Republican David Tufaro Seeks City’s Top Job

by Alice Cherbonnier
       IT’s BEEN WELL OVER 30 years since Baltimore City had a Republican Mayor--Theodore McKeldin--and David Tufaro thinks that’s been long enough.
       At 52, this lawyer-turned-developer with an Ivy League education is running for Mayor, he says, because “Close to one hundred percent of those working in the City are unsatisfied with the current state of affairs.”
       Much needs to be done, he asserts, because there hasn’t been strong enough leadership. “What this city lacks has been impatience and a sense of urgency,” says Mr. Tufaro, who describes himself as a “moderate Republican.” “As a developer, I know that time is always working against you, so you have to push as hard as you can.”
       He is mystified by the fact that more qualified people aren’t stepping forward, or being propelled forward by others, to lead the city. “I find it appalling, given how bad things have gotten, that there hasn’t been a hue and cry, and people standing up and putting their necks out to do something about it,” he says.

       THE MFUME DRAFT: He expresses amazement at how the “draft Kweisi” [Mfume] juggernaut was handled. “To try to draft someone without that person stating what his agenda is shows an incredible desperation,” he says.
       While Mr. Tufaro has kind words for Mayor Schmoke--“He’s a good lawyer, he’s honest, he’s a role model, someone who cares deeply about the city”--he believes these traits have not translated well. “I think in some cases he didn’t pick people who were suited to their jobs. Also, in his position, you have to have the ability to get mad, and to push for things to get done.”
       Mr. Tufaro allows that he has these qualities. He is, for example, impatient at what’s happening to Baltimore’s historic buildings. “There’s no reason to tear some things down,” he says. “So long as it’s standing and protected, let it sit until a use can be found for it.”
       He says he was inspired to study urban planning as well as law after studying at Yale, where he took courses from the renowned architectural historian Vincent Scully. “He sensitized me and whole generations of students to the importance of architecture, especially urban architecture,” says Mr. Tufaro.

       EXPERIENCE: After starting his career with Piper & Marbury, the law firm representing the Rouse Company, Mr. Tufaro worked for five years in the emerging specialty of “new town” law, working with legal issues relating to Columbia and similar planned communities.
       Then, after six years with the Oxford Development Corporation, he founded Summit Properties, Inc. in 1984. The now-public company has offices in Fells Point. It has managed up to 6,000 housing units at a time, located throughout the Middle Atlantic region.
       Locally, Mr. Tufaro developed the Louis Foxwell Housing for the Deaf, Hollins House, Mt. Clare Overlook, Sharp-Leadenhall, and Waterloo Place. The latter apartment complex was built on a square block at Centre and St. Paul Streets that had been vacant for two decades.
       The original historic houses of Waterloo Row “should never have been torn down,” says Mr. Tufaro. “It saddens me that that happened.”

       CURRENT PRESERVATION ISSUES: He is annoyed at how the City handled the Northern District Police Station issue. “What business did they [the Baltimore City Police Department] have making the decision to leave without a process or plan in place for how the building would be used?” he asks. “They just recently started a charette process, but we’ve wasted a lot of valuable time.”
       The proposed demolition of 10 Edwardian townhouses at Charles and 25th Streets for a CVS store concerns him as well. “It’s an example of how the City doesn’t listen to the neighborhoods,” he says. “There’s a long-term benefit to preserving architecture. When we do, projects are more viable and successful.”
       Concern about the built environment has led Mr. Tufaro to volunteer over the past two decades with such organizations as the Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore Heritage, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello Development Corp., Cathedral Housing, Habitat for Humanity, and the Roland Park Community Foundation.
       “I have not been a politically active developer,” says Mr. Tufaro. “My success has been based on performance. I’ve had to persuade people about what they’re going to develop, and make deals happen.”
       A lifelong Republican who grew up in a New York family active in education and politics, Mr. Tufaro, admires Nelson Rockefeller, Fiorello LaGuardia, and Rudolph Guiliani. Of the latter, he says, “He’s brusque and controversial, but his positions are clear and he carries them out. Yes, some people have had to be reined in, but overall he’s been very effective. New York is a pleasure to visit again.”
       This candidate doesn’t believe ideology mixes well with governing a city. Being Mayor, he says, “is where the rubber meets the road.”

