Who’s Responsible for East Baltimore?
There’s little doubt that over the years the project hasn’t delivered everything it promised, and the frustration of community residents and lawmakers over the pace of redevelopment is entirely understandable. But that doesn’t mean the intentions of those involved in the redevelopment effort were not genuine.
The Sun cites several reasons for the project’s seeming ineptitude, from the recession and collapsing economic conditions to outdated minority inclusion agreements that predate the formation of East Baltimore Development, Inc., the independent nonprofit charged with overseeing the massive renewal project. Pless Jones, president of Maryland Minority Contractors Association and owner of P&J Contracting Co. Inc., comes to the defense of the project, as do Michael Gaines and Robert Brennan, state representatives working to complete the state-of-the-art Maryland Public Health Laboratory project within the Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins.
The project seems short on supporters, but not on critics: Dr. Marisela Gomez, an activist and public health professional, points of that the “decision to displace an African-American community” was made by a “handful of people — almost all of them white men — in private meetings” and that the project has lacked sufficient “community participation,” “transparency” and “objective government oversight.”
What of government oversight? While the project hasn’t made good on many of its 2002 promises, several of our elected officials–including those who have given the project a vote of no confidence–have failed in their duties as public servants. Following its five-part series chronicling the struggles of the nation’s largest urban redevelopment project, the Daily Record asked “Who’s minding the store?”
City Council President Jack Young was unaware that $78 million in tax increment financing bonds were used to support the redevelopment, while councilmen Warren Branch and Carl Stokes didn’t yet grasp the complexities of the project. Both councilmen Branch and Stokes–along with city housing commissioner Paul Graziano–are nonvoting members of the EBDI board of directors.
Curiously enough, while councilman Branch is “tired of seeing … outside contractors and outside workers flourishing while the community suffers” it didn’t prevent him from accepting a minimum of $4000 in campaign contributions from Forest City Enterprises, the private developer of the New East Baltimore development, during the 2011 election cycle. In fact, Young, Stokes and Branch received at least $11500 combined from Forest City during last year’s campaign. If East Baltimore workers suffer from the redevelopment, at least some of the East Baltimore politicians benefit.
While these elected officials attempt to portray themselves as knights in shining armor to East Baltimore residents and continue to assign blame for the project’s failures, they should begin to direct a portion of the blame at themselves.