MARK PARKER (D)
Mark Parker is a Democrat running for City Council. He is a pastor at Breath of God Lutheran Church. For more information on his campaign, visit www.friendsofmarkparker.com.
As the Southeast grows economically and in population, how will you work to balance the needs and wants of developers with the needs and wants of the residents?
Every new proposal for change in our area–whether COPT’s new construction at Clinton & Boston, the Patterson Park Master Plan, the BaltimoreLink transit plan, or the 21st Century Schools construction initiative–impacts each community and household differently. The role of a councilperson is to communicate clearly, spread information broadly, and facilitate decision-making processes which take seriously the ideas and concerns of those with something at stake in each proposal. The question presupposes a conflict that doesn’t necessarily exist–we have seen many instances where community members and developers worked together on projects they agreed were best for the neighborhood. The goal is to achieve consensus among all those involved in a process so that we are working toward a shared vision for our community.
Every single candidate has expressed concerns and proposed plans for hot button issues like transportation and education, but what is another key issue that is important to you? Why is it important to you?
As a lifelong Baltimorean, I grew up during a decade which saw 300+ murders a year. While progress has been uneven, and some neighborhoods remain wracked by violence, we had been on a path toward a genuinely safer city–that is, until 2015. I’ve worked with teenagers in Highlandtown who are on full scholarships to college, others who are in prison for murder, others who have been killed, and others who are on the corners dealing. I’ve had to wash blood off my front steps in the morning from a bar encounter turned into a stabbing. I’ve grown accustomed to turning down solicitations when I’m walking home. And my neighbors had their presents stolen from under the tree on Christmas morning.
That’s why public safety is important to me. From the most brazen shooting to the most simple theft, crime makes life in our communities worse for my neighbors and my own family. The level of violence, general criminality, and chaos we experienced in 2015 is completely unsustainable for our city. While the question doesn’t ask for proposed solutions, you can find my ideas at www.FriendsofMarkParker.com.
The district is luckily a lot better off than other parts of the city in terms of crime,however, robberies and burglaries remain a concern. What would you do to combat this? What do you think the police can do to reduce robberies?
Public safety is a significant concern throughout our district, especially home invasions and robberies which threaten people on our streets and in our homes. The police have been aggressive about adding patrols at times and in areas which have seen increased burglaries and robberies, such as Upper Fells, Butchers Hill, Patterson Park, and Highlandtown. The new robbery deployment has been particularly effective in recent weeks. We have too few officers on patrol in the Southeastern District, covering too large an area, for foot patrols to be a major part of our deployment. But increased bicycle patrols offer a good solution: on our narrow and congested streets, and in our dense historic communities, officers on bicycles can fully cover their posts and respond quickly to radio calls while still having the increased situational awareness and positive citizen interactions that come with being on patrol outside of a car.
We have our own community work to do as well so that we as individuals, our homes, and our communities are less likely to be targeted. Secured yards, secured windows, empty cars, and attentive pedestrians (with their heads up, off of their phones) won’t prevent all incidents but make it more challenging and less likely that we will be victimized. Efforts to coordinate resident-owned cameras, whether through the CitiWatch program or through neighborhood-level efforts such as one ongoing in Patterson Park, have a slight preventative effect but can be a major help to police in investigating on-street and in-home crimes.
Outline your thoughts on the city’s transportation needs and the reforms that are needed to our transit systems. Was the Redline the answer? Will CityLink be the answer?
Our current transportation system is woefully inadequate. Decades of missed opportunities and failed investments–most recently the cancellation of a major new rail line–have left us with a system that fails to reliably, quickly, and safely move people around our city. Transportation is a key factor in neighborhood livability and economic opportunity for residents. Our current system is failing the 30% of city residents who do not own a vehicle as well as the 70% of residents who want and need alternative forms of transportation.
There is little point in rehashing old disagreements. The need for quality mass transportation is too pressing in our congested historic communities for us to waste energy debating the Red Line. The governor’s proposed BaltimoreLink reforms hold promise to help on the margins. But the arterial lines of any functional transit system are rail lines which are situated off of the street grid. The rest of our system–including cycling, buses, bikeshare, and water taxi–is built off of those core rail lines.
I come to transportation policy from a personal perspective as well. I sold my car two years ago and get around mostly by bicycle, augmented by ZipCar and buses–one of which (#22) happens to conveniently run down our street in Highlandtown. I grew up downtown and had the benefit of the nearby Light Rail, MARC train, and Baltimore subway. I studied in DC and in Philadelphia and know what a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation system looks like. We’ve got a long way to go in Baltimore.
The long-term plan for improving transportation in Baltimore has to include expanded rail lines, including an east-west line connecting Southeast and West Baltimore. I’ll do everything I can to support that effort as a councilperson–in particular, working on the ground in our neighborhoods to collect input and build support for that plan. The short-term effort needs to be focused on improving our bus service, investing in streetscape infrastructure so that people can safely walk and ride bikes, and supporting the Waterfront Partnership and their corporate members in developing solutions to ease the pressure of commuter traffic through our congested streets.
We have a lot of vacant properties in the area that can lead to illegal squatting, what would you do to these buildings?
Vacancy and squatting, while definitely a concern in some neighborhoods, is thankfully much less common in our district than in other parts of Baltimore. Here in Highlandtown, where squatting has led to one if not two fires in the past few months, we recognize that the issue is critical. It is also relatively straightforward.
