The Housing Questionnaires: Lessons Learned

It’s always interesting to ask a random group of people the same questions and see what you get back. I guarantee at the very least, you won’t be bored. Hopefully you’ll even be enlightened at the end of the process.

Candidate surveys and politics in general are two things I tend to stay away from, particularly now, because things just get so…ugly. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the overwhelming majority of candidates who were thoughtful and polite, who didn’t take potshots at the competition in their survey responses, and who responded within the deadline.

A bit about the questionnaire

The questions and survey deadlines were developed to determine several things:

A few of the questions asked were phrased to see if the candidates understood the laws that govern their job, and the extent of their reach/ability to make certain changes in government. Many candidates appeared to understand their constraints — in fact, a few pointed out that X or Y was outside the control of the office they were seeking. However, a few candidates seemed to be confused as to which office they were actually running for, given their broad responses. A few also seemed to not know the difference between the city’s Housing Authority and Baltimore Housing, which despite being under singular leadership, are in fact two separate bodies with two separate purposes.

A bit about the candidates and their responses (or lack thereof)

The deadline for each group of candidates was clearly stated in the emails. Holding elected office is a 24-hour job, 365 days a week, if it’s done correctly. Constituents don’t care if you’re on vacation, if your cat died, or if you broke a nail and had to spend 4 hours at the Urgent Care. Constituents in Baltimore City have long been ignored by many of their elected officials, and I wanted to see how many people would:

  1. Ignore the questionnaire altogether
  2. Ignore the deadline and cite reasons for not responding in a timely fashion
  3. Argue about whether or not the deadline was reasonable
  4. Change the questions or refuse to answer them as worded
  5. Respond in a timely fashion, answering the questions completely.

Obviously number 5 above was the desired outcome. Few candidates argued about the deadline, though a few did ignore the deadline and gave reasons for not responding. Many candidates, sadly, ignored the questionnaire altogether and did not respond at all. This included most of the “well-known” mayoral candidates and many of the City Council candidates across all of the districts. In Districts 5, 9, and 13, no candidates responded. One mayoral candidate refused to answer the questions given, and instead, provided a lengthy essay that had very little to do with housing; and another mayoral candidate changed the questions, didn’t answer them completely, and then argued for weeks after that her responses should have been included.

A few mayoral candidates apparently had staff communication issues that precluded them from responding. Overall, the communication issues (or lack of communication altogether), argumentative nature of some of the candidates/campaign staff, and a seeming disregard for voters indicated to me that some of these folks simply shouldn’t be running for public office — it felt as though they’re looking to simply collect a paycheck, or use Baltimore as a stepping stone to Annapolis or DC.

Thankfully, we did receive some really thoughtful, solid responses from each group of candidates (Mayoral, City Council President, and City Council). Many of the best-written responses came from outlier candidates who have never before held public office, and had little name recognition. Seeing how much time and thought they put into their answers gave me hope for the future of our city — we need more people like this in our government.

This is an important election cycle for Baltimore City. Thank you to all of the candidates who responded. It was great “meeting” many of you and hearing what you had to say about the state of housing in our city. Best of luck to all the candidates, and here’s to a stronger, safer city for all of us.