Back-Sliding, & Budgets
Interview with Fred D. Mason
State and District of Columbia, AFL-CIO
By Rudolph Lewis
We are both proud Virginians, though that state still has a host
of historical, social, and political problems. We were both also
part of that continual migration to great urban centers like
Baltimore and subsequently we have been both long-time residents
of Baltimore, since the mid-1960s. How would you describe
Typically, broadly, and overwhelmingly, Baltimore is a working
class town, with all that goes along with that in today‘s
world: diminishing from an industrial-based working class to one
based in a service economy. It is also fairly segregated along
racial and income lines, with a diminishing middle-class.
What has kept you in Baltimore all these years rather than some
other town or city?
There has always been the promise of progress, socially,
economically, and politically, number one. Of course,
particularly from an African-American and working-class
perspective, that promise of progress has not yet been fully
I’ve also established a family and roots here. Many of my
friends are here in Baltimore. So I’ve made my life and
It seems to me that Baltimore has numerous problems, especially
from an African-American and working class perspective, and
these problems – economic, social, and political—may be
getting seriously worse. Am I off the track in my view?
Fred: Back in the mid-1960s, Baltimore like many urban
centers built around a large industrial base had a majority
African-American population. This was also a time when
African-Americans nationwide were seeking further to define
themselves as a people, acting on their aspirations to play a
more determining role in the affairs of government, the economy
and their lives.
aspirations got played out in urban areas—in the realm of
established politics, not so much in the economic sphere. We
have a situation in which there has been an increase in black
elected officials in Baltimore and from Baltimore at the state
level. But the economic base of the city was already beginning
to decline, with the demise of good paying, family-sustaining
there are these structural problems, which contribute to the
type of problems you have suggested. In 1955 (or 1957), the
Maryland state legislature passed legislation prohibiting
Baltimore from merging with or incorporating with its
surrounding counties. So it has an infrastructure older than its
surrounding counties. So merger or incorporation might have been
a solution to dilute or address some of its economic and tax
problems, as population and economic development expanded away
from the urban core. But that route had been cut off by state
the declining economic industrial base, many of Baltimore’s
residents were beginning to find themselves out of jobs. Huge
industries stop expanding and actually began to decrease, for
instance, the textile industry, followed shortly thereafter by a
severe decline and the near elimination of steel production,
electrical components production, and automobile production.
What we ended up with was a City with a
rapidly eroding tax base coupled with and increasing demand for
services. Many of the families that acquired the financial
means, by working in the higher paying industrial jobs, actually
began to leave the city. Along with their exit went much
of the tax base that provided needed revenue for the City to
operate. Not only
was the City unable to make qualitative improvements in the
living situation of citizens, Baltimore also lacked the
resources to make considerable repairs to its infrastructure.
Rudy: But Baltimore like other urban centers has received
state and federal dollars—you know, Community Action Agency,
Model Cities, etc.—money for housing, job training, education,
and welfare. Haven’t those efforts relieved some of these
problems that were generated by these structural changes or
Baltimore’s inability to adapt meaningfully to these changes?
Yes, if by relief you mean—slowing or masking a mass
decline. That’s certainly true. But the relief has only
nibbled at the edges. With education, for example, the state
has contributed disproportionately to Baltimore’s educational
system. And this is a fact that has not been lost on the
surrounding counties, as all of the counties engage in a
struggle for limited state resources.
Rudy: I am not sure I understand how these resources can
be disproportionate. In any event, what has been the impact?
The state constitution has a mandate to do two things: 1)
balance the budget and 2) provide a system of public education. The way it provides education involves shared
responsibilities with the twenty-three (23) counties and
Baltimore City. Baltimore City receives over 70 percent of the
funding for school from State and Federal sources.
A whooping 53 percent of the City’s total revenue comes
from State and Federal funding, approximately $1.2 billion of a
$2 billion budget. The counties that have rich tax bases, like
Montgomery and Howard counties, are in a better situation to
contribute to their own educational systems. But if Baltimore
City is not in a situation for providing for new buildings or
new teachers, it usually has to go without them because of the
lack of additional state funds to augment its declining tax
Baltimore, class sizes are larger than in other counties. That
reality is viewed as a factor in lower test scores in Baltimore
than in surrounding counties and other counties.
