November 24th, 2012 — geography, politics, trends, visualization
I’ll be writing more about the correlation between population density and voting behaviors, but in the meantime check out these maps showing participation in the 2012 election. (Darker areas voted more than lighter areas.)
So the country voted. Some parts more than others.
What I think is interesting is that much of middle America, particularly in the middle-south, didn’t vote as heavily as people in the north. (The Appalachia/Ozarks belt?) California’s central valley also voted pretty lightly.
A few places turned out in BIG numbers (85-90%). Hard to say what might be going on there, but in general I’d say those people are the most annoyed and felt like they needed to vote.
The above map shows turnout by county (indicated by shade); the winner is indicated by color (Red Romney, Blue Obama).
Map created by David Troy using Ruby, Quantum GIS and TileMill. Data sources: Politico Election Results by County, US Census Tiger Shapefiles. May be reproduced with attribution.
July 30th, 2011 — baltimore, politics
A public official is said to be corrupt when they place their own personal gain ahead of the people whom they are supposed to serve.
I have come to believe that, based on this simple definition, Baltimore’s interim Mayor is corrupt. Here is why.
In the 2007 Mayoral election, there were just 86,125 votes cast, in a city of 640,000 people. Sheila Dixon won that election with 54,381 votes, a majority and 63% of the vote.
It’s quite likely that turnout in the September 2011 primary will be comparable. Early polls indicate that in the current four-way race between Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Otis Rolley, Jody Landers, and Catherine Pugh, the winning candidate will need just over 30,000 votes.
Reports indicate that Rawlings-Blake has raised and will spend close to $2 Million in her attempt to capture that pool of about 30,000 votes.
That’s $67 per vote.
Under pressure to compete with her, the other candidates will, combined, likely raise another $1 Million or more. That means that in total, over $3 Million will be spent on this election. Overall, that’s about $37 per vote.
If Ms. Rawlings-Blake has such a knack for fundraising, perhaps she should be out rounding up money to keep rec centers and pools open.
If she had said that she was capping her total fundraising for this election at $500,000, and devoting her time and energy to working for the city she professes to love, that would have been a tremendous gesture. And it would show true magnanimity, and foster a renewal of public trust.
Instead, she has abused the power of her office to aid her campaign fundraising. To me, gift cards or not, that is corrupt behavior. I want a mayor that’s out working for my city, striking imaginative deals that shape our future in a meaningful way, and creating a real dialog with citizens. Instead, we get a Mayor that hides from candidates forums and refuses debates, but finds time to play I-Spy as part of a campaign stunt.
I want a mayor that’s learning from best practices from all over the world instead of mired in local political drama and grooming her enemies-list.
It’s not time to “give her a chance,” it’s time for her to find a new gig. She’s been in office for 17 years. She’s had her chance. If you want someone to preside over decline, she seems to be capable of doing a middling job of that. If you want someone to lead the city into the future, we need someone who can lead, and who thinks about the future.
As Baltimore’s Grand Prix fiasco approaches (brilliantly, comically placed and timed in a tidal basin at the height of hurricane season), ask yourself if it represents meaningful leadership. Ask yourself if it is corrupt leadership.
I believe it’s bread and circuses. I believe it is rule by cronies and developers. And I believe it is political puppetry of the highest form; the Mayor is wired to do the bidding of Governor O’Malley. I don’t want four more years of that. I want out. What’s best for the Governor may or may not be best for Baltimore. That should be self-evident to any thinking person.
You may know that I was an early and vocal supporter of Otis Rolley. And I stand behind Otis today. We can debate the specifics of his plans, but at least he has real plans and ideas, and is open to input and discussion. And he will put Baltimore and its citizens first.
So when you vote on September 13 (YES, September 13 – it’s the primary that will decide this election, not the General) ask yourself whether you’re going to let the Mayor get her money’s-worth.
Will you let your vote be bought for $67?
February 12th, 2011 — baltimore, business, design, economics, geography, philosophy, politics, social media, trends
Newly-elected Maryland State Senator Bill Ferguson was recently named to the Baltimore Business Journal‘s Power 20. This week they asked me, as a friend of Bill’s and member of a previous Power 20 cohort, to comment on Bill’s relationship with and use of power.
