Har­ris pledges to shake up City Hall and change the city

Green Party can­di­date aims to open new pub­lic bank

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger

Joshua Har­ris, the Green Party can­di­date in Bal­ti­more’s may­oral race, has a 21-page plan to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the city. He wants cit­i­zens to vote on bud­get de­ci­sions, a new pub­lic bank in which to in­vest tax dol­lars and a thriv­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try.

But shar­ing that vi­sion with vot­ers across the city’s 92 square miles is a dilemma. With no paid staff and about $1,000 in his cam­paign ac­count, a bill­board propped up in the back of Har­ris’ bur­gundy pickup truck is the most vis­i­ble sign he is in the race.

Har­ris, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who works in “Peo­ple tell me they want their streets to be fixed,” may­oral can­di­date Joshua Har­ris said. “They don’t care if the let­ter next to the per­son’s name is a ‘D,’ ‘R’ or a ‘G.’ ” com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said he is pre­pared to take on the city’s be­he­moth Demo­cratic Party, which has con­trolled City Hall for a half cen­tury. He faces Demo­crat Cather­ine E. Pugh, Re­pub­li­can Alan Walden and writein can­di­dates in­clud­ing for­mer Mayor Sheila Dixon in the Nov. 8 elec­tion.

“Peo­ple tell me they want their streets to be fixed. They want their schools to be bet­ter. They don’t care if the let­ter next to the per­son’s name is a ‘D,’ ‘R’ or a ‘G,’ ”

Har­ris, 30, said. “It’s about who is go­ing to get the job done and who is bring­ing so­lu­tions to the ta­ble.

“They don’t want the same old, same old.”

Jill Gor­don and her 10-year-old daugh­ter, Sage Sis­soko, popped up from their seats at a re­cent youth film fes­ti­val to in­tro­duce them­selves to Har­ris. He had just fin­ished telling a cou­ple of dozen peo­ple about his can­di­dacy. Har­ris called him­self — a 6-foot-4 for­mer semipro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball player — the “lit­tle big guy” in the race.

“I like that he’s young and fresh and has new ideas,” said Gor­don of Rem­ing­ton. “He’s re­lat­able.”

But Gor­don, 37, said she wasn’t sure if she’ll vote for Har­ris. She’s not con­vinced he can be com­pet­i­tive.

“That’s what makes me sad,” she said. “I’m pulling for him.”

Har­ris is the city Green Party’s first may­oral can­di­date, ac­cord­ing to Andy El­lis, co-chair­man of the Bal­ti­more Greens. The party has about 1,200 ac­tive regis­tered vot­ers in Bal­ti­more, com­pared to more than 300,000 Democrats and 32,000 Repub­li­cans.

El­lis said the party’s can­di­dates have out­per­formed voter regis­tra­tion num­bers at the bal­lot box in the past. Across the coun­try, can­di­dates from the Green Party — founded in 1984 — have been elected to a va­ri­ety of of­fices, in­clud­ing mayor and state lawmaker.

Given the cam­paign Har­ris has waged over the past year — knock­ing on 6,000 doors, par­tic­i­pat­ing in phone banks, main- tain­ing ac­tive so­cial me­dia ac­counts and at­tend­ing nu­mer­ous com­mu­nity meet­ings, fes­ti­vals and fo­rums — he will be a force on Elec­tion Day, El­lis said.

“His eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plat­form looks at keep­ing Bal­ti­more’s money in­side Bal­ti­more and re­turns the de­ci­sion-mak­ing power to the peo­ple in neigh­bor­hoods through par­tic­i­pa­tory bud­get­ing,” El­lis said. “His plans fuse to­gether for eco­nomic and racial jus­tice.

“He puts real ideas and a real vi­sion for­ward.”

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Todd Eberly of St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land said Har­ris faces long odds against win­ning. “You can think up a sce­nario, but there is no real his­tory of elec­toral wins for Greens in Bal­ti­more,” Eberly said. “There is no real ma­chine to turn out the votes. Those are very dif­fi­cult things to over­come.”

