As the significance of last week’s electoral outcomes continues to unfold, a new, younger crop of delegates are reshaping what the Democratic party looks like in Baltimore City and Maryland. These newly elected leaders are less concerned with the civil rights and social issues that have dominated Baltimore’s political class since the 60s. They are now more focused on how they can use their office to create economic opportunities that move residents beyond the middle class.
Recently, newly elected delegates Antonio Hayes (D-40th) and Cory McCray (D-45th) sat down with the AFRO to discuss their approaches to campaigning and their visions for how to bring greater economic opportunity to a city that has over 23 percent of its population living below the poverty level. Both delegates won their primary victories last June by combining a broad outreach strategy focused on social media for younger voters and a more targeted effort for long-term, older voters.
“One thing we’re doing is we’re communicating better,” said McCray. “ We’re on Facebook, Twitter [and] Instagram. We’re emailing you. We’re knocking on your door. We’re phone calling you. It’s a concentrated effort to get you to understand the issues we care about, whether it’s good government or economics. ”
Hayes notes that the majority of his Instagram followers are newer voters. She believes that it was just as necessary to engage these newer, younger, voters on a social media platform as it was to knock on their door and have a conversation with them. “[Social media] communicates a different message to them about your level of commitment. Because you’re in their neighborhood, you’re on their ground,” said Hayes about the importance of combining new and more traditional campaign outreach.
But effective outreach is only part of the story. Both candidates credit messaging with their success in this year’s primary and general elections. Hayes notes that younger voters are less interested in the civil rights and social justice messages that were at the forefront of previous generations’ concern.
“There’s definitely added advantage to talking about economic policies, which are becoming more appealing to the future generation,” said Hayes. “They’re really looking to step out there on their own and do some stuff, and figure out how they fit into the larger thing we call Baltimore and the state of Maryland. When you start talking about economic empowerment, you’re getting their attention.”
McCray noted that, while the city as a whole may be seeing an approximately 23 percent poverty rate, in his district it is closer to 50 percent. This dismal figure is despite the fact that his district alone has seen $2 billion in development over the course of the last five years. “Folks want jobs in the community. They want to figure out how can they go to work,” said McCray.
For both delegates, it is not enough to create jobs offering $10 per hour if these employment opportunities do not generate meaningful wealth or help employees save for their future.
McCray, who is an electrician by trade and an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 24, believes that one of the best ways to create the sorts of living wage jobs that are essential to broader economic growth. He stressed the importance of strengthening union apprenticeship programs in order to ensure city residents have the necessary skills to do the jobs that are coming to their neighborhoods.
In a similar vein, Hayes would like to see the city take better advantage of its two-year academic institutions to make sure they are training students for the city’s growth industries.
Having a workforce capable of doing the job is only one part of the equation. Both delegates argue that the city and its representatives need to do more to ensure local hiring when developers or institutions are coming to the city or state for money or tax credits for their development projects.
Hayes emphasized that the willingness of the state to grant assistance to such projects should be predicated not only on acceptable levels of local hiring, but on adequate levels of local procurement as well.
“Just a small percentage of that [development] money can mean a whole lot to a little mom and pop store down on Washington Blvd,” said Hayes. “We have to make sure that we’re good stewards of those resources as they’re coming through the community. We have to hold their feet to the fire to make sure they’re reinvesting them.”
McCray notes that the path to development is increasingly coming through public-private partnerships. These programs are typically funded when government dollars are combined with private investments. He says the key is to making these programs successful is to ensure that all parties walk away feeling like winners. McCray further adds that it is necessary for city officials in Baltimore to move away from low-bid contract models and to look to which partnerships offer the greatest value to the city.
He says, “[We must ask,] ‘What is your economic plan to make sure we do local hiring?’ ‘What is your economic plan to make sure that we’re more inclusive?’ If that person has a better value in reference to local hiring and this person has the lowest bid, who do you think that [contract] should go to? [We’ll go with] the guy [who] has the plan [and who] wants to move us in the right direction. It’s about both [of us] winning.”