The fourth in a series of questionnaires answered by candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor.
Dante Swinton has worked as an environmental justice researcher and organizer with the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Energy Justice Network since 2015. As part of the nonprofit, Swinton helped advocate for 2019 Baltimore Clean Air Act, which placed stricter emissions restrictions on two incinerators in South Baltimore. A federal judge overturned the law in March, but the city has appealed. Swinton also designed the Divert Baltimore pilot programs to educate and incentivize Baltimoreans to recycle.
1. What will your administration do to help residents, businesses and nonprofits after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed?
To alleviate stress from COVID-19, I will provide an additional $10 million in small business grants, while also working with nonprofits to provide letters of support to local and national foundations–many have shifted to stabilizing nonprofits due to the pandemic. Beyond COVID, my overall platform supports residents, nonprofits, and businesses as well.
2. Baltimore mayors have grappled with the city’s violent crime for years, and since 2015, the annual homicide rate has surpassed 300 people killed. Why is your plan the best to solve violent crime in the city?
My plan is the best to solve crime because it actually involves preventative policies and not just reactive ones. We have spent $2.5 billion on policing over the last five years, and spend more per person on policing than any other city. However, we have seen little to no changes in the safety of Baltimore. This is because we have failed to tackle the root causes of crime: intergenerational poverty and institutional racism. I propose a Poverty Erasure and Community Enhancement (PEACE) Zones policy that reallocates $170.44 million from BPD to six communities on the front lines of these struggles every year–24 over four years. This includes:
- $72 million – Affordable housing through renovating vacant homes
- $18 million – Small business grants
- $18 million – Rec center renovations, extended hours, and/or programming
- $18 million – Complete streets
- $15 million – ADA-accessible and permeable sidewalks
- $12 million – Mental health facilities
- $9 million – Community-owned grocery stores
- $8.4 million – Rent and utility subsidies
I also will work diligently with local and national foundations to garner a match for each zone. The first six PEACE Zone communities are
2. Curtis Bay/Brooklyn
3. Park Heights/Park Circle
4. Broadway East/Berea
6. Westport/Mt. Winans/Lakeland/Cherry Hill
When we remove the desperation that leads to crime, we will be a safer city. More information can be found at dcs4bmore.org/peace-zones.
3. The current mayor and police commissioner say the Baltimore Police Department’s plan to curb violent crime is working. And yet homicides in 2020 are around the same level as 2019. Do you feel the plan is working?
While I agree with Commissioner Harrison stressing the importance of community policing, I vehemently disagree with his assertion that we need hundreds of more officers. That simply perpetuates the narrative that only more policing will improve our city, and completely disregards the city’s need to alleviate the root causes of crime. Moreover, I am highly disappointed in his choice to reverse course and support the spy planes pilot program.
We also need to work with our Annapolis delegation to garner control of the department, and mandate that all officers live in the city by 2023. More of my vision on policing can be seen at dcs4bmore.org/policing.
4. How would you improve and expand access throughout Baltimore to public transit, bicycling, walking and other transportation options not based around single-occupancy vehicles?
Baltimore is the ninth most congested city in the country, with the average commuter losing about 84 hours in traffic every year. This is unsustainable, and I am proud to have the most comprehensive transit plan of any candidate–the Swinton Transit Organization Plan (STOP). The main components are:
1. Revamp of Charm City Circulator in Black Butterfly communities
2. Firesale for Transit (FisT) — Selling of city properties for partial funding of Red Line
3. Maximizing road space for buses, bikes and pedestrians
4. Traffic signal adjustments
5. Downtown parking fee adjustments
6. Traffic and parking fines adjustments
7. Howard Street traffic adjustments
8. I-83 removal south of North Ave.
Details can be found at dcs4bmore.org/transit.
5. The area has been transfixed with the “squeegee kid” debate about window-washers on Baltimore streets. What would your administration do to connect people who are eager to work with well-paying jobs?