       ON EDUCATION: What’s the first thing David Tufaro would do if elected Mayor? “The most long-term issue is the schools,” says Mr. Tufaro. “We’re cheating our kids.”
       His plan is for principals to have the power to hire and fire personnel, and to set their schools’ standards. At the same time, he says the public would have to be better informed about individual schools’ track records, from attendance figures to truancy records to test scores. He would hold parents responsible for their children’s school attendance. Some negligent parents, he says, “need a swift kick in the rear end.”
       Because some families move very often, children have to change schools too frequently to allow for instructional continuity. “We need to figure out a way to keep kids in the same school for the whole year, maybe even by providing bus service.”
       Further, he says, “We need to restore the balance of power. Teachers are in charge, and students are there to learn. We need alternative programs for students causing discipline problems, but ninety-five percent of the students are there to learn, and we need to make it a safe learning environment.
       “We’d also have to evaluate how the money is being spent, and compare that with other systems, and we have to have a facilities analysis of all the schools.”
       He would also want to see the pool of talent--the number of prospective teachers--expanded. “There’s a lot of talent out there,” he says. “Teaching is a real mission.”
       As for his own three daughters, the oldest recently graduated from McDonogh School, and the other two are students at Friends School. Mr. Tufaro says he would not remove his daughters from their private school and place them in public school if he were elected Mayor.

       RECREATION: Mr. Tufaro would improve opportunities for children outside of school as well. “We’ve made a shambles of our recreation and parks program,” he charges. “We’ve got to give our kids a place to go. If we keep them busy, we can keep them out of trouble. Kids anywhere need supervision.” He points out that Baltimore County operates a model recreation program that depends heavily on volunteers, directly involving parents as well as children. The City, he says, could do something similar.

       ILLEGAL DRUGS: Another major problem is illegal drugs. “I’m open to anything that might work,” he says. “I would consider medicalization of drugs, but we’d need effective treatment programs and follow-up, and it’s too early to tell if treatment works. But Baltimore’s case is very severe. We can at least drive it off the street corners by taking more control of the neighborhoods. We’ve got to have very willing, active neighbors who take control of whole blocks.
       “Unfortunately, when you have absentee landlords [who may rent to drug dealers and users], all it takes is one bad house and the rest of the block goes down. So we’ve got to find a way for neighborhoods to get rid of bad residents, to preserve areas for those who want to live there.”

       ROLE OF CITIZENS: As for City government as a whole, he says, “We need to have citizens absolutely on the backs of the city employees.” The reason there seems to be so much public apathy about city government, he believes, is that “people are demoralized.”
       The solution, he says, is for the leadership to have a plan. “If there’s a better, cheaper way to serve citizens, then do it,” he says. “But you need to have a plan. If you have to let people go, for example, you do it with a plan in place, and you give fair warning.”
       He says he would replace all the top people in City government if elected. “Why should I retain any of them?” he asks.

       FUNDRAISING: Mr. Tufaro says it’s too early to tell how much money he will need to raise in order to continue his campaign. “The Republican part [prior to the primary election] won’t be very expensive, and can be very focused,” he points out. “But after that, if I should win, then the money question escalates. I figure to do it, I would need six figures and up.”
       There will be a fundraiser for Mr. Tufaro’s campaign on September 16 at the Charles Theater--assuming he gains the Republican nomination, which is not a certainty. The site is appropriate: Mr. Tufaro is an investor in the newly-expanded urban art theater, a project of his friend, Buzzy Cusack.
       What will he be talking about if he becomes the Republican nominee? “At the very least, I want to raise the bar on discussing issues,” he responds.
       One of those issues to be discussed, he adds, will concern “character.”

       Mr. Tufaro can be reached at

       Other Republican candidates for Mayor are Carl M. Adair, Arthur W. Cuffie, Jr., Lynwood H. Leverette, and Roberto Marsili.

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This story was published on August 4, 1999.