Calvin Young fights for business incubators

Calvin Young's mother didn't want him coming back to Baltimore after he wrapped up his MBA at Harvard Business School.

"Oh my goodness," he recalls. "What a conversation that was."

She worked as a correctional officer in city jails, putting in the overtime to buy a house in Hamilton, away from the high crime that plagues much of the city. Her vision for her kids was that they go to college, get married, and "never come back here."

And yet here is Calvin Young, sitting at a Dunkin Donuts on East Lexington Street, talking about why he returned home to run for mayor, and how his mom's reluctance became the subject of a recent campaign ad.

"She used to say 'I work in jail so you stay outta jail,'" he says. "To have me decide to come back to this dangerous place for young African American men, from her perspective, didn't make sense. Especially because I quote-unquote made it."

An engineer by trade, Young had stints at aviation companies Sikorsky Aircraft and Pratt & Whitney before spending a summer at the White House researching for the National Economic Council. After graduating from Harvard, he was set to take a job running a plant in Birmingham, England for United Technologies Corporation. He was supposed to take his younger cousin from Park Heights, Butchy, who moments earlier entered the small doughnut shop and sat at a nearby table.

But he turned it down. The decision to return and run for office was, in part, inspired by the uprising last April, Young says.

"When everybody hit the streets, it became clear to me that I needed to come home. I've been blessed, I've been blessed. It's time for me to give this to the people who need it. So that's what I decided to do."

In short, one of Young's major proposals for Baltimore is to bring incubators to poor black communities and connect people with money to entrepreneurs in those same neighborhoods. And he wants to do New Deal-level infrastructure projects—he calls the now-defunct Red Line a "patch"—that provide thousands of jobs and give workers the capital to start businesses.

Simultaneously, he wants to create an education system that includes universal pre-kindergarten and an aggressive math program, so that Baltimore children can follow a path similar to the one he took. He wants to build rec centers that not only have basketball courts and pools but also 3-D printers and coding classes.

He realizes that many kids in the city—specifically African-American kids—are lured into the drug game because they see it as the only option.

"I can change that, I can give them an alternative," he says. "The bully pulpit, the platform of the mayor's office, gives me the opportunity to be an example at that level and to make good decisions for them."

The whole thing sounds a bit like the tech-utopia of a San Francisco or Boston, two cities struggling to keep housing prices affordable. Young says he's been asked this question before and believes his policies wouldn't push people out of the city.

He poses this scenario: "With the cost of living rising, do you try to reduce cost of living, or do you increase people's ability to live in a higher-cost society?"

His answer: "I think you increase the ability for people to live in a higher-cost society; I think that's the better way to do it."

Though he was one of the first to jump in the race, filing back in August, Young is still something of an underdog. According to the most recent filings, Young has raised $42,937 in the period between July 8, 2015 and Jan. 13.

But he still feels confident he can win, seeing an upward trend in fundraising, especially since bringing on the services of Washington, D.C. consulting firm District Political in mid-January to help manage his campaign and fundraise.

His team is planning a blitz in March, with plans to release detailed policy proposals, make media appearances, and push more social media posts.

"When I first jumped in, it was only me, Sheila Dixon, and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, so I was expecting an uphill battle," he says. "I knew it from the beginning, whereas other candidates are deciding not to raise money, only go to the forums, or even not show up at forums. We keep grinding."

"This isn't just me getting into the race so my name can be known more in the city," he continues. "Nah, this is me trying to win this thing."

After our interview, Young and Butchy hit the streets to keep campaigning.

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