These lack of resources result in a higher dropout rate
– statewide, when looking at people over the age of 18 and out
of school, 21% of the population don’t have a high school
diploma; in Baltimore, 34% over 18 are without a high school
So there’s nothing that can be done about these disastrous
political and legislative failings? In Baltimore City, the city
council, the last I checked, in numbers, at least, is majority
black. We have quite a number of blacks in Annapolis in the
legislature. Can’t they make a difference?
Can they? Could they make a difference? They could. It ends up
being a question of governance, which goes to the question of a
jurisdiction’s taxpayer’s money. Most of that comes from
various taxes, including licensing, sales, and income tax. The
rest is made up by grants and allocations from the state and
Baltimore City has a couple billion dollars to work with—to
provide services for a city of over 650,000 people. The per
resident cost of running government in
City is higher than the other four large political
compared to $2,171 in Anne Arundel, $2172 in Baltimore County,
$3117 in Montgomery, and $2567 in Prince George’s.
the current governing scenario, the dominant economic theory is
that if Business does well, it will trickle down to the cities
and thus to residents and taxpayers. One of the major economic
investments of the City has been the Inner Harbor. But there is
no hard economic data that the Inner Harbor has led to good
quality family life or family sustaining jobs for the mass of
its citizens, or the workers in and around the Inner Harbor.
is it clear whether the Inner Harbor has enlarged the City’s
tax base. As a case in point, one could look at the $36.6
million given to the Marriott Corporation by way of tax
incentives to build a hotel downtown. The project created about
650 jobs. Relative to the subsidy, that’s over $56,000 per
job, yet the jobs pay on average only $20,000 per employee. At
that income level, a family of four would still qualify for food
stamps, State provided health insurance for their children and
the federal earned income tax credit.
The $20,000 average, by the way, includes
hourly and salaried employees, and statistics that most
housekeepers and janitors are not earning $20,000 a year.
So an interesting question to look at, again, is whether
the city schools or housing or per capita income has improved
with the development of the Inner Harbor.
Rudy: So, in short, the problems are too overwhelming for
the local black politicians and those in Annapolis to make a
difference for those who most need help?
It is clear they have an immense task before them.
Job growth in the state as a whole has not occurred in Baltimore
City. So we have a situation such that Baltimore has an
unemployment rate that is twice as high as the State’s
average. It is actually higher than it was in 1995. Yet
legislators have been unable to develop or collaborate on a jobs
program to satisfy the challenges confronting Baltimore City’s
population. In the competition for state resources, the counties
with a richer economic base have more to bring to the table.
What are the black education and black unemployment figures for
Let me answer that question by relating it to wealth, because I
think that that is why education and having a job are important
elements. Looking at some national statistics, which I believe
are applicable to Baltimore City—in 1998, the median wealth
for blacks was $10,000 compared to $81,700 for whites; median
household income for blacks was $25,351 compared to $40,912 for
cite this because Baltimore City is at least 65% black. I
suggest that good government has to govern from the perspective
of this objective reality.
That should be the litmus test for good governance.
Now back to your specific question:
Some studies indicate that half of the kids that entered
the 9th grade four years ago will not graduate from Baltimore
this year. When
looking at 12th graders and their drop out rate
statewide, 3.9% will drop out, while for Baltimore City 10.4%
will drop out. That is higher than any other jurisdiction in the State.
Compare this with Montgomery County and Howard County which have
rates of 1.7%.
Statewide, unemployment is at 4%; in
Baltimore City, 8.3%. In
the state of Maryland, the size of the workforce has increased;
relative to the rest of the country Maryland has low
unemployment, lower than the national. When you break the
figures out by certain groups, we see a more dreadful situation,
for instance, estimates are that for black males between 18 and
30, unemployment is over 40%.
Rudy: So, I suppose, this situation of high drop out rates
and high unemployment feed into what or where the city has
placed its emphasis for the last ten years, namely, crime
Yeah. But I am not sure what the City’s crime policy,
in practical application, is one of prevention. Its policies do
not focus directly on the source of crimes. What they do does
not work because their activities do not address basic problems,
such as those cited earlier. Unless by a stretch of the
imagination, one thinks that by filling up the detention centers
and jails with black kids one can ease overcrowding of schools
or lower the unemployment rate. That kind of policy or action
does not work at all. It only exacerbates the situation.
ends up happening is that of the approximately 32,000 people
locked up nearly half will be released in any given year.
And 65% of those released (8,000 of 15,000) in Maryland
return or come to Baltimore City, which already has high
unemployment. Two-thirds of that 8,000 don’t have high school
diplomas and they have at least two kids.
