A Bold Agenda for Montgomery
Giving our Children the Schools they Deserve
Let’s start with some straight talk: with the shining exception of our magnets, Montgomery Public Schools are failing our children. Students aren’t graduating with the tools they need to thrive in the careers of their choice. There is too little accountability, too much shifting blame: the hard truth is that we all share fault for not demanding excellence. It’s time for our community to stop patting ourselves on the back when we attain a minimum standard like keeping MPS accredited or when some of our schools move up from a “D” from an “F.”
As Mayor, I won’t sit on the sidelines and hide behind the excuse that the county is responsible for education. Failing schools are damaging our city’s capacity to attract the best jobs and a strong mayor must be out front championing out children’s interests.
One of my first priorities will be working with the newly elected school board to replace the state’s ineffective, heavy-handed intervention with local control. When our community takes our schools back, we will forge a plan for comprehensive progress for our entire school system, not just a select few schools. Everything that produces results will be on the table. We will take advantage of state laws that provide local flexibility to enact more demanding standards for teachers and principals. Our schools will have to take on a social service component, with a capacity to address physical and mental health issues as well as nutritional deficits that impede learning.
This mission is personal to me because I know what Montgomery public schools used to be capable of achieving. Traditional, non-magnet, non-charter schools gave me the tools to win awards and honors at Harvard, to become a top-rated prosecutor and to make it to Congress by age 35. Publicly accountable charters should be one item in our toolbox, but until every school in our system raises its quality, we have unfinished business in Montgomery. The children in the 35 plus schools that will be neither magnet nor charter deserve a bright future too.
Making us Safer
Statistics rise and fall, but we know Montgomery is not as safe as it should be. Our police department is stretched thin, response times are too uneven across the city. The rate of unsolved murders has crept close to 50%. Keeping good officers on the force is a constant challenge and the ones who stay are woefully underpaid. As Mayor, I am going to move resources away from bureaucracy and administrative overhead and toward putting more officers on the street and improving their quality of life.
Our public safety priorities will align with the harshest dangers in our community: that means aggressively enforcing the laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals; breaking up gangs and ending the gang presence in our schools; and ensuring a swift, decisive response to domestic violence.
Just as we are tough on crime, we are going to recognize that criminal justice must include the moral principle of rehabilitation. Under my leadership, Montgomery will build our own Second Chance initiative, with job training facilities for ex-offenders and partnerships with local businesses to employ men and women who made a mistake but are trying to rebuild their lives.
Creating a better Montgomery
I was born in a neighborhood on the West End that is more broken and abandoned now than it was when I was a child. The north, south, and west of our city are wracked by neglect and blight, and the edges of downtown are still dying. The money the city is spending has not made much of a dent in the problem. And tearing down homes is never enough to fix neighborhoods.
As Mayor, I will launch a sustained collaboration between the private sector and government to rebuild whole parts of this city with accessible, quality housing and retail. Any developer who receives city funding or development incentives will be mandated to make reciprocal investments in the most distressed parts of our city. And those incentives should not be wasted on low-wage jobs that barely pay above the minimum wage line.
It’s time for Montgomery to take seriously the challenge of persistent poverty. When 20% of a city lives below the poverty line, but the local unemployment rate is under 4%, it means a lot of our neighbors are working for wages that still leave them poor. This may be a national problem but its time for Montgomery to do its part: that means neighborhood-based job training centers to teach skills to low wage workers; strengthening the coordination between local service nonprofits, churches, and City Hall to target area needs; and an expanded public transit system that connects work to left-behind neighborhoods.
Growing Our Job Base
We aren’t aiming high enough when we think about jobs and career opportunities in our city. Politicians are still holding press events to promote car washes and call centers. We have not won a major industrial competition since we lured Hyundai to Montgomery 16 years ago. While as a city we rank high in economic expansion data, an overwhelming majority of our new jobs come from businesses that are already located here. And despite our job growth we keep losing population, almost a thousand people every year this decade.
As Mayor, I will prioritize the recruitment of new sources of jobs and wages that can provide the kind of upward mobility that gives our young adults a reason to stay. We will establish a new department of innovation and economic development that is focused exclusively on targeting employers in the spaces of information technology, renewable energy, biomedicine, defense systems, healthcare innovation, and advanced manufacturing. Instead of Montgomery lagging in the conversation about how to build a 21st Century job base, we are going to dedicate ourselves to becoming a regional leader.
Putting the City on the Side of Small Business
Montgomery needs a more focused strategy to promote small businesses. The most pressing need for new entrepreneurs is start-up capital and its harder than ever to obtain the financing that can purchase equipment or sustain a business until it can turn a profit. As Mayor, I will pattern a new capital lending initiative after a model that is getting results in Philadelphia: the city works with local banks and credit unions to develop a one-stop website for new businesses to apply online with a single application that each partner lending institution can review for a fit. The Chamber of Commerce will offer technical assistance to businesses that are applying so that they can structure their applications effectively. For our local businesses, the challenge of seeking a lender will get simpler and less intimidating.
It’s also a reality that small businesses in Montgomery are over-regulated and that a lot of the red tape was written before the dawn of the modern cyber economy. I will take two steps to ease some of the burdens on local entrepreneurs: first, a portal for small businesses to post complaints about city bureaucracy and to recommend changes to local rules related to registration and zoning. Second, I will assemble a task force of small business owners to propose upgrades to our city codes and regulations that will make it easier to run a 21st Century small business in Montgomery.