In the short term, the task is to make sure that vacant houses are secured at all times. There are several of us in the neighborhood who keep an eye on vacant properties and check on them throughout the week to make sure no one can gain entrance. If a property is unsecured, a pattern of calls to the police, the housing department, and, when applicable, the bank or management company usually gets quick results.
The long term solution is making sure that vacant properties get into the hands of private developers or non-profit groups who are able to rehab and sell them. When I notice vacant properties near me I look up the records and contact the owners directly to describe the impact of the vacancy on the neighborhood and encourage them to sell. I then connect them with quality companies I know who do good work in the area. In part because of my efforts, of five vacant homes within a block of my house, four are now rehabbed and the other one (a foreclosure shell) is now up for sale.
In your own words, what is a councilperson’s duty?
A councilperson’s duty is to work every day for the well-being of their neighbors and for the city overall. When dealing with a city agency which fails to provide good service to local residents, a councilperson intercedes to make sure that their constituents are being treated fairly and the issue is resolved. When faced with challenges that require a legislative fix, a councilperson works with their colleagues and their constituents to develop the necessary law. And a councilperson has the responsibility for reviewing & approving the city budget while holding agency heads and departments accountable for their use or misuse of those funds. In all of those responsibilities, a councilperson is fundamentally a collaborative leader, committed to bringing together the resources, leadership, ideas, and skills of their colleagues and their constituents in order to improve our city.
The Southeast is a diverse neighborhood, what would you do to make disenfranchised populations feel like a valuable part of the city?
Southeast Baltimore has welcomed generation after generation of new Baltimoreans, whether arriving from elsewhere in Maryland, from other parts of the country, or from around the world. Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, Czechs, Greeks, Mexicans, Salvadorians, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and more–each new family has arrived here seeking to start a new life. As they buy homes, start businesses, raise families, and create religious & cultural organizations, all of Southeast Baltimore prospers with them.
We all do better when we all do better. Despite the xenophobic rhetoric of some national political campaigns, immigrants have always been and will always be an important part of the strength of Southeast Baltimore. It’s part of our communal DNA. And so it’s important that we elect a new city councilperson who has the skills and commitment to work with a wide range of people–and who has demonstrated that commitment through nearly seven years of public service in the most diverse part of our district. Public service starts with being able to listen to and respect the diverse experiences and needs of every district resident. El servicio público empieza con la habilidad de escuchar y respetar a las experiencas diversas y las necesidades de cada residente en nuestro distrito.
Some neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore are diverse, but overall we reflect Baltimore’s historic patterns of housing segregation by income and race. We have no sustainable future as a city if our future development and public policies simply perpetuate the same economic and racial housing segregation that marked our last century as a city. Community land trusts, a strengthened inclusionary housing law, and initiatives to make homeownership possible for more of our Latino neighbors are approaches that hold promise for preventing continued residential segregation. The cultural and economic diversity that we experience in Highlandtown & Patterson Park needs to be a model for what healthy Baltimore neighborhoods look like moving forward. Without changes in policy and practice, though, such diversity will be eroded over time by the pressure of rising housing costs, the lack of economic opportunity for young people, and the inability of some neighbors to obtain home loans for which they are financially qualified.
Concentrated poverty and mono-cultural communities limit economic opportunity,exacerbate prejudice, drain limited city resources, and contribute to high rates of criminality & addiction. Displacement of people living in poverty to other areas of concentrated poverty just moves people and challenges around, but doesn’t do anything to improve conditions for city residents or strengthen the city as a whole.
What sets you apart from the other candidates?
There are many skilled, dedicated, smart, and energetic candidates in this race–as there should be, because Southeast Baltimore is filled with strong leaders who work tirelessly for the well-being of our communities. And most of the leading candidates agree on our general policy proposals–I promise you, none of us is sitting on a secret plan which will double the number of parking spaces available to you at 6pm on a weekday. On the most basic level, what sets me apart from some others is that I’m a lifelong Baltimorean, I’ve actually worked in city government, I speak Spanish and serve alongside my Latino neighbors, and I have a child in our local public schools.
But the real difference in this race is around public service experience and demonstrated community leadership. I’ve spent every day for more than six years serving individuals and families in Southeast Baltimore, listening to their concerns and addressing their problems. Working collaboratively with neighbors, government officials, and community leaders, I’ve been focused on making real progress on education, public safety, sanitation, racism, youth opportunities, and Patterson Park. I work closely with three community associations, I serve on the board of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, and I serve on three local school boards. I’ve fought for our communities at the City Council, the General Assembly, the liquor board, the school board, the planning commission, and the zoning board. I am a public servant, and I will continue to serve our community and raise my family here whatever the outcome of this election. I’m in this together with all of you for the long haul.
Public service is much more than making a splash during an election season. What we need in City Hall is a public servant who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to our communities and who has a record of creating real change in our diverse district.
Why should people vote (in general)?
This is the most significant election in my lifetime here in Baltimore. Partly that’s mathematical–we’ve never had so many candidates running for so many positions across the city on one ballot, from president all the way through Congress, mayor, council president, comptroller, council members, circuit court judges, and more. Even more
importantly, the unrest following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody and the unparalleled violence that came in its wake have shaken up the political establishment so that we have a historic opportunity to choose new leadership and make real progress on some of the most intractable issues facing our city. To put it bluntly–if you care about our city at all, you need to vote in April and October. Less than 7% of Baltimore’s population voted to elect Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as mayor in the 2011 primary and in the 2011 general. We can’t afford to have so few people involved in the political process, or we are likely to wind up with leaders who fail us when we most need them.