Patrick Gutierrez on His Run for Mayor of Baltimore, How He Would’ve Handled Unrest, and His Stint as a Sportswriter

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Patrick Gutierrez

Patrick Gutierrez has been a bank manager, a sports writer, and a stay-at-home dad. Now he’s hoping to start a new career as Mayor of the City of Baltimore. Gutierrez grew up in the small desert town of Indio, California, about two hours east of Los Angeles and seemingly a world away from Baltimore, but he says the two areas share a similarity he values highly: community connectedness. If the Democrat is chosen to serve as Mayor of Baltimore, he promises leadership driven by accountability, transparency, and a genuine desire to serve.

We caught up with Gutierrez on the campaign trail to learn more about his background, his preparedness to serve the residents of Baltimore and his plans to improve his adopted city, including quelling violence, tackling substance abuse, and other tough challenges.

How did you make your way here and where in Baltimore do you live now?  

I started working for Bank of America in Indio in 1989 as a bank teller when I was still in high school. After graduating and saving up some money, I transferred to a branch in San Diego in August of 1991 so I could go to college. In 1994, I was still working for BofA in San Diego – this time in their operations division – and going to school with an eye on being a sportswriter when my manager encouraged me to apply for the bank’s Operations Management Training Program. After completing the six-month training, I was assigned a department to manage in Los Angeles. I managed several departments in L.A. before moving to Portland, Oregon in 1997 and then, eventually, Baltimore in 1999.

Where in Baltimore do you live?

I live in Taylor Heights, the last neighborhood in the upper right hand corner of the city map. We used to have a row home in Brewer’s Hill, which I bought in 2001 prior to meeting my wife. When we had our second daughter and my wife expressed a desire to move to a bigger house, I gave her two things, a dollar figure and a city map, and I asked her to stay within both. Thankfully she did.

You’ve changed careers more than once: You were a bank operations manager for several years before getting a journalism degree and enjoying a brief stint as a sports reporter and editorial assistant for the Baltimore Sun. Now you’re giving politics a shot. Talk about your career choices and changes, and whether there is a common thread to your professional trajectory.  

A common thread in all of my jobs has been service. From my first job at age 13, I’ve always gravitated towards service of others. My desire to stay in Baltimore is what led me to walk away from a 15-year career in 2005 at age 32 rather than take on another assignment with Bank of America in Atlanta. By that time, I had already bought a house, met my future wife, and rediscovered my love for writing. The dream of being a sportswriter had never gone away. I happily went back to school to finish my degree and pursue that dream.

I’m so glad I did, too. I know I would’ve regretted not trying. From 2007 to 2009 at The Baltimore Sun I lived the dream. After it was over, I was a stay-at-home dad for three years before going back to doing what I enjoy, serving others in my community. I eventually worked for DBFA, a local non-profit dedicated to attracting and retaining families to the city, and also for my daughters’ school, Archbishop Borders, as their advancement director. And I was able to continue writing on a small scale with my monthly sports column in Baltimore’s Child magazine.

Why are you running for Mayor of the city of Baltimore?

I am running because I have two young daughters and I want a better city for them and for all children living here. It starts at the top with our elected officials. I’m not a know-it-all by any means. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to listen, I’m willing to learn, and I’m willing to work for and with the community if they will have me. I just want to be part of the solution.

How did family and close friends react when they heard you were running for mayor?

Some people were surprised, only because I’m not a big talker. But they know the type of person I am and what’s in my heart, so when I told them what I was doing and why, they got it.  To that end, everyone has been incredibly supportive, starting with my wife, Sacha. Before I announced, she and I talked very candidly about what the next four years of our lives will be like if I get the job, and to her credit she has signed off, even switching jobs to have a more family-friendly schedule so I could campaign more. I feel very fortunate in that regard. None of this would be possible without her. Same thing with my girls. I’ve been their primary caregiver their whole lives. They’ve already seen a change in their daily routine and have been great adapting to it. I am so proud of them.

This race has a lot of candidates. How do you plan to stand out from your rivals?

Hopefully by continuing to be myself and let people see me for who I am, which is a compassionate person with a genuine desire to help and some really good tools and ideas that could be useful in the Mayor’s office. There is no catch with me. No hidden agenda. What you see is what you get.

I also hope to stand out by showing that I’m willing to listen and I’m willing to learn. By having the courage sit down and have honest conversations with people about the things that got us here and what we need to do to address them. By presenting new ideas to combat these age-old problems instead of rolling out the same tired platforms. By promising to introduce accountability at every level and in every department of city government, starting with myself.  By showing how I’ve made a career of leading by example, making the tough decisions, and doing the right thing by people, with the results to show for it. If people know those things about me when they go to vote, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

What’s one experience from your past that best prepared you to be mayor?

