Councilman Nick Mosby's campaign headquarters is on the ground floor of the Clipper Mill. The old plank floors creak under high ceilings in an open room that looks like nothing so much as a starving artist's loft, or a machine shop that closed a decade ago—or is getting ready to open, as soon as the new machines get here.
Mosby pitches himself as "the fixer." An electrical engineer by trade, he's got an eye for detail and systems analysis, and he doesn't mind getting technical.
Instead of raising the minimum wage for city workers, Mosby proposes tax breaks for workers who live in the city. With the raise, he says, "a lot of the time that's $15 [an hour] that's going to Baltimore County, or Howard County." The tax break would concentrate the economic impact within city limits, he says.
Mosby says he could pay for new initiatives by cleaning out old, wasteful systems like the municipal phone exchange, which is controlled by Comptroller Joan Pratt. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake famously tried to modernize this a couple years ago, and failed. "It's archaic and wastes millions a year," Mosby says.
He plans to meet with Pratt soon about this issue.
More money goes out the door of city government through delays in projection completion and extra workers in city contracts. They can double or triple the cost of a road or sewer project with little or no oversight from elected officials.
"No city project finishes on time," Mosby says, pledging to create better management to change that. He won't quantify the amount of corruption within the bureaucracy he hopes to command, saying that there has not been enough performance and financial audits that would allow a good estimate.
But, like many other candidates, Mosby says the city's overall management needs improvement. He cites the 911 call center, which he helped move back under the police and fire department's supervision last fall after several years under a different department, the Mayor's Office of Information Technology. People were being put on hold, operators were rude, he says, because they'd been understaffed and separated from the departments they're supposed to work most closely with, police and fire, in a cost-saving move. Mosby says complaints to his office about slow or non-existent 911 coverage declined after Mayor Rawlings-Blake agreed to move the function back to police and fire.
Also, Mosby would like to ease reentry into society for ex-cons. He has proposed a task force to develop a comprehensive plan that would not only help people get their criminal records removed from public view but also develop comprehensive "wrap-around services" to help people find jobs, housing and other services. Wrap-around services has been the buzz-phrase in corrections, drug treatment, and youth services for years, with little forward momentum seen in Baltimore. Mosby says his own experience with friends and associates makes him passionate enough to see it through.
"It stunts the growth of communities," he says. "That's why I was so keen to 'ban the box'—another bit of legislation that prevents government contractors from asking prospective hires on a job application if they've ever been arrested. "Business came after me," he says. "You remember?"
Another Mosby proposal is a tax credit for limited liability companies who hire city residents. He calls it a "pass-through credit" that will exempt only those employees from the city income tax, and stresses that it can't apply to those "tons and tons of fake LLCs" that landlords use to keep their names off the slum housing they own—and which employ no one. Mosby wants to tax dilapidated buildings at a higher rate than good buildings, as Washington D.C. does, to spur investment.
Mostly, Mosby says, the city needs to have a comprehensive plan for development that is attached to resources and measurable outcomes. He says the current development centerpiece, "Vacants to Value," which sells vacant buildings to developers and mixes incentives and punishment to spur their rehabilitation, is weak sauce and the earlier iterations (Project 5000 and Scope, under O'Malley) were not up to the task either. "At the end of the day, it's about the craftsman who wields the tools," he writes later in an email. "And in that respect, City government has failed."
He proposes something called "Bold Zones," "Building On Leveraged Development" (get it?), which he says will bring more resources to build out areas that can and should become great neighborhoods. Mosby plans to build around neighborhood anchor institutions and concentrate on all of what ails a neighborhood—from poverty and lead paint to violence and trash. He wants to offer tax breaks for developers, and other incentives, around these targeted neighborhoods to attract new homeowners.
"This is the biggest crime of the city of Baltimore," Mosby says. "Write this down! When they purchased a house 30 years ago and the value today is about the same. There are elderly folks who need roofs, and windows, and their property value has not increased in 20 years."
The failure of the past, Mosby says, "has been because of the lack of relationships in the communities. I have the ability to create those relationships."