A gay man who is a candidate for the Baltimore City Council this week described his decision to run as a “calling.”
“I am a man of faith and I believe that ultimately something in me just kind of stirred when there were no choices,” Akil Patterson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during a telephone interview.
Patterson, 36, hopes to succeed incumbent Councilmember Shannon Sneed, who is running to become the Council’s next president. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Jason Collins, the first openly gay man to play in the NBA, are among those who have endorsed Patterson.
Patterson could become the first LGBTQ person elected to the Council if he were to win his race.
“I do not believe that gender or sexual orientation should ever prohibit us from being in these positions,” said Patterson. “But I also think that it’s important to recognize when diversity is stepped up.”
Crime reduction, economic development top issues
Patterson said crime is “the number one issue that we consistently hear about.”
He said there have been between 25-30 shootings in the 13th District over the last two months. Patterson noted the Baltimore Police Department remains under state control, but the Council has a direct role in the city’s economic development.
“If we bring economic development and resources, that means the community benefits from them, that means a reduction of crime,” he said. “Where you see prosperity, economic development and hope, you see less crime. Where you see blight, degradation and negativity you see crime.”
Patterson also discussed gentrification and the need to ensure the district’s long-time residents can remain in their homes.
“The vision for East Baltimore has to be more (comfortable) with the idea of keeping the community members, and bringing in economic development for those community members to benefit from,” he said.
Patterson spoke with the Blade less than two months after former Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion charges that relate to the sale of copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s book series to the University of Maryland Medical System while she served on its board.
“The previous mayor … did some things that were questionable and ultimately she had to pay the consequences for those actions,” said Patterson.
Patterson also noted Pugh is one of several people from “a political dynasty” in Baltimore who have been indicted and sent to jail.
“We’ve got to take step back,” said Patterson. “Everyone talks about we want change, but if you keep electing the same type of folks, you’re not going to get change.”
State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) is among those who have announced they are running to succeed Pugh.
“She has been a great leader,” said Patterson, noting he supported her campaigns for the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. “I wish her well in her candidacy.”
Patterson was Athlete Ally founder’s wrestling coach
Patterson, who is originally from Buffalo, N.Y., played football at the University of Maryland. Patterson was later the Terrapins’ wrestling coach.
Patterson coached Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, an organization that promotes acceptance of LGBTQ athletes, when he was a University of Maryland wrestler. Patterson is a former Athlete Ally consultant who has worked with the NBA and NFL on LGBTQ-specific issues.
Patterson is also a member of the Baltimore City LGBTQ Commission and the city’s HIV Planning Council. He told the Blade he was outed “before I was ready,” but added sports helped him come to terms with his sexual orientation.
“I went down a dark road for a period of time, but I was lucky and blessed that I did have sports,” he said. “Sports helped me grow out of that and the journey’s been great.”
Patterson added his experience and his work as a government and community relations specialist further qualify him to join the Council.
“I understand policy,” he told the Blade. “I understand where the most pressing needs for policy are.”