Otis Rolley

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Otis France Rolley (born Otis Rolley, III on August 5, 1974) was the seventh Director of Planning for the City of Baltimore, Maryland, serving from July 2003 until 2007. He was a Democratic candidate for mayor of Baltimore in 2011. Upon taking office in the Department of Planning at age 29, Rolley was the youngest director of a large city planning department in America. Under Rolley’s leadership, Baltimore adopted its first Comprehensive Master Plan in 39 years.

Early Years and Education[edit]


Rolley was raised by his mother and stepfather, Andrea Catherine Rolley and Otis Rolley, Jr. Rolley met his biological father, Winston Leonard France for the first time at the age of 32. He has seven siblings. Rolley grew up in an apartment located in a working-class neighborhood in Jersey City, New Jersey.

High School[edit]

Rolley attended Sacred Heart Catholic grammar school and a public high school, Lincoln High School. At Lincoln, he participated in the Model Program, which offered challenging, top tier classes to its students. These top tier classes were, in some sense, the best of the worst, since Lincoln High School consistently ranked among the worst high schools in New Jersey. While working part-time, however, Rolley participated in the Saint Peter’s College Pre-College Academic Program (PreCAP). Through funding from the Jesuit institution and a grant from the State of New Jersey, PreCAP extended the school week by providing classes on Saturday and throughout the summer. Beyond additional academic coursework and SAT prep, Pre-CAP offered exposure to arts and culture, nature and open space, and colleges throughout the country.

In his junior year, Rolley was accepted into the Governor’s School of Public Issues, one of five Governor’s Schools of New Jersey. The Governor's School provided a unique summer program committed to meeting the educational needs of academically talented high school students who have completed their junior year. Emphasis was placed on problem solving of complex issues that existed on a local, state, national, and international level, and leadership training. Rolley was the first student from Lincoln High School to be accepted into this program.

Social Activism at Rutgers[edit]

After graduating from Lincoln, Rolley attended Rutgers College and was admitted into the school’s Honors Program. At Rutgers, he was a James Dickson Carr Scholar and a recipient of the Buttonwood Scholarship. In his junior year at Rutgers College, Rolley was accepted into the Eagleton Institute of Politics as an Undergraduate Associate. Through special seminars and discussions with government officials and political practitioners, he explored applications of political science to the practice and processes of American politics.

During that same academic year, 1994–1995, the president of Rutgers University, Dr. Francis Lawrence, made a racist statement about African Americans. Rolley, among others, was outraged by Dr. Lawrence’s comments to a group of professors regarding the “disadvantaged genetic background of African Americans” and worked with a coalition to remove Dr. Lawrence from his post. Rolley served in the leadership of the United Students Coalition, leading media outreach and organizing protests and acts of civil disobedience. He appeared on the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel and Teen Summit on BET. During that time, he was also profiled and quoted in the Philadelphia Enquirer and the New Jersey Star-Ledger. He was arrested in April 1995 for obstructing a highway during a protest near the president’s mansion. He went to trial charged with three misdemeanor offenses. He was acquitted of two of the charges, but found guilty of disturbing the peace.

In that same year, in recognition of his work to remove Dr. Lawrence from his post as well as his commitment to academic and community efforts, Rolley was the 1995 recipient of the New York Times Young Citizens Award.

Woodrow Wilson Fellowship[edit]

In 1995 Rolley was also accepted into the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program, and after the successful completion of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Summer Institute, he was granted the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.

Graduate School[edit]

In 1996, Rolley graduated with honors from Rutgers College with a B.A. in Political Science and Africana Studies and went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for graduate studies in City Planning with a concentration in housing and community economic development. While in graduate school, he worked as an Urban Development Technician for the Jersey City Department of Housing, Economic Development and Commerce. In 1998, upon completion of his master’s thesis, “The Role of Faith based Institutions in Promoting and Sustaining Local Economies”, he graduated MIT with a Master in City Planning.


