Monday, February 6, 2017

White Supremacy in Port Covington?

When Baltimore elected the new slate of City council members it was clear that things wouldn't be any longer as they were before, when critics described the Council as a "rubber stamp" for the Mayor.

The new more combative Council could be seen in action several times already, for example when Councilman Zeke Cohen questioned the MTA about charging extra for for bus rides on the student passes for after school activities. Ryan Dorsey was right on his side. Next up: Minimum wage.
Council candidate Dorsey making his case before the
election (Photo: Klaus Philipsen)

Dorsey who represents the third District upped the anti last week with a Facebook comment on the Baltimore City Voters Facebook page. His comment appeared under the link of an article that stated that Kevin Plan was one of the members on the President's "council" on economic advisers which had sprung from an initial breakfast meeting to which the President had invited industrial leaders.
Ryan Dorsey White supremacy cozying up to white supremacy? Shocker.

"Quisling" probably isn't even an appropriate term to use. It specifically refers to a local traitor getting in bed with an occupying force. Plank is not a local. He is not from Baltimore. He doe
s not live in Baltimore. He is not about Baltimore. He is, himself, an occupying, colonizing, culturally appropriating force.
 
The comment didn't go unnoticed and soon commentary came form all sides, including the Mayor, the City Council President, fellow council members and Joshua Harris, the Green Party's candidate for Mayor who had lost against Catherine Pugh. Harris wrote this in response to Dorsey's comment:
Joshua Harris
February 4 at 6:18pmBaltimore
I would like to take a moment to say thank you to councilman Ryan Dorsey. I applaud his willingness to use his personal (white) privilege to shed light on an issue often swept under the rug and ignored in our city. In the face of political correctness and political theater he spoke truth to power, and stood by it. As a black man, I am often afraid to speak to issues of race, not wanting to be viewed as the "angry black guy". I truly applaud Dorsey and other white allies that I have seen in action: Nina Therese KasniunasDavid Troy Roshelle Kades Andy Ellis Andreas Spilly Hon Spiliadis Jen Fischetti Molly Amster Madeline Suggs Megan Kenny and many others. I hope that this has been an opportunity to further the dialogue about "Whiteness", what it means to not merely be a philanthropist from a distance, but risk and set that "Whiteness" aside to truly become an ally in the fight against structural, economic, and environmental racism and white supremacy. In the age of a Trump presidency this is a glimmer of hope. We need more folks willing to take a real stand even if it means risking it all. THANK YOU!
Councilmember Costello was less enthusiastic:
Eric Costello February 3 at 5:04pm 
The comments about Kevin Plank are simply untrue, disgusting, and are unbecoming of a member of the Baltimore City Council. This type of baseless and reckless rhetoric adds no value to moving our City forward. A public apology is warranted.
The SUN ran an article about the controversy which included a statement from Mayor Catherine Pugh:
"I am shocked. I have known Kevin Plank for almost two decades. He is a great Marylander, a great person and someone who is doing everything he can to lift Baltimore. Everywhere I go, in every corner of this city and this country, people talk about what Kevin Plank is doing for Baltimore."
The Dorsey comments opened the discussion about the wisdom of the tax breaks for Port Covington all over again, even though the matter is a done deal with legally binding papers that the previous Mayor, Council and Board of Estimates had approved.
Council hearing about Port Covington TIF in 2016 (Photo: Philipsen)