When we talk about squeegee kids, we often are not asking the right question: Why do they need or have to be out there? Being in the middle of traffic to make a few bucks currently is necessary to make sure they or the family members have food to eat that night, which means their parents or guardians do not have good paying jobs, or are experiencing other troubles that we have failed to address (mental health, drug addiction).
So, when we build up small businesses in communities that have been left behind, and create a green economy citywide, these good-paying jobs will remove the desperation that leads to kids and adults squeegeeing. The younger children can go back to being just children, and the older children and adults can learn new skills via small businesses and green businesses.
6. While many major cities have seen population growth in recent years, the number of people living in Baltimore continues to decline. What are your main strategies for building healthy neighborhoods throughout Baltimore, and making sure that investment is not concentrated in just a few areas so that current residents can participate in any resurgence?
The next mayor must underscore how unacceptable it is that there are communities with just 69-year life expectancies, while just a handful of miles away, others live 14 years longer. My PEACE Zones policy is a critical component to stabilizing and boosting communities in the Black Butterfly. The 24 communities are spread throughout the city, and cover multiple sections each year. I also want to allocate vacant homes and lots to community land trusts, and implement a rent control policy to prevent gentrification.
Further, a climate crisis lies before us. Baltimore is due to have a climate as warm as northern Mississippi by 2050. What’s more, Baltimore is the 19th worst city to live with asthma in the U.S., with childhood asthma rates that are twice the national average. So we must have a mayor who incorporates environmental justice into their economic justice policies.
7. The recent acquisition of Legg Mason by Franklin Resources, Inc., and merger of WillScot Corp., and Mobile Mini Inc., signal the end of two corporate headquarters in the city. While that may not mean much to a lot of citizens, the city’s big companies, as The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board recently noted, “populated the boards of many city arts, education and charitable enterprises” and had “been leaders in the business community.” Should the city be concerned by these transactions? What will your administration do to attract the next Legg Mason and keep it?
First, I want us to pay more attention to the need to lift up existing and future small businesses in Baltimore. I want to support them in creation and expansion so more Baltimoreans can walk, bike and bus to work.
Next, I would love for major companies to move here, but I do not support the massive tax packages we have offered for previous companies and developments. We can negotiate reasonable tax breaks that would be based on conditions such as
- Hiring locally
- Providing a living wage
- Committing to zero waste
- Minimizing carbon footprint
- Contributing to transit improvements
If you cannot provide those benefits, you are welcome to come here and pay the rates other businesses do.
8. A bill to build new facilities at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park recently became law. Aside from keeping the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, what, if anything, should the city push for when the new Pimlico is being developed?
To be clear, the renovation of Pimlico is not a priority for me–my priority is engaging and supporting the communities that surround the racetrack. For years, people have gone for the Preakness, and yet the community has not experienced long-term benefits. That’s why every year, the Park Heights/Pimlico area is part of my PEACE Zones investments to build long-term growth. The state is more than welcome to fund renovations, but Baltimore City’s next mayor should be making sure that the nearby residents are thriving.
9. We just passed the five-year anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising. What lessons did you learn from that?
Five years on, and not much has changed. We haven’t turned Sandtown-Winchester into a bustling, thriving neighborhood, and communities that look just like it barely have been touched, if at all. We have chosen to be all-in on a policing-only strategy, and it clearly has failed. We cannot keep with the status quo if we are going to build a better Baltimore, and that is why I am the best candidate to lead this city. Over the last four years, we’ve spent $2 billion on policing. Imagine if we had spent that this way:
- $1.7 billion – Renovate/reconstruct all vacant homes
- $100 million – Hire residents for the renovation/reconstruction projects
- $100 million – Education funding
- $70 million – Zero waste infrastructure
- $30 million – Small business creation and expansion
We need a leader with a distinct vision for Baltimore, and I hope residents will join me to make it happen.