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Delegate warns of 'black youth mobs'

McDonough urges 'no-travel zone' at Inner Harbor

By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

3:36 PM EDT, May 17, 2012

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A Baltimore County delegate said Wednesday that the governor should send in the Maryland State Police to control "roving mobs of black youths" at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, prompting a colleague to label the message "race-baiting."

Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican whose district includes part of Harford County, distributed a news release with the headline: "Black Youth Mobs Terrorize Baltimore on Holidays." In it, McDonough said he had sent a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley urging him to use the state police to help prevent attacks and to declare the Inner Harbor area a "no-travel zone" until safety can be guaranteed.

McDonough's message, which came on the last day of a General Assembly special session, offended some colleagues who thought it gratuitously highlighted the issue of race.

"It's a throwback to the '50s and '60s, and it's obviously race-baiting," said Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who offered to take McDonough on a guided tour of the Inner Harbor on a weekend night.

McDonough, a radio talk-show host, is best known in the legislature for his relentless and sometimes confrontational efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in Maryland.

"I'm not surprised at this inappropriate behavior," said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat. She said that in her 10 years in the legislature, she hadn't seen such a racially tinged statement released by a colleague.

McDonough refused to back down, saying he had heard from police that the crowds involved in several recent incidents were all black. Failing to mention the race of the participants, he said, would be "political correctness on steroids."

McDonough said his statement was prompted by several recent problems, including a St. Patrick's Day disturbance and a recent incident in which he and his wife witnessed a fight involving about 100 youths at Pratt and Calvert streets.

The lawmaker said that his statement has brought attention from out-of-town news media and that he planned to give national television interviews warning visitors against traveling to the Inner Harbor. He charged that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and city police haven't taken sufficient action and have been covering up the extent of the problem.

"A no-travel zone is an action that needs to be taken to protect lives," he said.

Mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said today, "Del. McDonough's sad and racially-charged publicity stunt is not deserving of a response and Mayor Rawlings-Blake is proud of the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department for reducing crime to historic lows. As an elected official, Del. McDonough should show more respect for the work our police officers do with the community every day to make Baltimore safer."

O'Malley, a former Baltimore mayor, dismissed McDonough's suggestions, saying Baltimore had cut its crime rate more than any American city of comparable size.

"Delegate McDonough should come and visit some time," the governor said. "He might enjoy it."

Nevertheless, there were signs that McDonough's comments were resonating outside Baltimore. The Drudge Report, a well-known conservative news website, carried his remarks to a national audience, raising concerns among potential visitors such as Bruce R. Weidman of Wyomissing, Pa.

Weidman, executive director of the Berks County Medical Society, said he had been planning a family trip to Baltimore in June but was now wondering whether he should cancel his reservations at the Hyatt Regency.

"What's going on at the Inner Harbor?" he said.

Weidman said he would hate to cancel because he and his wife visited Baltimore last summer with their granddaughter and "we loved it." He said he and his family felt safe at the Harbor, including at night, but McDonough's comments made him wonder whether conditions had changed.

"I don't want to come into a situation where it could be dangerous for us," Weidman said. He said he would talk with his wife before making a decision whether to cancel.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com