Mack Clifton vows to house the homeless

Tirell Alexander Maxwell "Mack" Clifton says he was homeless at times in the late 1980s and early '90s, and his life was not easy before that. He lived in public housing from 1977 to 1986, in a high-rise. "We moved a lot when I was a kid. I lost count of how many times I moved," he says. "So, being a nomad, you know. I am dedicated to never being homeless again—and seeing that other people are never homeless."

Clifton, 46, a New Jersey transplant who worked for the city for the past seven years, thinks 40-foot cargo containers can be part of the solution. Re-purposed as modular housing they could provide clean and efficient shelter for thousands at low cost. "We could install them in vacant lots," he says, "and sell them for pennies on the dollar."

He'd like to teach the homeless how to do construction and organize them into crews, pay them to rehab some of the thousands of city-owned vacants. "In the end they get to keep the house," Clifton says.

It's an idea others have had, but no one seems to ever do it. "The one thing I have not heard too many candidates speak about," he says, "is having love for the people of Baltimore City. That's what motivated me to run for mayor. We should be building the best Baltimore, not just a better one. We're a set of interconnected families. I believe I can inspire the people to work together toward a common goal so that we can move in a better direction."

Clifton, who has not raised any money for his campaign because he thinks people deserve to keep their money, believes the media ought to pay more attention. "They been concentrating on the front-runners, not paying enough attention to the underdogs," he says. "If they're not careful, one of us might jump up and bite them like a shark."

Even so, he's suspending most of his campaigning to care for his wife, who he says has multiple sclerosis. "I'll be working in the background," he says. He is still a candidate.

Clifton and his wife have three children aged one, five, and 17. He also has an adult daughter from a previous union, and a granddaughter.

He's never met his father. He wanted to find him, so he had a DNA test done through Ancestry.com. His campaign website claims he is related to King James I Stewart and James VI of Scotland, Barack H. Obama II, Queen Elizabeth II (Alexandra Mary) Windsor, and the actor Benedict T. C. Cumberbatch, among other notables. "Not to brag," he says, "but I found it interesting."

Clifton would decriminalize marijuana and set up a dispensary system like Colorado has. "Everyone who deals drugs doesn't have to get locked up," he says. He's more cautious about heroin, however.

The proposed closure of Northwestern High School troubles him. He says teachers have been leaving since it was announced in 2012. He thinks his kids should have better.

To improve education he'd like to get rid of textbooks and give kids tablets with all their coursework loaded on them: saves weight and trouble. He'd have GPS trackers on the tablets. "Then I think the curriculum needs to be updated."

He says he would invite large businesses to establish a presence here. He says that as if no one had thought of it before. White Castle, for example: "They sell burgers in Baltimore but they can't have a presence here?"

Clifton wants to raise the minimum wage to $15. The average 1-bedroom apartment here is $1,100, he says—out of reach for most Baltimoreans.

We need more police walking beats, Clifton says. "You've got to connect with the residents. Recruitment should start in the high schools." He would institute a high school curriculum focused on law enforcement for students interested in public service. He says he would tag Gersham Cupid, the Northwestern District Sergeant who is running against him, for the job of police commissioner.

He's not sure why The Baltimore Sun wouldn't run his op-ed articles, which explore the connection between poverty and crime. "I believe that most people are good but are driven by circumstances to do things that are outside their character," he says.

He also wishes he had more opportunity to connect with voters. "I don't like the forums because candidates don't have the time to answer the questions in depth," he says. "People ask questions, they want answers."

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