Big Fish Q&A with Mayoral Candidate Otis Rolley

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Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley III has a criminal past. But wait! Here in the city of Homicide and The Wire, it’s not what you might think. Not even close.

Back in 1995, when Rolley (rhymes with wholly) was an undergrad at Rutgers University in New Jersey, he spearheaded a student coalition media campaign to oust the school’s president, who had uttered what many considered a racist comment. Going public with students’ grievances, Rolley appeared on NBC’s The Today Show and BET’s Teen Summit, and spoke openly and critically with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Newark’s Star-Ledger. Arrested during a protest near the president’s residence, Rolley faced three misdemeanor charges, but was found guilty of only one: disturbing the peace. His efforts earned him something of a red badge of courage: a 1995 New York Times Young Citizens Award.

Raised one of eight children in Jersey City, NJ, by his mother and stepfather–Rolley did not meet his biological father until age 32–he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and Africana Studies at Rutgers in 1996, and two years later completed a master’s in city planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rolley moved to Baltimore in 1998 to take a post with the nonprofit Empower Baltimore Management Corp., before segueing quickly into a skein of jobs in city government. After serving as a top administrator in the Department of Housing and Community Development, he was named Baltimore’s director of planning in 2003, overseeing the city’s first comprehensive master plan in nearly 40 years. From there, he worked for 10 months in 2007 as then-Mayor Sheila Dixon’s chief of staff, returning to the nonprofit sector at the end of that year when, as president and CEO, he led the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. Since 2010, Rolley has worked as a consultant for Urban Policy Development. He announced his bid for mayor in April.

Rolley, who turns 37 this week, lives in Northwest Baltimore’s Cross Country neighborhood with his wife, Charline, and their three children.
 
Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.      

Don’t tell God how big your mountain is; tell the mountain how big your God is.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

In high school I got my first taste of life beyond the limits of my family situation and income. I saw a world bigger than my block and neighborhood, and it pushed me toward several important goals. I decided then that I wanted to learn as much as possible, create more opportunity for kids like me, and fight for equity.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

Run for mayor.

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

My older sister advised me to lick a pole in the winter. Unfortunately, I followed her advice.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

1. Hurt people hurt people.

2. It’s all about relationships, or it ain’t about nothing.

3. First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.

What is the best moment of the day?

Waking up with my wife, Charline, by my side.

What is on your bedside table?

My Bible, my iPad, and a box of Mike and Ike’s.

What is your favorite local charity?

There are two whose missions speak to me: Family Tree and Center for Urban Families.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?

Don’t let anyone tell you to wait your turn or that it’s not your time.

Why are you successful?

God’s grace, and I value what is truly valuable.

Your background in city planning must give you a keen eye for the built environment. What do you consider to be Baltimore’s most iconic building–and why? 

Hands down I’d say the Victorian-era American Brewery building. Beyond it being aesthetically beautiful–I could stare at it for hours–it is also beautifully Baltimorean. It speaks of our past and our future.

No doubt, you and your family have a go-to restaurant, a reliable place that best meets your needs. What is it, why do you like it, and which dish do you recommend?

Salt, because the food and service never disappoint. The Kobe burgers.

If elected mayor, which item will be foremost on your agenda–the specific initiative you immediately strive to accomplish? 

Education reform.



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