But Har­ris’ cam­paign will help to show dis­il­lu­sioned vot­ers that they have al­ter­na­tives, Eberly said. “We’ll wait and see how many votes he can get, but it could send a sig­nif­i­cant mes­sage to the Demo­cratic Party power bosses.”

Aimee Pohl, 40, of Go­vans, said she switched her party af­fil­i­a­tion from Demo­crat to Green af­ter this year’s pri­mary. Pohl said she was frus­trated with na­tional party pol­i­tics. She was in­trigued by Har­ris’ cam­paign flier and de­cided to vol­un­teer for him. Pohl called Har­ris an “in­cred­i­bly kind and smart and au­then­tic per­son.”

“Josh is the only per­son who has ac­tual real ideas for true change in the city,” she said. “It feels very much to me that Cather­ine Pugh is go­ing to con­tinue with

Joshua Har­ris

Age: 30 Job: Com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor, Alpha Phi Alpha Ex­pe­ri­ence: Not pre­vi­ously elected to of­fice Ed­u­ca­tion: Augs­burg Col­lege, Min­neapo­lis, bach­e­lor’s de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion Home: Hollins Market Fam­ily: En­gaged to Shani Phe­lan Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake’s stance on things with a cou­ple of tweaks here and there.”

Har­ris, who­lives in Hollins Market and is en­gaged to be mar­ried, moved to Bal­ti­more about five years ago to take a job work­ing in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Alpha Phi Alpha, the first in­ter­col­le­giate African-Amer­i­can fra­ter­nity.

A Chicago na­tive, he was raised by a sin­gle mother who worked mul­ti­ple jobs. He spent a lot of time with his grand­mother, a for­mer union pres­i­dent who worked with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama when he was a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer. Har­ris said his fa­ther is an ex-of­fender who went on to own and op­er­ate three book­stores.

In his youth, the can­di­date found bas­ket­ball an out­let. “If It wasn’t for a re­cre­ation cen­ter that was open and funded, who knows what trou­ble I would have got­ten into or where I would be to­day.” He went on to play high school, col­lege and semi-pro bas­ket­ball. He lived and played over­seas for about a year.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Augs­burg Col­lege in Minnesota with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Har­ris worked in me­dia.

He also has worked as a leg­isla­tive aide to Del. Charles E. Syd­nor III, a Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat, who called Har­ris “an hon­or­able per­son” who has strong beliefs and is a hard worker.

While he worked in An­napo­lis, Har­ris helped draft leg­is­la­tion to up­date the state’s wire­tap law, set­ting the ground­work to au­tho­rize po­lice body cam­eras.

When Har­ris an­nounced his cam­paign for mayor last Novem­ber, he had planned to run as a Demo­crat in a crowded field. He switched to the Green Party early this year af­ter he said mem­bers of the party con­tacted him.

“The Green Party is a party that I have al­ways known to align more with my val­ues and views,” Har­ris said. “It is a party that has been fo­cused on so­cial jus­tice, racial jus­tice, eco­nomic jus­tice and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.”

At the heart of Har­ris’ plan is his pro­posal to set up a pub­lic bank that would hold and lever­age the city’s prop­erty taxes, fees, fines and other rev­enue — mod­eled af­ter the Bank of North Dakota. The city could ben­e­fit from in­ter­est earned on the ac­count and grant loans to busi­nesses and new home­own­ers at low rates, he said.

Har­ris said he would fight for stronger com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ments tied to pub­lic fi­nanc­ing, high-speed mu­nic­i­pal Wi-Fi and liv­ing wages. He wants to foster a new in­dus­try around re­tail cannabis and clean en­ergy man­u­fac­tur­ing. He also calls for more com­mu­nity schools and ad­di­tional de-es­ca­la­tion and cul­tural com­pe­tence train­ing for po­lice.

“The root cause of crime is un­equiv­o­cally poverty,” Har­ris said. “Bal­ti­more is a blue-col­lar town that has been with­out blue-col­lar work since Beth­le­hem Steel and Gen­eral Mo­tors left. My vi­sion is to tran­si­tion our city from a blue-col­lar town into a green-col­lar town.”

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