No high school diploma, a record and two kids—go
So what happens to these people?
They go back to jail. Their kids are likely to become dropouts—to be at risk. In recent years, there have been
proclamations and headlines in the media with respect to public
safety—that the number of crimes overall appear to be going
down. But there are those who question whether they are factual
or whether they are the result of a new way of reporting crime.
Homicides per year seem to have stabilized around nearly 300,
despite all the police activity that has been generated.
Baltimore City homicide rates are horrible, particularly when
compared to other jurisdictions; but equally horrible are the
infant mortality rates when compared to the State’s average.
Statewide for every 1000 live births 8.3% will die as infants
compared to 12.6% for Baltimore City. I just might throw in, that Statewide 9.5% of the people live
in poverty, while in Baltimore City 23.7% of the people live in
for good measure let me just cite population density numbers
that, I believe, also play a part. Overall, the State has about
506 people per square mile. Baltimore City has 7078 people per
square mile, compared with the next highest Montgomery County
with a density of 1726. That’s a lot of people—23% of them
live in poverty, living on top of one another.
Mayor O’Malley basically won office and came into
office on the issue of crime. He convinced Baltimore that he had
the right approach to deal with it, bringing in experts from New
York. In much of his efforts as mayor, he has talked mostly on
dealing effectively with Baltimore’s crime problem. Though the
crime problem has not been solved and in ways we are worse off
than when he became mayor,
O’Malley still, it seems, remains
popular. People seem to think that they are much safer with him
in office. How do you explain such an odd paradox? Is public
safety a confidence game?
Certainly there are polls that suggest the mayor’s popularity.
There are polls also that suggest most Americans feel safer with
George Bush in office. Also polls suggest the world is a safer
place since the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in
Iraq have been overthrown. But ten years ago, we did not have to
experience daily security coding rates of yellow and orange and
so forth as a measure of threats to my safety. Code orange does
make you not want to get on an airplane.
shouldn’t we have sounder ways of judging officeholders than
polls, which are so easily manipulated by pollsters, newspapers
editors, talking heads, and other political front men?
look again at Baltimore, a city of about 650,000 residents, of
which about 75% to 80% are eligible to vote. But there are only
about 250,000 registered. In the last election only 153,000
voted. This raises the basic question whether or not one of the
responsibilities of those who have the job of governing is to
facilitate the highest level of civic participation. I think the
number of voters presently registered is indicative of an
administration’s interest in civic participation. There are
about 340,000 people who could be registered. Should not the
“democratic” participation of the governed be a sounder
measure than polls?
wonders, at times, whether officeholders are really concerned
about the demographic realities of Baltimore: the racial and
ethnic makeup; the graduation rates; the employability of the
governed; the economics, etc. If government started out with the
perspective of helping the mass of the governed, based on
objective reality, we might come up with different polices and
different outcomes. If the measure continues to be what is good
for business, we will proceed more quickly to the bottom.
focus on “saving” Bethlehem Steel and General Motors did not
prevent the disappearance of jobs for a large number of people,
who used to have money to buy a house and send their kids to
college. These jobs have been replaced with jobs in which people
have to work more than one job just to have enough money to get
back to work the next day.
It seems as if we are on a treadmill that expends a lot of
energy but the mass does not get very far. What then is to be
The present course or direction or plan for Baltimore City was
laid out and developed largely by the Greater Baltimore
Committee and the President’s Round Table. These are corporate
leaders, for the most part in Baltimore City, the leaders of
business. It used to be said, “What is good for GM is good for
the country.” So it is not surprising the kind of proposals
and governing recommendations that emanate from such groups.
All of the workforce development programs
of the past, like CETA, Manpower, JPTA, or like the WPA of the
30s, the approaches have asked the question, “What is good for
business first – what is profitable, what keeps them viable
and competitive in the market place—they have to offer a
return for investment. When it comes to workers, on the other
hand, the premise is that they should be happy just to have a
job, or any kind of job. Workforce schemes that reward Business
but do not allow workers to be self-sustaining, simply, should
not be tolerated and, in any case, should not be supported by
All this planning on the local, state, and national levels seem
to be blind, crazy, cynical, or worse, down right deceptive. How
do governments or politicians get away with this type of
One of the responsibilities of government must be the maximum
involvement of the population (the people) in the governing
this must become the litmus test for good government.
