Baltimore City, like a number of major cities around the United States, has faced its fair share of challenges in recent years. However, on April 18, 2015, in the midst of civil unrest, many of the City’s issues came to a head on a night that Baltimore residents will not soon forget. The nation watched as violence broke out, people began to loot, businesses were badly damaged, and chaos gripped the City. While nearly all City residents were onlookers, most had little to no direct connection to the neighborhoods plagued by this chaos. Of those with a direct connection to the impacted neighborhoods was Antonio Hayes, a State Delegate representing District 40 in Baltimore. Delegate Hayes watched as the community he was raised in became the victim of arson, vandalism, and burglary. Although what took place in April 2015 shocked the conscience of many city residents, the areas where the civil unrest took place were prone to chaos and violence for many years. In fact, it was Delegate Hayes’ experiences in his neighborhood that largely contributed to him joining the Maryland General Assembly. For Delegate Hayes, April’s events bolstered his determination to advocate tirelessly in Annapolis on behalf of his constituents and neighbors. I had the opportunity to speak with Delegate Hayes to discuss his roots, what he has learned so far as a legislator in Annapolis, and what he has planned for the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Delegate Hayes grew up in the Penn-North neighborhood of West Baltimore, an area where much of April’s unrest took place. Growing up in the 1980’s, Delegate Hayes’ youth coincided with the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. As a boy, Delegate Hayes watched as drugs and violence took its toll on his community. From an early age, Delegate Hayes was committed to reversing the negative effect of drugs and violence he had viewed growing up. He remembers as a high school student becoming determined to offer valuable support to the Penn-North community. During his teenage years, Delegate Hayes joined an after school program committed to helping members of the community make better life choices and his experience there eventually led to him becoming a community organizer. In his role as a community organizer, Delegate Hayes organized marches which encouraged people to stay off drugs, stop violence in the community, and establish goals to enhance their quality of life.
However, like many high school graduates, Delegate Hayes left his community to attend college at Frostburg State University. Having had experience as a community organizer, Delegate Hayes continued his activism in college as he joined both the College Democrats of America and the Young Democrats of America. He would eventually work his way up through the organizations and become the President of the Baltimore City Young Democrats of America. He went on to earn his degree in Political Science and also serve as a legislative aide under then Maryland State Delegate Salima Marriott. Following college and his position as legislative aide, Delegate Hayes held a number of prominent policy positions. He served as the Director of Legislative Affairs to then President of the City Council Sheila Dixon, the Political Director for the Maryland Democratic Party, Assistant Deputy Mayor of Administration for Baltimore City, and as Chief of Staff to the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. Despite his success in these positions, Delegate Hayes still had a burning desire to improve the lives of people in his community by directly representing them at the state government level.
When asked exactly why he chose to run for the Maryland House of Delegates, Delegate Hayes stated, “I just wanted to encourage people in the community to make better life choices and from my background as a community organizer, I felt like I could do that”. He went on to explain that his experience in both the Maryland legislature and the Baltimore City Council revealed, “[t]he broad policy decisions that are able to make systemic change in communities are really done on the State level. The City Council spends a lot of time doing constituent issues. I wanted to focus on policy issues”. Thus, in 2015 when the opportunity presented itself, Delegate Hayes ran for and was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates to represent District 40.
Although Delegate Hayes has only completed one session as a legislator in the Maryland General Assembly, he has learned a great deal in that time. As a freshman legislator, he learned the importance of listening to what his colleagues have to offer. “I try to pride myself on first being a good listener and hearing people out,” says Delegate Hayes. Listening is a skill that Delegate Hayes believes helps legislators forge relationships with one another. Delegate Hayes’ experience revealed that, “Once you become a good listener, it creates a better space to have conversation and to have dialogue”. Thus, for Delegate Hayes, building relationships and working cooperatively with colleagues is paramount to success in Annapolis.
Although Delegate Hayes is a newer member of the legislature, he does have several accomplishments which he is proud of. He says, “The one thing I’m most grateful for is the opportunity to serve on the Health & Government Operations Committee”. Delegate Hayes is a firm believer that many of the obstacles that prevent people from making better life choices stem from disparities in public health. Public health, he said, is one of the main concerns plaguing Maryland’s underserved communities. He is proud to be able to influence policy that will have a positive effect on these areas.
In line with his concentration on public health matters, Delegate Hayes was proud to pass legislation in his first year that doubled the maximum penalty Baltimore City liquor establishments may receive for serving alcohol to minors. Prior to Delegate Hayes’ legislation, Baltimore City’s maximum fine of $500 was the lowest of all jurisdictions in the State of Maryland. According to Delegate Hayes, this fine remained lower than other jurisdictions despite the high level of underage drinking citations issued in east and west Baltimore. Delegate Hayes believes it is no coincidence that these areas have disproportionately high rates of crime and poor health of citizenry. Thanks to Delegate Hayes’ legislation, any liquor establishment cited for serving alcohol to a person under 21 is now subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 on its first offense. This legislation is significant to Delegate Hayes because he found that a lot of illicit behavior displayed in the community is due to people who have access to alcohol and drugs. Additionally, Delegate Hayes believes that when minors are exposed to alcohol, the results are highly detrimental to their physical and behavioral health. It is Delegate Hayes’ hope that with the enactment of his liquor citation bill, establishments will be far more wary of selling alcohol to minors. It is clear that Delegate Hayes has not forgotten his roots as a community advocate and he will remain committed to improving the health and safety of Baltimore City communities as he continues serving in the House of Delegates.
During the 2016 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly, Delegate Hayes will continue to introduce legislation aimed at helping communities make better life choices. He plans to pass legislation that gives individuals greater access to healthy food choices, thereby addressing community health issues such as obesity. It is his hope that this legislation will help curb some of the unhealthy eating habits that plague many underserved communities in Baltimore and elsewhere. In addition, Delegate Hayes will undoubtedly continue to forge relationships with other members of the Maryland General Assembly. It is his hope that as he gains more experience and tenure, he will be better situated to advocate for the communities of Baltimore City and across the state. Its clear Delegate Hayes hasn’t forgotten where he came from. As the 2016 legislative session rolls along, Delegate Hayes is excited to be the voice of individuals often overlooked in Annapolis.
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