Monday, November 28, 2016

The last few days of Stephanie Rawlings Blake

Luke Broadwater wrote a good review of Rawlings Blake's legacy in Sundays SUN. 
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake led Baltimore through monster snowstorms, an earthquake, a derecho and a riot. She was mayor for the city's lowest murder rate in decades — and its highest. She's been cheered, and she's been booed. (SUN)
The article summarizes aptly what the Mayor achieved and what problems remain unresolved. A lot of what sits in the unresolved category has been sitting there long before Stephanie Rawlings Blake became Mayor and one has to wonder if a Mayor can fix Baltimore's systemic urban problems as they are related to race, dis-investment and inequity.

Warning: The Mayor gives a speech
(Photo: Philipsen)
The steep increase in crime after the unrest is not unique to Baltimore, for example. The foreclosure crisis has been brought to the city from the outside, and so are drugs. But good department leaders and hard work can pay off, even on systemic problems. Andres Alonso worked miracles with Baltimore's schools, so did Holly Freishtat with Baltimore's food policies and Beth Strommen with sustainability policies. Police Commissioner Bealefeld  had worked miracles with the crime rate but it didn't prevent the Baltimore Police from receiving a terrible report card from the Department of Justice.

Broadwater never mentions Leana Weng and the City's Health Department, one of the best performing agencies in the City with incredible success stories in seeming intractable areas such as infant mortality or drug overdose treatment through Noloxene.

So how about the Mayor herself? She has many critics, she had them before the unrest and she has even more of them now. Citizen activist Ralph Moore is quoted in the SUN saying:
"She started off strong, when the uprising hit, it brought into focus a lot of people's realization that things were not moving so well in the city. It was not just in Sandtown. People were unhappy all over the city. People were unhappy about water bills. People were upset about the housing department. The citizenry was unhappy."
Of course, when are citizens ever happy, especially in a city like Baltimore with such limited resources? The phony water bills that resulted from faulty meters and untrustworthy meter readers alike has been corrected, but high water bills remain as part of the legacy of this city and its age old infrastructure that nobody seemed to have kept in good repair. City provided trash cans have brought some relief on the litter front but the City remains relatively filthy. The Mayor brought protected bike corridors and bike-share to Baltimore but the city remains behind many peers in terms of active mode transportation. The Mayor supported Vacants to Value and some communities such as Oliver and Barclay saw a turn-around but the number of vacant houses remains the same.

Broadwater also notes comments from former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who in now a WBAL radio show host, which are almost identical with Moore's assessment: [Rawlings Blake] "started off strong as mayor but faltered in her later years".

It probably doesn't convince Moore or Mitchell that prominent suburban developer Arsh Mirmiran lauded the Mayor's record by pointing out that "There are cranes all throughout the sky." This traditional measure of the well being of a city isn't enough anymore in post-uprising Baltimore.
Mayoral duty: Ribbon cutting at Open Works
(photo: Philipsen)

I never had any close dealings with the Mayor and initially thought it was my lack of connection with her until I learned that most people found getting access to Stephanie difficult. Unlike Martin O'Malley who worked a room with eye contact and winks until everyone felt that there was a special connection, SRB seemed to always forget who one was.  Eye contact wasn't her strength and I have the suspicion that her rather poor social skills are to blame for a lot of the criticism she is getting. That and her inability to give a rousing speech in public. Her speeches were mostly outright terrible, not in content but in delivery. A Mayor who can't talk is a bit of a problem, but should this weakness color the entire assessment?

The social skill thing is probably more important. Exhibit A, her inability to get along with the Governor. I suppose a Mayor has to get along with the Governor, no matter what. Not doing so is just to the detriment of the City.

SRB always looks as if she is pouting and it isn't just looks, she has indeed a bunch of unproductive feuds and long lasting misgivings, whether it was that struggle with the Comptroller about who should order new phones for City Hall, the feud with Marilyn Mosby about the initial reactions after Freddie Gray and the unrest or the recent firing of her solicitor or, just last week, the battle with Council President Jack Young over the sales of City garages for Baltimore rec centers.

Aside from these people issues, SRB ran a fairly rational and straight forward agenda, headlined by her "grow the city by 10,000 households in 10 years". She was the first Mayor who set an actual target for growth and the only one who seemed to understand how important growth is for the re-invention of Baltimore. One wished only that she would have drilled deeper down on that good goal and developed a set of indicators and policies how to specifically achieve it.
The Mayor doesn't seem to like small talk
(photo: Philipsen)

Luke Broadwater refrained from commentary or opinion in his piece, which is hard when one tries to summarize a period with so many ups and downs. Barry Rascovar in an opinion piece in August of this year didn't show that restraint. He titled his op-ed "The Failed Leadership of Baltimore's Mayor". I think that is too strong.

Those guys who want to throw her under the bus should ask themselves if there isn't a certain amount of sexism in their criticism. When young and brash Martin O'Malley had his fights it was seen a strong leadership. For SRB its called vindictiveness. Just saying. Mayor Pugh has a different personality and has good social skills. One can only hope that society and journalists will judge her in an even non biased way.  Journalist Broadwater set a pretty good example how that can be done.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN: Leaving Baltimore in better shape than she found it