemed to go beyond being a politician and maybe talking about the quality of life in these neighborhoods. So I think she sees that this causes deeper problems. And some of the problems that you’re actually trying to solve, like violence. If you have a constant police presence that continues to harass and otherwise impede people in those neighborhoods. So I think to her that was a real personal thing. She said that’s got to stop. GRAHAM: Now you asked her if she would keep key city officials like Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano. Why did you focus on those two jobs specifically? JANIS: Well two reasons. The police department is the biggest agency, the best funded agency, and obviously unfortunately at this point, pivotal agency in Baltimore City. So whoever runs the police department is probably the second most powerful city official and one of the most instrumental important picks of the mayor. So that was one. Number two with Paul Graziano the housing commissioner, we’re all aware of the scandal that happened at Gilmore Homes were women were asked to have sex in exchange for repairs. It was a national scandal. It led to a major lawsuit settlement and many people said it’s time for him to be fired. So I wanted to see what she had to say when she becomes mayor. Will she fire him? Commissioner Davis, is he going to be your commissioner? PUGH: Commissioner Davis to me has the capacity and the competency to do the job. JANIS: Paul Graziano, a lot of people want him fired. PUGH: I think that’s been, I think that’s an old issue. JANIS: So are you going to fire him? PUGH: Let me just say this, everybody serves at the pleasure of the mayor and I get to say on day 1, I’ll accept everybody’s resignation because I want the best and the brightest. And one of the things is I’m looking at the Bloomberg School of Government. We combine HABC with HCD. We’re one of the few cities that do that. So not only will I be looking for a housing commissioner, I will be separating–currently as I see it, separating HABC from HCD. JANIS: So people understand, you’re separating the housing authority of Baltimore from the housing development? PUGH: Yes, because one is a federal agency, HABC and the other one is for community. JANIS: So are you going to split those two a part and bring the one– PUGH: I’m looking at that now with the Bloomberg School of Government to see how best to do that because when I look at– JANIS: That’s really interesting. PUGH: Well when you look at Boston, Philadelphia, or Chicago, New York, every major city those agencies are separated. GRAHAM: Now Stephen, given that in the scandal dozens of women were asked to exchange sexual favors for repairs, why do you think Graziano’s been off limits? JANIS: I think that is a million-dollar question in Baltimore City. You know Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not fire him. He has survived since Mayor Martin O’Malley in 1999. He’s the longest serving person. One interesting [thing] she said was well number one that she’s going to fire everybody. So we’ll see with that. That’s sort of [de rigor] political talk. But number two that she’s going to split housing authority, the federal part of it from that city part which gives her more control. GRAHAM: The next question was about Port Covington, namely the 535-million-dollar tax break as well as a new deal which is a 100-million-dollar deal made between City Council President Jack Young and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Let’s hear what she had to say about that? PUGH: I think that Port Covington is going to be a great deal for the city. I think that when you think about all the lessons that will be learned from Port Covington, the jobs that will be created, the transportation needs that will be met, the lessons that we can learn from that. Again a lot of Port Covington will occur long before I become mayor but I’m looking forward to the assets that will return to the city as a result of the investment that has been made. GRAHAM: Do you have any concern? I mean it’s a huge tax break. I know people say TIFs aren’t tax breaks. They really are tax breaks. PUGH: Well they are tax breaks to be given to other parts of the city and I think that’s what we need to be looking at. How do we fix west Baltimore? Look at what’s happening up in Park Heights. One of the things I’ve said to Park Heights is you’ve got 5 acres of opportunity for development and over the next 15 years we’ve got a potential of about 120 million dollars coming into Park Heights. That ought to be leveraged to bring in at least a billion or 10 to 12 billion in investment in this city. Because we got to take that. We should be taking that money and leveraging with development in this city. There’s a lot to be done in Port Covington. I believe it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of some of the things that this city can do in the future to repopulate a city again built for a million people. JANIS: So more TIFs you’re talking about or more–? PUGH: More incentives. More incentives for a development. More incentives–we got incentives. When you think about Park Heights. 