Harris pledges to shake up City Hall and change the city
Green Party candidate aims to open new public bank
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
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.”