Mayor says she’s changed Baltimore for the better

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BALTIMORE (AP) - Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been Baltimore’s chief executive for more than four years, and her national profile has skyrocketed in large part because of television appearances in her relatively new role as secretary of the Democratic National Committee.

In a recent interview, Rawlings-Blake, who initially assumed the mayor’s post in 2010 before winning election in 2011, emphasized that her focus remains on Baltimore and helping the city attract new businesses and residents. In a wide-ranging conversation, the mayor discussed a variety of topics ranging from her legacy as mayor to why Baltimore’s blue-collar roots give it a leg up on Washington.

“I love D.C. I think that it is unfortunate that they have to fight to keep their D.C. identity,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I think Baltimore benefits from being able to be a place where you don’t have to . make a six-figure salary to live comfortably.”

What follows is a condensed version of an interview conducted with Rawlings-Blake this month in The Daily Record offices.

- Last budget we saw some mix of property tax cuts, some fee increases and then some adjustments to pension contributions. What can we expect this year?

This year, another year of belt tightening as we continue to grow out of the Great Recession. I think that it’s very important that we continue to look for ways to be a more efficient operation and do it in a way that allows us to grow our budget over time.

- Overall, how would you describe Baltimore’s budget situation?

I would say that we’re in a much stronger place than we were a year ago or two years ago, and certainly stronger than we were four years ago when I first became mayor. I think it is very important, and I take very seriously my fiduciary responsibility for the city. That’s one of the reasons that motivated my work with the 10-year financial plan, and in doing so I’m making the tough decisions and moving the city towards a stronger and firmer financial foundation. So we’re in a better position than we were and getting better every year.

- What’s the major difference between four, three or even two years ago and the fiscal year we’re entering into now?

All the tough choices that I made and all the things that I shared with the community when I released the 10-year financial plan. You know we had a $750 million structural deficit projected over 10 years. We’ve cut over $400 million of that through more efficient operation, cuts in the budget and the policy changes I’ve implemented.

- In your Q&A; session, (you) kind of briefly touched on the (Baltimore Development Corp.) and your feelings about the organization and how it’s doing. But how do you envision that organization’s role in the future?

A couple of things: My goal is to ensure that they’re working to strengthen small-business opportunities. We know that a lot of the job growth that we’ve seen, while we’ve had some pretty headline-grabbing companies move into the city with Amazon and the casino and things like that, a lot of the growth that we’re seeing is small business. So, my goal is to make that organization more responsive and of better support to small businesses, minority- and women-owned businesses, because we’ve seen a lot of opportunity there, as well as in the tech community.

- How would you assess the job we as a city have done in retaining and attracting new businesses?

Well, I was just at a luncheon and one of the businessmen said he just saw a report, and I don’t have the source, but he said that he recently read a report that last year Baltimore city created more new jobs than Washington, D.C. I know that we’ve done very well. . I think we’ve done a great job. Anecdotally, I feel it. I see it when I go out to visit some of the new businesses that are opening up, and you hear while you’re out and about the stories of businesses that are coming or startups that are being created. But if that is an actual number, I think it supports the notion that Baltimore is open for business and we have jobs.

- What are the biggest obstacles for us as a city to attract new businesses and new jobs?

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