Rudy: But don’t these politicians and the governments
get away with these ineffective policies and programs by
cynically collaborating with Corporate America for their narrow
interests? Isn’t it also the case that the middle classes and
corporate money keep these ineffective people in office.
America outspends organized Labor 11 or 12 to 1 in the electoral
process. So the cost of getting into office becomes a very
expensive proposition. On the local level—for a city council
seat—it costs, for a competitive City Council or State
Delegate race somewhere around $75,000. For a citywide race the
number becomes more staggering.
is running for re-election as President of the Baltimore City
Council and she just had a fundraiser in which she raised over
Mayor O’Malley raised
over a million dollars. This is in a City where the median
household income is around $31,000 per year.
Rudy: I understand Bush has raised so much hard money, he
doesn’t know how to spend it.
Fred: Yes, he has raised more money than God. So you can
buy an office. It all creates a dynamic in which Mr. and Mrs.
Citizen are greatly challenged to play an effective role in
governance. Obviously, there needs to be real finance campaign
reforms. Who knows their city councilperson? Does he/she know
your views on anything? Do you have any real opportunity to get
him/her to know your position on anything?
It is not as if these politicians come
from citizen-accessible clubs. I bet that—I have no way of
proving it—in what is called a political club, there are
probably less than a dozen people. The citizens are not in the
process. The poor and the unemployed don’t have a lot of money
to contribute to political campaigns. Most of the dollars
out of 12— come from businesses.
Labor is talking about putting up $45 million to elect a
president. Bush can raise $450 million or more, if necessary.
Rudy: Let’s talk about Bush for a moment. How has his
presidency affected the economy or the economic future of the
country, of Maryland, of Baltimore. Are the increases for the
military, the War, going to hurt the hopes of prosperity by the
poor and the working classes? Is the tax cut going to do
anything of real value for the poor and the working classes?
Fred: A million more workers have become unemployed for
every year of his presidency. No, the tax cut will do nothing to
resolve the problem of employment and wages. The bottom fifth
will realize nothing. People earning $30,000 or more might get a
couple of hundred. It is the ones in the higher income brackets
who will get the greatest benefits from these cuts.
So what’s going to be the outcome of the war on Iraq?
It is certain the oil will be denationalized and that
whatever future government developed will have much less of a
role in production and the amount of wealth received by the
There’s lots of money to be made in the rebuilding. So
companies that have the resources to help rebuild Afghanistan
and Iraq will do well. It is obviously uncertain how long we
will have to keep the military in Iraq to assure stability,
maybe ten years, maybe more. However long, you can be assured
that American companies will administer the oil fields, and
share greatly in the profits that will be generated.
I don’t really expect the cost of gasoline to go down.
And if it does, we can look for additional taxes on it at
the State level.
In this tax cut, they restored money for the states. Will states
be better off by the tax cut?
The states and cities have to have national security stuff in
place. Baltimore City has had to spend tens of millions for this
program. The federal government mandated these security
measures. But without federal funds coming in, it becomes a
tricky kind of thing, because State and local governments have
to look for revenue from other sources.
you look at workforce investment dollars that used to come to
local jurisdictions in the early 90s—block grants that go to
the states, they no longer come at the same rate, which is part
of the problem. Including Maryland, 47 of the states had budget
deficits, which was largely the result of less money coming in
from the federal government.
money has been going into the Department of Defense and less
money has been going into the Department of Health or the
Department of Education. Maryland is required by its
constitution to provide for education. They have to make up the
talked about “Leave No Child Behind”—a program for early
child development education, a program mandated by the federal
government. Federal money has not materialized because of
deficit spending. When Clinton left office, the country (the
federal government) had a surplus of trillions. Bush has given
all that back to business while increasing defense spending.
federal budget now has gone to trillions in the red. So certain
problems are going to go neglected. This safety frenzy is going
to require trillions. The problems in Afghanistan and Iraq are
going to drain off and demand more and more money from the
national treasury. A balanced budget used to be the call words
for the Republicans; now it is deficit spending, which for them
now is a good thing.
Rudy: What about 2004, on the city and national levels—what are
the prospects for the progressive forces getting their interests
put on the front burner? Do you think Bush is going to win?
If you rely on polls and if the election was held today, Bush
would win. Progressives will be disappointed, because to the
extent that one believes election outcomes are determined by
spending large sums of money, for they will not be able to raise
enough money. Candidates who present themselves as ones to carry
out Corporate America interests—lower taxes for the rich and
support policies for a low-wage economy—they will win.
