New blood is finally circulating in Baltimore’s District 9. Democratic candidate John T. Bullock is poised to deliver a major transfusion of new leadership to a district that has struggled both politically and economically in recent decades. Bullock said he hopes to restore hope to a community that he says has lost faith in government.
“Hitting the ground and looking around I see one of the biggest challenges is service delivery. I learned while working in government that returning phone calls, coming to meetings, following up are some of the most important things,” he said. “Lack of attention to basic services by the city started to become evident in the physical environment within the community.”
“You can see places where trash is dumped consistently, places where there has not been repaving of streets. I am a transportation guy so I think about that,” he continued. “Trash in alleys. You may think it’s a small thing but it’s not. You can go back to the AFRO clean block campaign and things that were done in the past about taking pride in the community.”
He said when those things are gone and no one returns your phone calls from City Hall, that’s a problem.”
District 9 embodies the paradox of expectation and despair. Music, culture and art still resonate in the community that was the childhood home of jazz and ragtime artist Eubie Blake. The promise of the future looms with the University of Maryland’s Biopark, funded in part through a $17.5 million TIF subsidy (Targeted Incremental Fund) approved by the City Council in January. But the district is also home to communities where the merger of poverty and municipal neglect have taken their toll in the Rosemont, Sandtown, Harlem Park and Poppleton areas.
Bullock understands that the litter lining the streets of many of District 9’s neighborhoods must be addressed immediately. He heard this concern raised repeatedly during the year he and his team knocked on doors throughout the community while campaigning. He said it is a concern he heard while earning his community stripes as a leader of the Evergreen Protective Community Association.
The other, more long range priority, is removing the blight and abandoned properties scattered throughout the district that create an eyesore for neighbors and attract a host of other problems. “You have vacant housing. You have lots that are overgrown, weeds that are not cut. You have trash and rats. Eradicating that; means I’m working with our city agencies to be responsive,” Bullock said. “I know my job as councilman is to follow-up with those agencies. What happened over the years is that people have lost trust in government. They say, why should I call if no one is going to come.”
Ashley Valis, executive director of Strategic Initiatives and Community Engagement at the University of Maryland at Baltimore said that the campus is looking forward to collaborating with Bullock. “Mr. Bullock has already met with our President Dr. Jay Perman. We expect that through his office, we will be able to engage and serve more residents in need. Additionally, we hope to work with him to help support community redevelopment projects in Southwest and West Baltimore, particularly revitalization projects along the West Baltimore Street commercial corridor that extends west of our UM Biopark campus” she said.
Bullock said his deep commitment to the community was nurtured by his West Philadelphia upbringing. “It was me going to Catholic school that has a lot to do with my walk. I am a faith driven person but also the social justice teachings of the church. The influence of Black Catholics has been pivotal,” Bullock said.
Both Philadelphia and Baltimore have sizeable contingents of Black Catholics. Baltimore’s history as a haven for Black Catholics began in 1863, when St. Francis Xavier Parish in East Baltimore was founded as the first official Black Catholic parish in the United States, according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Bullock, his wife and two sons Thomas and George, attend St. Edwards Church, where Bullock serves as president of the Parish Council. He said he imagines a different future right outside of the church doors.
“I looked at what that community was like before. Today, you can look outside of that church and see trash and vacant housing. It seems like a lost community in many ways,” Bullock said.
Current 9th District City Council Member William “Pete” Welch also attends the church. Bullock said that it was “heartbreaking” to see property next to the church exist in such poor conditions.
Bullock is a first generation college student. “My freshman year, one of my professors said ‘you can get a PhD.’ I’ve never met anyone with a PhD, much less a Black man with a Ph.D. They planted that seed and it came to fruition,” Bullock said. He went on to earn his doctorate in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).
Bullock said that he looks forward to giving back to the community elders who have given him “so much” since he called the 9th district home.
As for the youth, Bullock said he knows what it feels like to imagine more for your community. “I grew up in a neighborhood where folks had limited opportunities. I saw family and friends involved in addiction, unemployment and incarceration. I always wondered why my neighborhood looked the way that it did. In many ways West Philadelphia is like West Baltimore,” he said.
A year from November, Bullock said success will look like a drive through the cleaner neighborhoods in District 9 and residents who have faith in their councilman. “I want to walk down the street and hear people see say ‘he’s around – he’s showing up.’