“Bill is a curious, humble, and earnest young man, and he represents a true shift in how power is conferred in this town,” I said. “He didn’t work his way up through the ranks and spend a few years as a city council person, or wait his turn. Bill was able to win because of a shift in political power that’s taking place right now. He derives his power from the people, not from the system.”
Political power is now being conferred through the accumulation of weak and strong ties with citizens, and no longer by top-down power structures, power-brokers, and kingmakers. Don’t get me wrong; those folks still have an impact (they did in Bill Ferguson’s race – they got behind him when it was clear he was onto something), but that impact is waning. And things that were previously unthinkable are now possible.
It may seem like hyperbole to compare the situation in Baltimore to what took place over the last three weeks in Egypt. But it’s an apt comparison.
For decades in both places, people have felt marginalized by a top-down, tone-deaf government that was more interested in its own well-being than that of its citizens. In both places, decades of neglect and mismanagement have led to a serious crisis of confidence.
People are fed up. They’re tired of feeling marginalized, the failed programs, the broken promises, the lack of accountability and the inability to implement imaginative solutions. For 60 years, Baltimore’s population has been in decline, and places in decline have not had the benefit of oversight, dollars, or creative leaders. Instead, corruption (explicit or implicit) festers.
The Perfect Storm
Several factors are emerging all at once:
- Young people want to live near their work and are tired of commuting (and they’ll accept a pay cut to do it)
- Our roads are full and can no longer be meaningfully expanded due to lack of space and funds
- Fuel costs are projected to rise as China’s demand grows exponentially
- Online networks are having a meaningful impact on real-world relationships and politics
These factors, combined, have made Baltimore the most important jurisdiction in Maryland – practically overnight. Yet our leadership has not caught up with this reality.
Baltimore’s recent rise to relevance combined with the power of communications networks will create stark shifts in the power structure.
Two Kinds of Leaders
Today we have a choice between two kinds of leaders. We can choose between the leaders that the system hands us, or we can choose to put our faith in new, emerging leaders with whom citizens have a legitimate connection and a voice.
|Product of the system
||Newcomers, inspired to serve
|Disproportionate influence of money
||Driven by small donations, connection with people
|Ideas come from insiders and developers
||Ideas come from anywhere and from study of best practices globally
|Power comes from the top-down
||Power comes from legitimate engagement with citizens
|“Openness” is skin deep, only ‘fauxpenness’
||Transparency at every level; data is a strategic driver
|Secrecy and private realities drive decisions
||One shared view of reality drives all decisions
|Treat Symptoms: Problems (poverty, crime) are “mitigated”
||Address Root Causes: Focus on wealth creation
|Social media is a “one way,” Orwellian broadcast tool
||Social Media is a “two-way” engagement tool
|Over-Confident that the system knows best
||Open to Questioning: People know best
|Boomer-centric: top-down, command and control
||Gen-Y Centered: Collaborative, flat organizations
|People are engaged to placate them
||People are legitimately engaged
|Fear of reprisal keeps people in line
||May the best ideas and people win
||Will serve only as long as effective
It is sadly telling that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s much-promoted (Orwellian, broadcast-oriented) Safer City social media campaign follows just one person on Twitter: the Mayor herself. And it has just 78 followers. Why? Because it’s all for show, and no one legitimately cares about a program to mitigate a problem – people actually want to solve it at the root. To hell with a Safer City: give me a city where everyone can earn a living, and I can bet you it’ll be safer.
But our politicians don’t know that, because they have not taken the time to benchmark ourselves against other cities or learn from best practices elsewhere. Baltimore has more cops per capita than any other city. Why is that?
Because we need them. Why do we need them? Because we have a lot of crime. Why do we have a lot of crime? Because we have no middle class. Why do we have no middle class? Because we have not seriously focused on enabling small business formation, which is the number one driver of jobs. Instead we have given tax handouts to fatcat developers so they can build big projects and enrich their cronies.
Yes, clearly the cure is more cops. As the Mayor told the Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton, “Maybe we could do without as many officers, but that’s not what the public wants. They want more patrolmen on the street. They want more police in the neighborhood.”
No, Madam Mayor. What the public really wants is for these root cause issues to be addressed. It takes true leadership and understanding to go beyond just treating the symptoms.
