David Harding, Candidate for City Council-14th District

In an effort to educate voters, we will be posting responses to our candidate questionnaire. Questionnaires were emailed to each candidate running for City Council, President of City Council, and Mayor. Candidates have until March 4th to submit. We are publishing results in the order they are received.

How frequently do you use a mode of transportation other than your car to navigate the city? Based on your experience, where should the city prioritize resources for transportation?

DH: Baltimore has a poor “public transportation system.” It is partly publicly funded to bring workers to the workplaces. Companies like Amazon, Legg Mason, and Under Armour are enormously rich -- they have private jets and limos for their top executives. They could operate a free private bus service for the workers, just like Johns Hopkins does for the college students. But instead, workers have to get up at 4 a.m. because they need three MTA bus transfers. A public transportation system that exists for workers wouldn’t reduce the service on weekends. The city thinks we have nothing better to do than stand at a freezing bus stop all day long on our day off. I’m for a massive investment in public transportation – so that it becomes a real choice for most people. Today it’s not a choice. People are forced onto the bus because driving is so expensive.

I’m a Maryland state worker so I get free MTA bus and light rail travel as a benefit. At the state there’s a “second tier” of workers – thousands of them -- who are contractual so they don’t get those benefits. Maybe more people would ride public transportation if prices were reduced or if more bosses subsidized transportation passes.

What role do you believe biking and walking improvements can play in creating a safer, healthier, more livable Baltimore?

DH: For me, “healthier and more livable” means people have more leisure time. Then you can try all sorts of interesting things – visit a museum, see a play, pick up a new hobby, including bike riding. But for working people, it’s the opposite – a crisis situation. Rents and food prices keep rising while wages are stagnant. It all means workers are working harder, a number even work two jobs. So there’s more and more exhaustion at the end of a workday. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to bike lanes. But I’m opposed to the idea that slapping down a bike lane is somehow going to improve people’s lives when their entire standard of living is under attack.

Often road redesigns that improve the safety for people on bikes or people walking do so in a way that removes priority for single occupant vehicles. This can look like removing lanes for travel or decreasing available street parking. Can you describe how you would manage public expectations during project implementation, and handle any backlash from constituents that don’t share in the City’s vision for complete streets?

DH: It’s no surprise that the city had to remove the bike lane along Monroe Street a few years ago. You can call it “backlash” or whatever you like – I think we need more of it. People are right to be angry when they wake up one morning and there’s a lane of traffic removed. It’s part of the war on working people, on poor people in the city – a push to get them out so that gentrification will continue. Look at what’s happened to Fells Point, Canton, Camden Yards. In the neighborhoods, bike lanes end up as a problem especially at rush hour, because the streets aren’t wide enough. If there’s a shortage of funds for transportation needs, it’s because the city hands over millions of dollars to developers -- construction bonds, tax subsidies to billionaires – it’s the same policy that led to the bankruptcies of Jefferson County, Detroit, Stockton, and other cities. Instead, those millions that go to developers could be used to hire people right now. Fix the infrastructure right now – start with the pot-holes, the sewage overflows, the schools without air conditioning, the recreation centers that are closed, the houses and bridges and tunnels that are falling apart. If the city didn’t give so much to developers, it would have the money to hire by the tens of thousands to do that work. That’s how the city could be an “engine for jobs.”

Recent audits have discovered that the Department of Transportation struggles to measure key performance indicators. The city’s procurement and project management processes have also faced scrutiny. This has led to significant delays of key improvements to bicycle infrastructure in Baltimore. How will you work to improve performance and accountability of city agencies like the Department of Transportation under your leadership?

DH: I support the agency audits and I think they should be annual, and the results made public and transparent. And I think they should be extended to include the whole city – including the Baltimore development corporation, where a lot of the money is “set aside,” but the facts and figures to support these deals are not easy to understand. I think DOT is typical of many city agencies in that it comes down to staffing. The city has lost more than 3,000 regular full-time positions between the 1990’s and now. Paperwork, budgeting, filing – it all requires more administrative workers alongside the drivers and mechanics. But the city has obviously viewed those workers as expendable. The audit exposed the problem, but it can’t solve the problem. I would also point out that it’s always the ordinary worker who is asked to be “accountable” even though the problems come from management. “Accountability” has become a code word for attacking government employees – and also teachers. So the next question is what do people want to do about it.

The percentage of people choosing to take public transit or ride a bike for transportation is increasing in Baltimore, while the percentage of residents without access to a vehicle is over 30%. How would you rate the city’s current investment in sustainable transportation solutions for its residents, and as a council person what would you do to support increased investment?

DH: The Red Line was about gentrification and re-development. It had nothing to do with transportation or with “helping” the neighborhoods of West Baltimore – or East Baltimore for that matter. Because if we wanted to “help” we could be improving the bus lines right now! As of last week there were still bus stops with snow piles from the blizzard of a month ago – because there weren’t people available to do that work. At the same time, Hogan’s bus proposal represents an attack on workers and the poor. Anytime there is a massive reshuffling, it’s a way to hide cutbacks. Hogan pretends that he wants to shorten the wait times -- and he’s going to do that by shortening the routes. But just look at the proposed cuts to the #8 bus. Anyone who claims its “only” so many extra blocks has never used the bus -- hasn’t organized their daily lives around when the bus is coming.

A recent study by Harvard economists found that the single strongest factor affecting the odds of a child escaping poverty is not the test scores of his or her local schools or the crime in the community; it is the percent of workers in his or her neighborhood who have long commutes. How do you plan to improve transportation options and commute times for our most vulnerable residents?

DH: Apparently even the so-called geniuses at Harvard can confuse cause with effect. Of course working people and poor people have the least choices about where they’re going to work and where they’re going to live. So it’s no surprise they have the longest commutes. That’s part of why the #8 bus proposal is an absolute outrage. When you count the walking time in both directions it will add an additional 45 minutes to workdays that are already long and exhausting. MTA management and City Hall claim to propose “options.” They’ll pit one route against another, one neighborhood against another, Circulator versus MTA. But the Circulator could run up to Greenmount and the #8 bus could run along Greenmount too. They pretend the money isn’t there for that. It’s there, but it’s all been handed over to developers. Why does a billionaire like Paterakis need a tax break for Harbor Point? Instead we should hire, hire, hire – for buses, subway, infrastructure and schools and libraries, and every other city service.

What other information about your candidacy would you like to share with our members?

DH: I’m trying to get on the ballot as an independent because I think the working class needs its own party, separate from the Democrats and Republicans. But for those changes, it comes down not to the city council but to what working people are ready to do. If you’re interested please write my email address at Davidharding2016@gmail.com