Is Baltimore’s Mayor Corrupt?

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?


20th Century, Go to Sleep

I may not exactly be what you’d call a futurist, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the future and the evolution of ideas.

Since 2001, our country has been a breathing anachronism — a zombie-corpse of outdated ideology and backward-looking worldviews — living in a state of Cold War suspended animation, pushing outdated agendas and peddling simplistic platitudes to an indifferent world which had increasingly moved on to other things and the urgent business of reality.

Yesterday, we said “enough” to sticking our heads in the sand. Yesterday, we said “no” to “drill baby drill,” and “yes” to a real and sustainable energy economy. And yesterday, we showed the world that the America that they love — the America that its founders had hoped it would become — is back, functioning and healthy.

I’m not naïve enough to think that one political party or another will magically take the country in the right direction. In fact, now is when the real work of shaping policy through direct political action will need to begin. The battle is not over now.  You must participate to get the kind of country you want to live in, and that’s true regardless of who is in office.

But, one thing is true: leadership matters. And at this time of transition and change, America desperately needed a leader with imagination, hope, and a sense of the future. And we have that leader in Barack Obama. He has singlehandedly rewritten the rules of presidential politics in America and has proven that he is the political heir of both Kennedy and Reagan. Barack Obama has brought hope back to America and the world. With Barack Obama, the 21st century begins in earnest.

As children, we were all sold a vision of the future, and this was supposed to be it.  We were supposed to be rocketing around with jetpacks, with robot assistants and TV watches. By the year 2000, children imagined their lives would be studded with space age marvels. But, 2000-2008 has felt more like the final cold grasp of a 20th century that has outlived its welcome; a sick and disordered hallucination of the century that wouldn’t die.

I remain a student of history, and I am thoroughly ready for the 20th Century to pass into the history books, and now, packed up and archived along with the last 8 years which are rightfully its, I send it on and bid it farewell.  20th Century, go to sleep; really deep; we won’t blink.

2009 is the new 2001. Welcome to the future.

SocialDevCamp East + TwitterVoteReport = Busy

Being busy seems to always come in spurts for me… just when it looks like I’ve got too much to do already, something cool turns up and takes things to whole new level of busy.

That would be this week. SocialDevCamp East, the barcamp-style unconference that I started with some friends last spring is back tomorrow, and that’s certainly required some coordination and planning.  That would have been plenty.  We have over 200 RSVP’s now (between the Wiki and Facebook) and we expect a truly incredible day of networking and learning.  See you tomorrow!

The other big news of the last two weeks has been the TwitterVoteReport project, for which I’ve been acting as defacto CTO since about October 18th.  This is a great project, a great cause, and an awesome idea.  The data we collect will be an archival quality primary source document for future generations to study the evolution of the election process.

We have five distinct data sources coming in about people’s experience at their polling places: Twitter, Telephone, Direct SMS, and Apps for Android and iPhone.  These are all normalized and aggregated into a single database and reviewed by humans for maximum accuracy.  The data will then be made available in real time to anyone who wants it — from the media to watchdog groups to mapmakers — to help the world understand and monitor the 2008 US elections.

Putting this project together, with all these diverse inputs, has been a monumental task and a real demonstration of what’s possible when people decide to work together.  We had over 600 phone channels donated.  We were able to think up, code, and submit an iPhone app in just 3 days.  We’ve received press coverage far and wide from sources as diverse as TechCrunch and Fox News.  Not bad for a few days’ work.

There’s plenty more to do still (between now and Monday), and I’m busy all day tomorrow at SocialDevCamp.  We’ll do a session there on TwitterVoteReport and what we’re up to… we still need more help from people good with maps!

I’ll post more here as things evolve, and a recap next week, but remember, nothing’s impossible when caring people dedicate themselves to a common endeavor.

Meantime, check out:

And watch for news about on NPR and in the Baltimore Sun (in addition to myriad other outlets!)

Measuring Racism

Politics is a complicated subject — substantially moreso than is demonstrated by most bloggers intent on venting their spleens or developing their own demagogic brands.

However, as our nation is enveloped in one of the most important but mind-bogglingly vacuous elections the world has ever seen, a couple of facts stand out.

It’s been widely reported that in a year that should be extremely pro-Democratic (due to the widespread failures of the last eight years), a democratic candidate should be leading by about ten percentage points right about now.

In fact, we see that the election is very tight indeed, with McCain and Obama splitting the vote in a statistical dead heat. To be fair, national polls do not tell the whole story. The electoral college results (and the swing states) will determine the winner. However, based on this set of statistics we can do some simple math to deduce the effect of race on this election.

According to this report from the US Census Bureau, approximately 125 Million people voted in the 2004 election, up from 110 Million in 2000 and 105 Million in 1996, respectively.

In the current election, poll numbers have been running approximately as follows: 46% McCain, 46% Obama, with the remainder going to third party candidates.

Pundits have suggested that were the Democratic candidate white, and was named something like James K. Watson, the poll numbers would be more like 51% Watson, 42% McCain. This is not what we are seeing.

So, let’s assume that the 2008 voter turnout will be something like 135 Million. If the election were held today, current polling figures would suggest 62.1M votes for Obama and 62.1M votes for McCain.

If we hold, instead, our theoretical election with McCain (white) vs. Watson (white), historical evidence would suggest that Watson would receive approximately 68.9M votes, while McCain would receive approximately 56.7M votes.

This suggests that roughly 6.8 Million (difference between 62.1M Obama and 68.9M Watson) registered voters in this country, roughly 5% of all voters and 3% of citizens, are motivated by racism or xenophobia in some form.

According to the same census report, there were another 16.4 Million registered non-voters in 2004. And there were 71.3 Million citizens who were not registered to vote in 2004. If we apply the same percentages to our 135 Million voter figure for 2008, it breaks down as follows:

I’m quite aware that issues surrounding race, and people’s perception of it, are quite sensitive.  No one likes to be called a racist, and certainly no one likes to be a victim of it either.

However, there is an elephant (no pun intended) in the room in this election, and it may help to identify it and measure it.

Undoubtedly, there are those who would make an argument that it is not racism that is keeping this election as tight as it is, but that it is instead due to legitimate policy disagreements with the Democratic platform. There are those who will be insulted at the notion that racism could possibly be an issue in this election. To those people, I suggest that they are either a) part of the non-racist voting majority, or b) being disingenuous.

This week, National Public Radio ran a piece on race in the election wherein they interviewed a woman from Pennsylvania who suspected Obama was a Muslim, and that the only way you “stopped being a Muslim” was to be “dead,” and that she “couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something about him she just didn’t trust.” The interviewer asked whether it mattered that Obama has repeatedly denied being a Muslim and the response was that, “it just didn’t matter, she didn’t trust him.”

This, unfortunately, is the kind of racism I’m talking about. It’s an irrational fear of the other — perhaps more accurately described as xenophobia — but it’s racism nonetheless in this case, and our country deserves better than to be bogged down in another 50 years of race politics.

Slavery is surely the original sin of this country, and if we are not careful, the racial issues that have been left in its wake may prove to be the undoing of the free world. It’s time to vote based on the issues, not based on gut “instincts,” not based on “who you’d rather have a beer with,” or any other irrational motivation that may have been passed to you by family or culture. America, it’s time to rise up and do the right thing.