I sent Dorsey a number of questions asking for a written interview for this article. He sent me instead an article that apparently is intended as an op-ed in the SUN in which he digs his heels deeper in explaining his statements in the broader context of systemic racism and in the context of the Memorandum of Agreement between the City and Sagamore. In explaining his stand Dorsey says on Facebook this morning:
"I also believe that Plank's Port Covington development benefits White Baltimoreans at the expense of Black Baltimoreans. It relies on financial assistance from a Black-majority City to build a community that a majority of Black Baltimoreans may not be able to afford. Each of these actions treats issues of racial disparity and discrimination as secondary to business opportunity. This trivialization of race reinforces systemic racism, and by reinforcing social, political, and economic systems that disproportionately benefit White residents, falls under the umbrella of 'white supremacy'. I stand by my statements..."
Unfortunately, the references to the MOU that Dorsey makes in his op-ed don't seem to reflect the amendments that his predecessor Council members and the African American ministers of the BUILD coalition had negotiated and quote an older version of the MOU. The amendment improved numerous conditions including the referenced Affordable Housing requirements which Dorsey quotes in his editorial in their old version. The amendments read as follows:
1. Doubling of Commitment. The Amended MOU doubles SDC's inclusionary housing commitment to require that SDC provide income-restricted residential units equal to 20% of all residential units at Port Covington. At least 60% of these units must be provided on-site, while the balance may be developed offsite to address affordable housing needs in other City neighborhoods.
2. Affordability. At least ten percent (10%) of the affordable units, whether on-site or off-site, will be affordable to households at or below 30% of Area Median Income ("AMI"), so long as housing vouchers or similar assistance is available to SDC. SDC will also seek low-income housing tax credits ("LIHTC") to develop
units affordable to households at or below 60% of AMI, with at least five percent of the units affordable at or below 50% of AMI. If LIHTCs are not awarded, the required units must be affordable at or below 80% of AMI.
3. Required Fund Payments. If on-site affordable units cannot be constructed on a financially reasonable basis, SDC must make payments to the City’s inclusionary Housing Offset Fund, in amounts from $40,000 up to $60,000 per unit. For off-site units, the range would be $30,000 to $50,000 per unit until the City and SDC share in profits, when payments related to off-site units would increase to $40,000 to $60,000 per unit. 
I know Ryan personally and supported His run for the Council seat. I also responded recently to his invitation to speak about the student bus fares. His courage to step out of the generally approved line of consent and voice a different opinion is laudable, so is his intent of shedding light on institutional racism and the deplorable inequalities of Baltimore. I certainly share his severe concerns about the President's actions. But  all of that should be no reason to resort to the same simplified fire-bombing rhetoric that isn't based on fact.
A more activist Council: Zeke Cohen at the podium, Dorsey on the right. 

The participation of the various company leaders at the President's breakfast to which they were invited certainly doesn't constitute an endorsement of the policies of the one who invited. It represents nothing more than a willingness to learn and listen in dialogue, the same willingness that the Mayor and Congressman Cummings had also voiced. There may have never been a time when dialogue was more important right now. At least for the time being it is still true that it is better to be "at the table" than "on the table".

Only one industrial leader has since resigned from what the President has since morphed into an "advisory economic council", the CEO of Uber. His resignation was more a response to his own company's flap at the small New York taxi strike against the President's travel ban than a full throated political gesture.

There is no question that Baltimore has all the problems Dorsey references. But there is also no question that no city in America can prosper without a sound economic base. New anti-government and anti-trade policies coming from Washington represent a clear and imminent danger to Baltimore's economy. To have a successful entrepreneur who has built a large company in Baltimore being included among the CEOs of Uber, Dell, Dow, Intel, Boeing, Ford and others is not a small thing for Baltimore, nor is Plank's commitment to local manufacturing. To make it an issue that Plank lives in Baltimore County and not in the City seems rather myopic, in that context. In the bigger picture Baltimore needs to be seen as part of the region anyway, a metro region that includes the Washington region and competes globally.

I am sure the current mayor and Council would have been a stronger force in the negotiations of the Port Covington TIF, where unions, churches and some Council members had to basically force the previous administration into a better deal.

There will be plenty of opportunities for being vigilant in the 30 plus years in which Port Covington will have to be realized according to the plans, commitments and intentions. But using a superceded MOU and warfare rhetoric is just not the way of doing it. I suppose BUILD and the African American leaders of the communities around Port Covington who all approved the MOU will tell Dorsey in due time.

 Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Ryan Dorsey's complete statement explaining his positions and the original Facebook post:



On Friday evening, the Baltimore Sun devoted an article to comments I made in the Baltimore City Voters Facebook group, criticizing Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s decision to become an advisor in President Trump’s administration. I compared that decision to his company’s Port Covington deal.

I stand by the substance of these remarks, although they may have been framed in too shorthand a fashion for readers not involved with the forum. I spoke knowing that most readers of the forum understand the historical context, and that my remarks about Plank refer to systemic forces, not personal attributes.

There is a persistent notion that those who elected Trump can be viewed as cartoon racists: poor, uneducated rednecks who use racial slurs and spout hatred. The reality, however, is that Trump’s win was carried by far more polished, professional types. Pew Research shows that Trump won college educated Whites by a 4-point margin, and as CNN’s exit polling shows, Trump won a majority of Americans making $50,000 or more, whereas Clinton won voters making less than $50,000 per year by a 12-point margin.