My Baltimore assignment for Bank of America. It got me to know the people who live here and the unique challenges many face every day with regard to poverty, addiction, and violence in their neighborhoods and with their families. Ninety percent of my employees were hard-working single moms, trying to do right for their children with few resources to back them up. I’d always known that side of America existed, but to come face-to-face with it and see people you work with and care about every day dealing with family members dying, going to prison, or otherwise struggling to survive took it to a whole different level for me. I became more determined than ever to get that operation turned around and running properly so employees could earn more money, have a better schedule, and genuinely feel good about coming to work every day.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Their names are Alivia and Estelle. No matter what I go on to accomplish in my career, I can’t see anything topping that. They are something else, those two. They’re outsmarting me already.  I never had much luck with the ladies so the idea of being a loving husband and father still feels like a dream to me at times. I am thankful every single day I get to wake up and fill those roles.  But at the same time, I know there is still more for me to do.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?

I must pick two here. My mentor in the training program, James Herold, encouraged me to take on all the toughest assignments, those departments that had the biggest challenges. I quickly developed a reputation as someone who can go in and turn around under-performing departments and that’s what I focused on when choosing my assignments. It’s what brought me here to Baltimore and gave me the experience that I will to bring to the mayor’s office to help get us moving in the right direction. And James Watkins Jr, my San Diego manager who insisted I apply for the management program, told me after I got accepted to make it about the people.

What’s the worst? 

Early on, I had some ‘experts’ telling me not to bother running, that unless I could raise $1 million, I had no chance. That Sheila Dixon was a shoo-in to win. That I was wrong in thinking that people had finally had enough and were ready for real change. That I wasn’t “sexy” enough or charismatic enough or didn’t know enough to win. That I couldn’t convince enough people to give me a chance. These were probably the same people who tried to tell David to put down his slingshot and go home. Thankfully, I didn’t listen.

The unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral showed the need for mayoral leadership in navigating a crisis such as this. What is the most important thing for a mayor do in this type of situation? What would you have done differently if you were mayor of Baltimore on April 27, 2015? 

I believe the most important thing for a Mayor to do in a situation like that is to lead from the front, make command decisions in a timely manner, and communicate them quickly and effectively. I would’ve done the following on April 27th once I learned about planned demonstrations that day:

  • Closed schools early, keeping children on site until they could be picked up by an adult.
  • Issued an emergency communication to all employers that employees who have children in BCPS need to be excused early to pick up their children. Apologize for the disruption to their businesses and thank them for their cooperation.
  • Made sure everyone was aware of their assigned roles and responsibilities.
  • Kept the bus lines running/asked the governor to ensure this happened.
  • Kept in constant contact with the governor throughout the day to update him in real time as events unfolded and advised him to prepare for a call to declare a State of Emergency.
  • Personally gone down to Mondawmin Mall with a bullhorn and told people to go home. Asked local taxi and other car service companies to pitch-in by offering free rides home.
  • If the protests started to turn violent, I would’ve immediately asked the governor to declare a State of Emergency and send in the National Guard.
  • Kept the media informed the entire time about what we were doing.

Post-riots, there is talk of doubling down on efforts to address entrenched issues related to race, poverty, education and community-police relations. What is the first step you would take as mayor to “rebuild Baltimore,” and how would that be a part of your broader plan?

I think it’s great there is talk to double down on efforts to address these problems. At the same time, we need to recognize the need to work smarter, as well.

The first step toward that is to find out where every single one of our $3 billion a year is going. That means complete, comprehensive audits, both performance and financial. Complete and accurate audits would serve my broader plan to empower communities to thrive by giving them the resources and support they need to do so. In order to rebuild Baltimore, we need to take advantage of the fact that there are tremendous resources already here in our neighborhoods, and they just need support from City Hall to do their best work.

Baltimore saw record violence this year. How can we curb the bloodshed?

 As a parent, this is personal to me. My daughters are 8 and 5, and I’ve gotten to know many of their classmates over the years. I think about how they are always running up to me smiling or offering a hug and it’s hard for me to accept that some of these kids will go from the goofy, happy, loving children that they are to being dead, in jail, or in the streets one day if we don’t make some real changes to how the city is run.

As for solutions, we can start by creating meaningful job opportunities and training programs for people to get those jobs. By doing a better job helping those re-entering society to find work and avoid going back to prison. By recognizing that violence is learned behavior and can be unlearned, and start treating it like a public health issue with increased mental health services and mentoring programs. By massively expanding vocational education and offering it as early as 6th grade to give children more reasons to stay in school and a defined path to a better life.  By implementing more “birth to 5” education including universal Pre-K to get more children off to a better start academically and socially. By getting more illegal guns off the street. By working more with federal law enforcement agencies to go after the worst offenders.