Empower Baltimore Management Corporation[edit]

Rolley moved to Baltimore in the summer of 1998 and served as a Business Development Officer with Empower Baltimore Management Corporation (EBMC).

Baltimore Housing[edit]

He was recruited from EBMC in the same year to work as an Executive Assistant to the Deputy Housing Commissioner during the mayoral administration of Kurt L. Schmoke. In December 1999, Martin O'Malley was elected Mayor, and in January 2000, he introduced Rolley to the Baltimore community-at-large when he appointed him as Assistant Commissioner of Operations for Baltimore City’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). After one month, Housing Commissioner Patricia Payne promoted him to Deputy Housing Commissioner. One year later, January 2001, Commissioner Paul T. Graziano, head of Baltimore City’s singularly managed dual agencies, the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), appointed Rolley to the position of First Deputy Commissioner for both HCD and HABC.

As First Deputy Commissioner, at the age of 25, Rolley managed 8 divisions, a $100 million operating budget, and was responsible for approximately 2000 employees. Responsible for the HCD and HABC’s administrative operations, Rolley provided oversight of housing programs, community and human service activities, grants administration, and strategic planning. In an effort to improve City systems and cut red tape, Rolley created Baltimore’s One Stop Development Permit Center, a national model for efficient processing of development related permits. He also successfully reorganized the City’s Community Action Agency to better serve Baltimore’s most vulnerable citizens.

Baltimore City Department of Planning[edit]

In July 2003, Mayor Martin O’Malley once again tapped Rolley to assist his administration, and after unanimous confirmation by the Baltimore City Council, Rolley was sworn in as the City of Baltimore’s seventh Director of Planning in July 2003. At 29, Rolley was the youngest director of a large city-planning department in America. As Director of Planning, he provided counsel to the Mayor, City Council, and cabinet heads on residential, commercial, and industrial development throughout the City. Rolley was also responsible for preparing and updating plans showing the physical development of the City; developing and monitoring the City’s $370+ million annual capital budget and six-year capital development program for consideration of the Board of Estimates; and developing and maintaining a Comprehensive Master Plan for the City. Under Rolley’s leadership, Baltimore adopted its first Comprehensive Master Plan in 39 years. It was also the first Comprehensive Master Plan to be adopted by both the Planning Commission and the City Council in the history of the City.

City Hall[edit]

In November 2006 Mayor O’Malley was elected Governor of the State of Maryland, and the City Council President, Sheila Dixon, became Mayor. She asked Rolley to co-direct her Transition Team, and after a successful transition, she asked him to join her administration as her Chief of Staff. That same year, at the age of 32, Baltimore Magazine listed Rolley as one of Baltimore’s 50 most powerful people.

Central Maryland Transportation Alliance[edit]

After successfully assisting Mayor Dixon in completing the final year of former Mayor O’Malley’s term, and helping her to earn her own term as the 48th Mayor of Baltimore, Rolley joined the nonprofit sector to serve as the founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance (CMTA). He successfully launched and established CMTA, an advocacy organization formed by a coalition of area business, civic, environmental and philanthropic leaders, dedicated to improving and expanding transit and transportation options for the people of Central Maryland. CMTA is the only sole purpose transportation organization in the Baltimore metropolitan region. Under Rolley's leadership CMTA successfully advocated for increased funding for transit projects; built coalition support for a new east/west light rail connector, the Red Line; and completed the region’s first comprehensive Transit Oriented Development Plan. Though a young organization, CMTA was honored twice by the Maryland Daily Record for its work as an Innovator of the Year in 2008 and 2009.

Urban Policy Development Consulting[edit]

In 2010, Rolley joined Urban Policy Development (UPD). UPD Consulting is a Baltimore-based, minority-owned public sector management consulting firm that specializes in a wide range of services including education accountability, housing and human services, community and economic development, data warehousing, and public-private partnerships. Rolley headed its urban redevelopment and local government reform sectors until recently.