That’s the situation we are in, given the current political
the responsibility remains of those governing to involve the
governed in the governing process. Presently, only 20% to 25%
participate in the process. In their four or five years to
govern, their primary focus should be to involve voters or
potential voters in the process. When that doesn’t happen, so
much for democracy.
Will you be involved in voter registration for the 2004
Fred: We have 54% of union members registered to vote. That is a
horrible number. Organized Labor and its constituency groups—Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the
Randolph Institute (APRI),
Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW),
Pride at Work (PAW),
Asian, Pacific Island American Labor
Alliance (LACLA), and
Latin American Council for Labor
Advancement (LACLA)—these organizations are dedicated to
information, voter registration and vote turnout of their
constituents, largely involved in non-partisan issue education
Rudy: We have tried to
cover a lot of territory and we have touched on a number of
subjects. I am afraid we have to bring this very informative
interview to a close. Maybe we can do this again and then we can go
into more depth on a more limited topic.
posted 28 June 2003
* * * * *
Fred D. Mason, his office in Annapolis, is the president of the Maryland
State and District of Columbia, AFL-CIO, sometimes referred to as the
"State Fed." Mr. Mason and the State Fed represent the
legislative and political interests of 350,000 union members and
retirees. Unofficially, the state federation of unions represent all 3.5
million workers in the state. Most workers have no other
organization that represents their interests in the halls of government.
Mr. Mason and the State Fed work with 400 local labor unions and five
labor councils to evaluate the legislative agenda, coordinate support
from labor leaders and workers, and lobby lawmakers for those bills that
work for labor and the general public.
* * *
Roy Wilkins and Spiro Agnew in
Agnew Speaks to Black
Baltimore Leaders 1968
The End of Black Rage? Class and Delusion in
Black America (Jared Ball)
The Black Generation Gap (Ellis Cose) / Walter Hall Lively
Forty Years of Determined Struggle
Baltimore's People First
Dominance of Johns Hopkins
A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore
* * *
The End of Anger
A New Generation's Take on Race and Rage
By Ellis Cose
From a venerated and bestselling voice
on American life comes a contemporary
look at the decline of black rage; the
demise of white guilt; and the
intergenerational shifts in how blacks
and whites view, and interact with, each
other. In the heady aftermath of
President Obama's election, conventional
wisdom suggested that the bitter, angry,
and destructive elements of
discrimination were ebbing at last and
America was becoming a postracial
nation. . . . Weaving material from
myriad interviews as well as two large
and ambitious surveys that he
conducted—one of black Harvard MBAs and
the other of graduates of A Better
Chance, a program offering elite
educational opportunities to thousands
of young people of color since 1963—Cose
offers an invaluable portrait of
contemporary America that attempts to
make sense of what a people do when the
dream, for some, is finally within reach
as one historical era ends and another
* * *
Black Americans: the Paradox of Hope—By Gary
Younge—But for all the ways black America has felt
better about itself and looked better to others, it
has not actually fared better. In fact, it has been
doing worse. The economic gap between black and
white has grown since Obama took power. Under his
tenure black unemployment, poverty and foreclosures
are at their highest levels for at least a decade.
black kids may well aspire to the presidency now
that a black man is in the White House. But such a
trajectory is less likely for them now than it was
under Bush. Herein lies what is at best a paradox
and at worst a contradiction within Obama’s core
base of support. The very group most likely to
support him—black Americans—is the same group that
is doing worse under him.—TheNation
* * *
Here lies Jim Crow: Civil rights in Maryland
By C. Fraser Smith
Though he lived throughout much of the South—and even worked his way into parts of the North for a time—Jim Crow was conceived and buried in Maryland. From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney's infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall's eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Free State women and men. Here, Baltimore Sun columnist C. Fraser Smith recounts that tale through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders. He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African Americans.
Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early twentieth century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses, and other public and private institutions—struggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene. Smith's lively account includes the grand themes and the state's major players in the movement—Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Lillie May Jackson, among others.—and also tells the story of the struggle via several of Maryland's important but relatively unknown men and women—such as Gloria Richardson, John Prentiss Poe, William L. "Little Willie" Adams, and Walter Sondheim—who prepared Jim Crow's grave and waited for the nation to deliver the body.—Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
update 6 April 2010