120 million dollars in incentives over the next 15 years that could be leveraged with other development? Absolutely. You’ll have the same thing going on down in Pig Town and other areas of the city because the slot race impact dollars. So we need to leverage those monies and create the incentives to get that development going on. GRAHAM: Finally, you asked her about ways to address systemic issues like poverty. Specifically increasing the minimum wage. Let’s hear what she had to say about that. PUGH: Well first of all it’s not a part of my agenda currently but I can tell you this, that it will be a part of the state’s agenda and it will be a part of Hillary Clinton’s agenda by 2020. That that’s where we need to be and so I think that we want to make sure that it is state wide. That we don’t lose, that Baltimore doesn’t lose in the process. We want people to live better but one thing that I want to do with training dollars in the city is give it to the employer. To say that if that’s a $10 an hour, if that’s a $20 an hour job, let us help you with the training dollars so that we can train people so that they can move up the economic ladder. Because at $10 an hour, $15 an hour, it’s still not sufficient. So we’ve got to do better by training our people in our city for the better jobs. I mean we have them coming to the city whether it’s Port Covington, technology. So we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is in terms of where we place our training dollars so we can improve the economic outcome for the people who live in our city. JANIS: So you support $15 an hour for the statewide. You do support it? PUGH: I just don’t think that any jurisdiction should be separated from this. JANIS: Statewide you support it? PUGH: Absolutely. It’s going to be there. And again Hillary Clinton supports that by 2020. So I think that we get there. But you have to be conscious citywide and statewide, how you go about doing this and at what level. And we know that we have a high unemployment rate in the city. We know we have a drug addiction problem in this city. But we also know that many of the problems that this city faces just don’t lie at the doorsteps of Baltimore City itself. And when you think about for example, Baltimore now as I call it, the drug treatment center for the state of Maryland, we have more drug treatment centers here than any other jurisdiction in the state. Anne Arundel County got its first drug treatment center. But if you stop people on the streets, and I do this. I do this when I’m having conversations with homeless people on our streets. I don’t give out money. I give out a bottle of water. I’ll say well where are you from? You know they’re from counties surrounding our city. I mean not to say that we don’t have homelessness in our own city because we do. But they’re from all over and as far Virginia. I asked a young man, I said why are you here? He said I think I’m going to make this home. So we’ve got some major problems in our city but they’re not just laying at our doorsteps in Baltimore and that’s why I think that the relationship that I have with the Baltimore County executive, the Hartford County executive, the Howard County Executive, to be able to have the Anne Arundel County executive, to be able to have this conversation about how do we work together to make sure that no one jurisdiction has to pay the price for all of these ills that are occurring in our communities and communities around the state. JANIS: Are you going to ask them to do more with these problems and have their own treatment? PUGH: Not just to do more. But to do more but to understand that this is not just Baltimore City’s problem. GRAHAM: Do you think she has enough of a grasp of the problem to be able to address it in a meaningful way? JANIS: Well one of the things I think and I can kind of understand this answer is that she wants it to be addressed at the state level. She wants a $15 minimum wage. But she doesn’t want to put Baltimore again, in isolation. And this might relate back to her ties to Annapolis and the fact that she is not a person who sort of rose through the city ranks but actually had to be in Annapolis. Which actually might not be a bad thing for the city because truthfully I think $15 minimum wage is absolutely necessary. However, if it’s only Baltimore City, again it’s something that’s going to put us in this position when we’re going to be the only ones taking this step. So I think this has to do with her Annapolis sort of training and her ties there. I think she has–the one thing that we have to remember is all the other mayors weren’t really Annapolis they don’t really have the ties of Annapolis. She does. So she says I’m going to do something, it’s possible it’s going to happen. She was the state senate majority leader. That’s a powerful position. GRAHAM: Seems she wants to take a regional approach. JANIS: There’s a lot of themes in this interview about regionalism which I think is something that’s missing entirely from the equation. We talk constantly about the problems in Baltimore as if they only are specific to Baltimore. And as we’ve created this geographic barrier that sort of isolates us in a way that makes us completely responsible to the narrative of failure, it’s like you want to create Baltimore and put the equal sign failure. I see it in the media coverage. I see it as a reporter I’ve heard it from people. Well it’s Baltimore. If she can open up that dialogue and start holding other people accountable in other jurisdictions. And say all those drug addicts that are coming in the city in our 26 methadone clinics, they’re county residents. It’s not just Baltimore. Then maybe we’ll see some real change. That’s probably the most positive about her pedigree is that she’s not from Baltimore. She is from Baltimore but she has roots and ties to the state power mechanism and maybe she can leverage that to put Baltimore in a better position. GRAHAM: Stephen thank you for joining me. JANIS: Thanks for having me. GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.