Warnock's Horatio Alger moment: Candidate launches 'Turnaround Tour' with old pickup

David Warnock re-launches his mayoral bid with an old pickup truck and a Horatio Alger tale

There are 16 Warnock people gathered 'round a small lectern on the uneven sidewalk on this narrow one-way rowhouse street. They're loitering on the red brick stoop in front of #435 while a young woman coaches them. "When I clap, you all clap," she tells them enthusiastically. "And if you hear something that's really good, and you want to keep going . . . " The campaign supporters laugh with her.

All of this is a setup for David Warnock's Horatio Alger moment. He lived here in 1983, having arrived fresh out of college with a then-new Chevy S-10 pickup truck and a passel of debt and dreams. "This is where it all started," he'll tell the couple of TV guys who set up here in a half-hour.

For now there is just one reporter wandering in. "Hi," the cheerleading aide says. "Do you live here?"

Turns out Warnock and his people don't know the person from whose stoop they're launching (relaunching?) his mayoral campaign. He says he knows the people next door. "It's been a long time since that pickup truck sat on the 400 block of Grindall Street," Warnock tells his assembly, which is correctly racially diverse even if the neighborhood isn't. 

Yeah, he still has that old S-10—the "S-10" badge on the driver's side inverted to read "01-S." It was like that when he got it, Warnock says, and one can easily envision a Ben Hamper, the once-famous author of "Rivethead: Tales from The Assembly Line," drunkenly putting it that way, maybe on purpose, to see if it would make it through quality control. 

That's impossible, of course. Hamper worked the GM truck line in Flint. This truck was assembled in Moraine, Ohio, with Japanese parts, at the plant GM closed for good in 2008. But they're the same place, basically—as is Baltimore: American cities that used to be full of well-paid fuck-ups making stuff with big tools and fire.

A long time ago. 

"I worked hard, built a business, and provided for my family," Warnock says. "But too many people in Baltimore don't have that opportunity. At the end of the day, our crime problem is a job-opportunity problem."

Warnock has for several years made a public effort toward correcting this, co-founding the Green Street Academy, a West Baltimore middle-high charter school, through his Warnock Foundation. The school, which features a fish farm and hoop houses alongside its academic programs, just opened a new building last fall to accommodate more students. The idea—of the school and the foundation itself—is to develop the educational and training curriculum that will allow city kids to flourish as their grandparents once did—or better than they did—through empowerment and positive reinforcement. Warnock also has a company called Green JobWorks that employs 125 people doing demolition and environmental remediation in the city, he says. Warnock works to connect the city's do-gooders and visionaries with each other to build capacity and expertise. He seems amazed that this doesn't already happen automatically.

"Children shouldn't face a lifetime of mental and physical problems" because of lead poisoning or stress-related disorders that stem from violence, he says—not in a city with world-class medical institutions. 

It is a city with world-class poverty, though. World-class disinvestment. And, lately, world-class social division. Working together to solve our problems is not what Baltimoreans naturally do.

"Politics as usual have been driving our city down a path to spiritual and financial bankruptcy," Warnock intones. "It's time for a new direction!"

The crowd applauds.

Warnock, who has banked millions as a venture capitalist with Camden Partners, lent his own campaign $950,000.  

He says he's here to commemorate the birth of his trusty 1982 pickup truck, and use it to go on a listening tour of the city—starting with Federal Hill and Mount Vernon. He calls this the "Turnaround Tour," playing to the idea that his business skills have a direct application to Baltimore City's political and economic malaise. He's not promising tax breaks before there are real audits of city government. His message is more like a spiritual reformation. "We have got to smash the culture of low expectations that keeps holding us back!" he says. 

Banged up with only 106,000 miles on it, the truck sports a paper "Area 9" parking pass on its dashboard instead of the window sticker that graces most city residents' vehicles. It's got an antique plate on it, saving several hundred dollars in registration fees and insurance. Warnock says he hung on to the old truck for all these years because it's handy. He lends it to friends who are moving, he says, or uses it to run to the dump.

Until recently, Warnock says, the old truck was parked at his Cockeysville residence, a 5,200-square-foot stone house, built in 1877 on 11 acres.

In December, he bought a $1.7 million condo at the Ritz Carlton, re-establishing his city residency. Warnock's county home is not for sale.

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