Democratic candidate Valerie Cunningham answers our questions on COVID-19, transit and more

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The first in a series of questionnaires answered by candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Valerie Cunningham has worked in various roles in the federal correctional system, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County’s court systems, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office. Cunningham earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Troy State University. She also holds real estate licenses in Maryland and Alabama.

1. What will your administration do to help residents, businesses and nonprofits after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed?

COVID-19 has served to exacerbate the alarming reality many suffer in Baltimore; poverty at its zenith, poor housing, poor healthcare and unemployment. My administration will create partnerships with effective nonprofits to address the ills described above. My administration will also create a brain trust using the expertise of the universities in Baltimore City, John Hopkins, University of Maryland, University of Baltimore, Morgan State, Coppin State and Loyola, to develop a long term plan to address systemic problems of poverty, crime, healthcare disparities and homelessness.

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?

I am a seasoned criminal justice professional having served 20 years as a federal law enforcement officer.

My plan is multifaceted, and includes components that address poverty, unemployment, education, mental health and ethical governance. I am a leader Baltimore can believe in.

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 near the same level as 2019. Do you feel the plan is working?

No, as evidenced by the rate of violent crime in Baltimore City, the plan is not working.

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?

I would focus on the areas outlined in the 2018 Regional Transportation Report which are described below.

  • Integrate the MTAs and MARC Trains with Washington D.C.
  • Modernize intercity and commuter rail
  • Improve roadway and trail performance
  • Create high performing public transit
  • Grow employer mobility programs
  • Expand access to opportunity
  • Enable technology driven future
  • Reform governance and funding

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?

It has been said and portrayed in the news that the “Squeegee Kid” debate is about marginalized and underserved youth. Accordingly, I will have an educational plan that will train and prepare these youth to take well paying jobs.

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?

My strategy relies wholly on ethical governance. I will get buy-in from all of Baltimore to reduce crime and increase quality education. These are the only avenues that will allow the creation of healthy neighborhoods. By wiping out pay-to-play politics and cronyism, we will cultivate an economy that thrives and an educational system that works throughout the city.

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?

Yes, the city should be concerned. My administration will create the healthy neighborhoods described earlier to attract corporations. In addition to reducing crime and increasing educational opportunities, my administration will push for incentives for businesses to move into the city. The incentives however, will come with an understanding that there is a shared vision and commitment to Baltimore and the vitality of all of her citizens.

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?

The city should advocate for an inclusionary model that will benefit minority/women and small businesses. Additionally, my administration will push for jobs for the citizens of Baltimore.

9. We just passed the five-year anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising. What lessons did you learn from that?

I learned that we need leadership in City Hall that can relate to all of the citizens of Baltimore and not just affluent Baltimore. We must be proactive in addressing the needs of the forgotten majority. I learned that there remains a disconnect between the police department and the citizens. Not enough has been done to shore up the trust of the citizens for the police. Regrettably, there are countless numbers of criminal convictions of former police commissioners, police officers, as well as, elected officials that continue to undermine public trust. If the city is to change, there has to be a changing of the guard. That is why I am running for mayor. We cannot expect that current or previous elected officials will change the conditions that have existed in Baltimore for decades. I am a change agent and possess the skills and temperament necessary to affect meaningful change in Baltimore.

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