Some have called the recent events in Egypt “the Twitter and Facebook revolution.” A few have scoffed at the idea that these tools could spark a revolution and cite eons of revolutionary precedent as proof. But it’s a mistake to dismiss their role.
Online networks are accelerants. They create connections passively where none might otherwise exist. Critical mass for change comes when the density of connections between people reaches a threshold level. Ideas spread between networks instantly. What might have taken 10 years before now takes 1 year.
The Soviet regime could never have survived in the age of networks. Iraq would have collapsed under its own weight if given time and these tools.
And the same repressive structures will fall in Baltimore, for the same reasons.
To quote Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”
November 15th, 2010 — baltimore, business, design, economics, geography, philosophy, politics, trends
Last week another Maryland elected official, Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, was arrested – along with his wife – on federal corruption charges. And once again, land development deals were the problem: a relatively inexperienced public official was lured by small profits gained by handing out development deals to a few cronies.
Shockingly, the press and the public feign surprise every time this happens. The Washington Post’s coverage of the Johnson arrest earnestly reports that the county seems to have developed a “pay to play” culture – and that you “don’t hear that about other jurisdictions.”
What about Baltimore city, where just nine short months ago former Mayor Sheila Dixon was convicted for accepting gifts and bribes from developers? Granted, Dixon was dealing in a few thousand dollars worth of gift cards and baubles while Johnson and his wife were flushing $100,000 checks and stuffing tens of thousands of dollars in their underwear. But one gets the impression that this may be a result of Dixon’s relative inexperience. Given more time, she would likely have learned to ask for more.
How did we get here? How is it that public-private development deals can be handed out to cronies and first-time “developers?”
First, too many people that seek public office expect to be financially enriched by it. There’s a reason it’s called public “service” – it is meant to be a sacrifice made in exchange for the opportunity to participate in private enterprise. When politicians go into office expecting that the power of public office should also include big money, they’ll be disappointed. Only crooked deals can fulfill those expectations.
Second, we have collectively lost sight of what “development” actually means. Today when people say “development,” they almost always mean turning an unsuspecting piece of land “into” something, whether it’s houses, a shopping mall, a hotel, or a stadium. And sometimes that fulfills a real need.
But too often, these are projects that we don’t truly need – but they do hold the potential to make a few people pretty wealthy. A small-time developer can double his wealth over a few years. But like a small-time addict, the beast must be fed: with new land, new projects, new deals. Because very often the gains are one-time hits. A housing project might make a five time return on investment. To keep the perpetual motion machine going, there must always be new deals.
This is where local elected officials come in. Mayors and county executives have just enough power to direct their agenda towards development projects that can enrich developers. Often, cronies of elected officials will become developers just to take advantage of their proximity to this fresh supply of new land deals. This seems to have been the case with Johnson. One of Johnson’s golf buddies had never developed anything, but was given a no-bid contract on a major project. This constitutes an illegal squandering of public funds.
Maybe it’s time to rethink what we mean when we use the word “development.” Do we really need to develop more strip malls, hotels, and suburban housing? In a place like central Maryland, we’re darn near out of land anyway. So this pyramid-scheme of land development has to stop. The corruption will only stop when local elected officials stop thinking that no-bid or restricted-bid contracts for major development deals actually move anything forward.
Instead, let’s start thinking about “development” in terms of “resource allocation.” How are we going to allocate scarce public resources to enrich our citizens through education, equal opportunity, and in repairing and maintaining the infrastructure and buildings we already have?
If the goal of “development” is to advance the economic opportunity and prosperity of the people of our state, maybe we should start by valuing our landscape. Instead of cluttering it up with mile after mile of pointless suburbia, let’s invest in places that mean something to the people that live there. Let’s make the places we have better. Let’s fix blight and make transportation systems that work. Let’s plant trees and make bike lanes.
Development should be about developing our people and making what we already have work more efficiently, not in building shoddy new projects that devalue existing assets and clutter our landscape.
And when contractors are required, let’s put the bidding online, require each bidder to go through the same qualification process, and let the lowest, most qualified bidders win.
When the public changes its perception of what development means, we will have fewer politicians who see elected office as a get-rich-quick scheme. Every time another politician is caught in these shenanigans, the public trust in government is undermined.
So a change in public perception about the nature of development can actually lead to a tangible restoration of public trust in government, and that can’t come too soon.