Civic Engagement[edit]

Rolley has served as chairman of the board for Community Building and Partnership, Inc. (CBP) in West Baltimore’s Sandtown/Winchester community and Park Heights Renaissance in Northwest Baltimore. He has been a member on the boards of Charles Village Community Benefits District, the Municipal Employees Credit Union, the Pen Lucy Action Network, the Baltimore City Small Business Resource Center, and the Charles Street Development Corp. He was also appointed by Governor Ehrlich to serve as Baltimore City’s representative on the State of Maryland’s Critical Areas Commission, and appointed by Governor O’Malley to serve on the Maryland Stadium Authority. Currently, he is a member of boards of the Park Heights Renaissance, Inc., Urban Land Institute–Baltimore, the Middle Grade Partnership, Downtown Partnership, University of Maryland Baltimore County Public Policy External Advisory Board, Open Society Institute–Baltimore, and KIPP Baltimore.

Mayoral Candidacy[edit]

On April 13, 2011, Otis Rolley officially became a Democratic candidate in Baltimore’s 2011 mayoral race and the first candidate of any party to officially announce his candidacy. Rolley’s campaign platform has five planks: job creation and economic growth, improving education, increasing neighborhood safety, neighborhood revitalization, and rebuilding government.

One of Rolley’s chief criticisms of current and former Baltimore administrations has been an economic development policy focused almost exclusively, and with limited success, on luring large-scale projects to the city’s downtown area. Casting himself as a reformer, Rolley burnished this image by establishing his campaign headquarters in Hampden, a racially and economically diverse neighborhood in northwest Baltimore with a thriving commercial main street. Hampden, Rolley says, illustrates what a focus on neighborhoods and the small- and medium-sized enterprises they support can do for the entire city.

Rolley has been described by the Baltimore Business Journal as the leading challenger to the current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Early Support[edit]

Though his candidacy became official in April, Rolley has spent months meeting face to face with hundreds of Baltimore residents, gathering the ideas that formed his platform.

Many see one early Rolley endorsement in particular as, essentially, the start of this year’s mayor’s race. On January 11, 2011, legendary actor, comedian, and activist Bill Cosby headlined a fundraiser for Rolley at the Tremont Grand in Baltimore. The event was seen as a symbol of the viability of Rolley’s campaign among local residents, media outlets, and potential donors.

Highlighted Issues[edit]

Buttressing his platform have been plans on specific issues. To date (July 29, 2011), the Rolley campaign has released plans on:
- Education, in which Rolley advocates city control of the school board, a school-building program, an expansion in the number of charter schools, and the limited use of vouchers for students attending failing schools.
- Reducing recidivism and eliminating barriers to employment, which lays out policies designed to integrate ex-offenders into the workforce.
- Rebuilding Government, which includes policies on ethics reform, government auditing, and contracting practices.
- Tackling crime and increasing public safety
- Cutting the city's property tax rate to spur economic development

Use of Social Media[edit]

Locally, the Rolley campaign appears to be an aggressive and early adopter of social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and the knowledge-sharing site Quora.

On April 16, the Rolley campaign participated in Foursquare Day, celebrating Foursquare’s unique ability to allow individuals to update a community with news of their location and find new sites of interest within the city.

Rolley has also announced an Online Ambassador Program, which will allow supporters to inform members of their social networks about the campaign. The technology that will power the Online Ambassador Program is being developed by the Baltimore software company Social Toaster.


Rolley has the endorsement of:

  • Bmore Local - a coalition of residents, businesses and community leaders focused on jobs, smart growth, and healthy neighborhoods.
  • Bill Cosby - actor, comedian, producer, activist

The Democratic primary, the decisive poll in heavily Democratic Baltimore, will be held on September 13, 2011. Rolley’s campaign Web address is [1].


Rolley resides with his family in Northwest Baltimore’s Cross Country neighborhood, where he has lived since 2001. He is married to Charline and is the father of three children, Nia, Noah, and Grace. The family worships at Huber Memorial Church in Baltimore’s Mid Govans Community.