For the past six months, Amy Blank, a House of Delegates candidate for the 11th District, has pounded the pavements, asking residents about the issues that matter most to them.
Blank, a Democrat who lives in Owings Mills with her husband, Ronald Gerstley, and their 17-year-old daughter, Manya, estimates that she’s had about 2,000 conversations as part of her efforts to get to know voters.
“I have learned to walk in other people’s shoes,” says Blank, a former Temple Emanuel congregant who will launch her campaign on Jan. 14, at 1:30 p.m. at Metro Centre at Owings Mills, 10309 Grand Central Ave.
Jmore recently spoke with Blank, 59, a native of Hollywood, Calif., who grew up in Boulder, Col., and Pikesville, about her candidacy and her legislative agenda.
What did you learn talking with constituents?
The issue of most importance to constituents changed based upon where they lived and their stage in life. Young families in Owings Mills, for example, are concerned about the quality of their children’s education and the increase in opioid addiction. Older residents in Pikesville fear losing their health care and are genuinely concerned about the state of Baltimore city schools. Residents living on the city/county line are experiencing an increase in crime. Young adult graduates living with their parents in Lutherville are concerned about career opportunities.
As I moved through the district, it was heartbreaking and heartfelt, hearing constituents share the issues relevant to their reality.
What best qualifies you to be a delegate?
My whole life has led me to be a public servant. I got my passion for advocacy from my brother, Danny. He was born with Down syndrome. At the time, back in the 1960s, they used to tell families to put their loved ones with Down syndrome in an institution and forget they ever had them. Danny is now 54, and for the past 30 years he has lived independently in a group home and worked at Emerge Inc. [an organization supporting individuals with developmental, physical and mental health disabilities]. Danny’s life is the result of families like ours, other advocates and Maryland citizens who have envisioned a better life for my brother and others.
I first got into public service at age 19 when I was the youngest gubernatorial-appointed delegate to the White House Conference of Families in the Carter administration.
I attended Towson University, focusing on family studies while a delegate to the White House conference on families. I attended Northeastern University in Boston to study political science and community services. I am a graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in Community Services Administration. I became director of volunteers for Sen. Barbara Mikulski and then a strategist for the Marriage Equality Campaign. I’ve also been director of government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council, and public and government relations coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
In addition, I’ve been a teacher at the University of Maryland College Park Scholars-Advocates for Children program. I was responsible for 90 students a year who I could inspire and engage in becoming advocates for children.
What role do Judaism and Jewish values play in your life?
My life is defined by tikkun olam [repairing the world]. I get my chutzpah from my grandmother who at 3 years old escaped from the pogroms in Russia in her bare feet. She left school in the eighth grade to run the family store, and she raised my father with profound integrity and all of us with a love for family.
How will you get more women involved the electoral process?
This campaign is my opportunity to train the next generation of women. On Jan. 14, along with our campaign, we will also launch our Campaign Academy. This will be a vehicle for young people, especially young women, to enter the political process. The Campaign Academy will identify, inform, engage and inspire the next generation of voters, volunteers and candidates to create the kind of change they want to see in the world. It’s their launch, too, their chance to reach out to their community.
What’s paramount on your political agenda if elected?
When children get into middle school, that’s when we are at most risk of losing them. So I’d like to see a more multi-disciplinary curriculum taught in middle school that can actually reach all learners. And when students get into high school, we need to expose them to careers that will use their potential. Not every student is destined for college, so we must offer a seamless approach for students to enter into academies and apprenticeships which can lead to living-wage careers.
We also need to provide opportunities to retrain employees whose industries have become obsolete and [offer] tools [to train those entering] emerging industries. That’s why I believe education is lifelong.
What about jobs?
Generating more jobs in Maryland is very important to me. That’s in tandem with the educational system. If you can really reach students and give them opportunities to invest in their ideas in ways that can provide living wage careers, that also leads to an ability to put down their roots in Maryland.
For example, legislation can allow venture capital from pension funds to invest in Maryland graduates and the promising enterprises they want to launch into the market. With financial capital and managerial insight, they will stay in Maryland with a high standard of living and provide the tax base and economic stability in their communities.
Maryland has always been in the forefront of progressive policies and programs that bettered the lives of our citizens. As an advocate in Annapolis, we would pass model legislation, pilot the best practices in urban, suburban and rural communities and encourage likeminded states to do the same. That is how I want to continue our legacy of created social change throughout the country.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.