You will never hear most of these Trump voters use the n-word, foment Islamophobia , or promote sexual assault.  I am comfortable assuming that Trump voters shy away from such language not just because it is impolitic, but because they truly believe Trump is wrong in those areas. The problem is that these voters allow other issues, including economic issues, to become more important than misogyny, racism, xenophobia, or prejudice of any other sort. It is not a coincidence that those most likely to view matters of systemic inequality as secondary to other issues are also those who benefit from existing systems. By being willing to accept or ignore these systemic forces, including systemic racism, these men and women only help to perpetuate it.

No self-respecting Democrat can defend Donald Trump’s track record of prejudice. For months now, we have heard a chorus of public figures talk about their commitment to not normalizing Trump’s behavior, and not engaging with his administration as though it represents a legitimate approach to governance or the views of a majority of American voters. Yet, it seems for some, I crossed a line by criticizing Kevin Plank for doing exactly that.

When Kevin Plank aligns himself with Donald Trump’s administration by serving as an advisor to it, he is normalizing Trump’s behavior and treating his administration as legitimate. He is also earning a significant amount of potential political capital with these actions. In the process, Plank has become a representative of sorts for our City within the Trump administration. We should look at Plank’s track record to better understand what that might mean for Baltimore.

I do not pretend to know what is in Kevin Plank’s heart, but I do know what is in his memorandum of understanding for Port Covington. In issues of public policy, it is the actual impact on people, not the intended impact, that ultimately matters.

Take Port Covington’s inclusionary housing agreement. It makes 10% on-site affordable housing a goal, not a requirement, and defines affordability as 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). It does not require that these units be built unless Low Income Housing Tax Credits can be secured for them. If the tax credits are not secured, the memorandum raises the affordability ceiling to 80% AMI. Again, 80% is a goal, not a requirement. Ultimately, the developer can pay a fee that is significantly less than the cost of providing the units to avoid building any on-site affordable housing at all.

Because AMI is calculated for the Baltimore-Towson-Columbia metropolitan area, a rent payment based on an income of up to $46,000 per year, or $22.12 per hour, would be counted as affordable. Keep in mind, the median household income for Black households in Baltimore is $33,610, and the minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour. The workers responsible for building Port Covington may also be unable to afford its affordable housing. The negotiated minimum wage for Port Covington's skilled trades is lower than Baltimore City's prevailing wage for all but 1 of the 98 listed skilled trades, and also less than the hourly rate needed to afford an 80% AMI housing unit.

That means our majority-Black City gave over a half-billion taxpayer dollars to a development that a majority of Baltimore’s Black residents may not be able to afford. Even Port Covington’s off-site affordable housing only requires “a preference for, but not a limitation to, locations that do not further concentrate poverty, as determined by the developer.” Those are tough facts to spin.  

That is just the beginning. Even as the vision of Port Covington remains mostly on the drawing board, its priority for City resources and attention has surpassed that of most Baltimore neighborhoods. Consider how our political capital to bargain for federal or state transportation funding is now occupied by the I-95 off ramps or Port Covington’s anticipated light rail spur, while infrastructure across most of the City’s majority Black neighborhoods continues to languish as it has for decades, having been cut in line yet again by waterfront development.

More broadly, consider the school funding issue. The state’s formula cuts funds when Baltimore’s tax base grows, in anticipation of more local taxes. Tax deals of the kind Port Covington is receiving mean those new funds won’t be available to cover the shortfall.  We are told that a short-term fix has been fashioned, and that a long-term formula fix is coming.  However, advocates have been warning all along of these consequences, and the time for fashioning a solution was before those consequences manifested themselves. City Schools ran a $50 million deficit in the two years preceding the deal, and suffered a $130 million shortfall this year. Who is harmed? A public school population that is 90% Black and Brown, in spite of White residents representing over 30% of the City’s population.

This is exactly how systemic forces take the actions of well-intentioned people, and use them to perpetuate a fundamentally racist allocation of benefits and costs. The system that organizes benefits and costs this way is called White Supremacy. If I choose not to speak out against it just because it does not harm me directly, I am enabling it. Port Covington—at least this round—is a done deal, but we must learn from it going forward if we are to truly undo the structural racism holding our City back.

I am glad that Kevin Plank has a philanthropic record, but Baltimore needs parity more than it needs charity. Charity, after all, is often aimed at the effects of structural ills (funding shortfalls) not the causes (unjust development). Addressing the latter requires a willingness to speak about it in clear terms. It also should not take a White city councilman to generate this degree of attention to the issue, when Black residents have made these same points for decades.