Baltimore has been referred to as the heroin capital of America. How can Baltimore shed this image and its drug problem?

One thing I can say is that I’m not afraid to try new approaches to solving these problems. That means looking at what is working in other cities, either in the U.S. or elsewhere, and paying attention to new treatment methods, as well as listening to those who know best about the subject, the addicts themselves. Something is causing them to turn to heroin to take their pain away. What is causing that pain what can we do about that? That’s what I’d like to focus more of our efforts on.

What would your recommendations be on improving the relationship between the Baltimore City Police Department and the residents of Baltimore?

I get the sense from listening to all sides that everybody wants to heal and move forward in a better relationship, and that includes police officers. It’s much harder for a human being to shoot another human being if they know that person. We need to get the two groups to spend more time together in a productive manner. That means getting officers out of their patrol cars and putting them in the neighborhoods, interacting with residents on a daily basis.

We also need to look at our entire process of recruiting and hiring new officers. We need to focus more on hiring people who bring that community engagement and de-escalation mentality to the job. Also, if more of our residents became police officers I think that would lead to a better relationship. It would give our neighborhoods pride to see one of their own patrolling the streets, helping to keep the same residents who watched him or her grow up safe. It would also signal to the youth that the police don’t have to be automatically viewed as the enemy. To that end, we need to be more proactive in educating our children about law enforcement careers and all the aspects that don’t involve locking people up. That way they can start seeing the police in a more positive light.

Building trust is an important part improving that relationship as well, which is why I am in favor of a functioning civilian review board, a streamlined way to submit civilian complaints, and a public database to track them to completion. And just like everybody else in city government, if an officer does wrong, he or she needs to be held accountable.

Equally as important, we need to work just as hard at getting our police officers the tools, training and help they need to do their best work. We can’t forget about them. They are people, too and this time is difficult for them as well. Morale is devastatingly low. Our officers crave leadership, they desire direction, they want to feel good about the work they are doing.

“The Wire” didn’t help Baltimore’s image. Neither did the spring 2015 riots in Baltimore or the city’s recent spike in violence. How do we improve the city’s image so that people from outside of Baltimore—be they from Harford County, South Carolina, or the Netherlands—want to visit?

We don’t have an image problem, we have a reality problem. “The Wire” told the truth. That’s the city our elected officials have given us. Let’s not kill the messenger. Instead let’s come together as a community and fix these problems. Then people from out of town will be more open to visiting.

At the same time, there are a lot of positive things going on in the city that deserve attention as well. A friend of mine went to see comedian Gary Owen at the Comedy Factory recently. She said he joked about how he expected the entire city to be like what he saw on TV back in April.  He was genuinely shocked about how wrong he was. I think that speaks to the sensationalism and negativity the media seems to always zero in on. That’s really frustrating to me as we are so much more than that.

We need to work with and put more pressure on our local media partners to give equal time to all the good things happening in the city. It’s one thing for CNN to show us like that but we shouldn’t have to take that from our local media. Look, it’s heartbreaking that people are dying here. The whole world knows that. But you know what? People are living here, too. And the more the world can see that side of us, the more open they would be to come visit.

You are raising your family in Baltimore. What about the city do you and your family appreciate most?

The sense of community and connectedness that we feel to everyone. I felt it immediately after I moved here. People were friendly, accepting, and genuine and as someone who is also that way, I knew this is where I wanted to be.

There are just so many people here who appreciate that sense of community like we do.  Whether it’s through churches, neighborhood gatherings, social media, sports, there are all sorts of ways to feel like you belong. If you are new to the city, there are resources for you to meet people. If you are a new parent, there are groups out there to help you figure it out. We’re still good friends with our oldest daughter’s playgroup friends from six years ago. It helps that despite living all over the city, we are still less than 15 minutes away from getting together.  Smalltimore, right?

If you were to become mayor, what legacy would you want to leave behind for your children, and all the children who call the city of Baltimore home?

I just want to do my part to help give people a better city and our children a better future.  Because that’s what we all deserve. At the end of the day, if I get the job, my results will speak for themselves as they always have. And that works for me.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.

Elizabeth Heubeck

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor and local freelance writer.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. Saw him in interview on tv this morning. He is by far in my humble opinion appears to have the best platform and future vision for Baltimore. Wish him the best but he has an uphill climb when coming up against the Baltimore political machine.

  2. He just came to my door to introduce himself. Had not heard of him before but I was immediately struck by how genuine he is. Nothing political or slick about him. I hadn’t really made up my mind about this race but was leaning toward Pugh go no other reason than I knew more about her and I don’t want Dixon, Mosby or Stokes. I think Gutierrez has his heart in the right place, brings a good business focus to straightening out City Hall and he is the most diverse candidate on the ballot. I think I have made my decision. Patrick., you have my vote.

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