Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A new chapter for Baltimore

With Catherine Pugh as Mayor Baltimore will enter a new chapter. In a city that has seen its first elected African American Mayor in Kurt Schmoke in 1987 and its first female African American Mayor with Sheila Dixon in 2007, neither a female Mayor nor an African American is any longer a novelty. We are much further than the nation in this respect.
Catherine Pugh at today's transition team
press conference (Photo: Philipsen)

Pugh and Schmoke (same age) both draw far across racial and gender lines through intelligence, ideas and a firm grasp on urban issues. However, Schmoke eventually turned out to be rather bookish and sluggish in turning his ideas into reality. Pugh, by contrast, is known for tenacity and the perseverance of the Marathon runner that she is. Goal oriented and in for the long haul. She achieved a remarkable list of things as a member of city council, from bringing the Marathon to Baltimore to having the first brand-new City school to Baltimore which didn't cost the City a dollar to build.

As a Senator her list of bills was always a mile long and she hardly lost any of those she sponsored. Pugh doesn't tolerate excuses, she can be tough even with those close to her when she senses that people get off track or slack off. She gets along equally well with university presidents like former MICA President Fred Lazarus, with her constituents in the 40th District, with her neighbors in Ashburton and Congressman Elijah Cummings. Her allegiance to Baltimore is second to none, even though she was not born here and is quite familiar with what is going on in other cities. She doesn't believe that she knows it all and surrounds herself with advisers who can provide information as well as supporters who can provide the funds needed for a campaign in modern America. After the primary Pugh sought advice from the urban experts of Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Government, clearly a think tank familiar with best urban policies and practices  around the world.

Members of the new Pugh administration can't expect that she will give them slack. She expects them to live in the City and she will expect from  them nothing less than she gives in her own relentless pursuit of a goal until it has been accomplished.
Pugh and some members of her transition team (Photo: Philipsen)

The fact that Pugh reaches out to the rich and powerful, including Republicans, has been seen by several as something to hold against her. Sheila Dixon tried to harvest in that populist furrow and so did her formidable opponent and green candidate Joshua Harris. Hopefully Harris can use his skills in achieving the emerging agenda in some capacity.

Her ability to reach out across party, class and racial lines will prove to be a great asset in the new world in which Republicans control the House, the Senate, the presidency and the Governor's Mansion.

Cities will be harder to run under Trump as President, no doubt. At the same time their role as safe harbors for the other America will increase. Now more than ever it will be left to cities to deal with global warming, climate adaptation, refugees and with the health and education issues of its citizens. Baltimore is currently humming with investment and is well embedded in the national economic recovery.

The last time when investment and growth seemed to have finally come to the shores of  Charm City was in 2007 when the financial crisis and the big recession beat the City back, most noticeable with a flood of foreclosures which are destroying community wealth to this day. Meanwhile Baltimore in the wake of the unrest of April 2015 had to find its own ways of including those who were disenfranchised and neglected for too long. One can only hope that the Trump presidency will not shock the economy into another recession.

For the first time ever the powerful players in town have realized that their interests are at stake when enrollments plunged and investors became gun-shy after the unrest. Countless initiatives have since sprung up, many with funding and support of institutions, corporations and non-profits, initiatives that for the first time don't simply provide hand-outs or job-training so the unemployed can find menial low paying jobs outside their communities enriching others but build actual capacity inside poor communities. Sarah's Hope is just one example.
Vincent de Paul center Sarah's Hope, a symbol of a public private partnership
Weinberg, Under Armour, State and City. (Photo: Philipsen)
In her victory speech after the election last night Pugh mentioned Sandtown, Park Heights and the homeless. Her press conference this morning took place at Sarah's Hope in the center of Sandtown across from the Western Police Station.

There she announced her transit team which includes a selection of people from all walks of life with roots in Baltimore. A Healthy Neighborhoods Committee will be chaired by Ellen Janes, Transportation by Don Halligan. other committees include Education and Youth, Public Safety and Economic and Employment Development.

There will also be a agency review committee especially for permitting, sanitation and BDC and a website for public input. "We want to be open and transparent" Pugh emphasized. "Baltimore is a City of great opportunity, Pugh said, what happened in Federal Hill and Hampden we also want to see in Pigtown and Ashburton".

Asked if the Trump presidency would constitute and obstacle for getting aid from Washington, she responded: "no, I will be able with this [congressional] delegation to go to Washington DC and ask to help us for this city of Baltimore to be the best it can be".

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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