New Baltimore City Council takes office pledging improvements

Eight new Baltimore City Council members took office Thursday.

A new City Council took office Thursday with eight freshmen members and pledged to bring renewed energy to the decades-old fight against Baltimore's persistent problems of poverty and crime.

Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who is entering his eighth year as council president, announced plans to partner with nonprofits to revitalize West Baltimore, drive down crime in the Northeast and create jobs throughout the city.

Young said he plans to cut the bureaucracy that he says stands in the way of progress.

"We would like to cut the red tape," Young said during the swearing-in ceremony at the War Memorial building, drawing applause as he repeated the message: "We would like to cut the red tape. We would like to cut the red tape."

The city bid farewell this week to eight council members, who left with a combined 125 years of experience, and to former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Mayor Catherine E. Pugh took office Tuesday.

New to the council are Zeke Cohen in the 1st District, Ryan Dorsey in the 3rd District, Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer in the 5th District, Leon F. Pinkett III in the 7th District, Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th District, John T. Bullock in the 9th District, Robert Stokes Sr. in the 12th District and Shannon Sneed in the 13th District.

All are Democrats. Most are younger than the members they replace. Some have pledged to push a more progressive agenda than the council members they replaced.

Several bills that former council members were against are expected to be resurrected, such as a plan to institute a $15 minimum wage in the city.

In the new council's first act Thursday evening, members approved a resolution condemning statements made by Republican President-elect Donald J. Trump, who plans to attend the Army-Navy football game Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Pugh said Tuesday she plans to ask Trump for federal money to improve the city's infrastructure.

Council members voted Thursday to elect Sharon Green Middleton, who represents Northwest Baltimore, as council vice president.

The new members take office 20 months after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody set off protests and riots.

The city homicide rate spiked, and has remained high since. The city is on pace to suffer more than 300 homicides for the second consecutive year.

"Baltimore has been through its challenges," Cohen said. "We've felt a lot of pain over the last two years. I know this city is ready to rise up.

"I know that in electing eight new City Council members and a new mayor, the citizens have said very clearly, 'We want something different and we want something better. … We're going to take this city by storm.'"

Before considering new legislation, however, council members say they want to tackle everyday problems.

Sneed, for instance, pledged to try to eliminate "trash and rats" in her East Baltimore district, and to train people for jobs.

Pinkett, who represents a West Baltimore district, said he plans to focus on unemployment, economic inclusion, affordable housing and revitalization.

"This is the starting line," he said.

Young laid out his plans to partner with nonprofits and businesses to tackle some of Baltimore's deep-seated problems.

He said the council will "work hand-in-hand with leaders from the private sector to improve the quality of life for Baltimoreans."

"A great deal of this work is already underway," Young said. "Our role, frankly, will be to speed up the process."

Young announced a partnership with Belair Edison Neighborhoods Inc. and its director, Johnette Richardson, to fight crime in Northeast Baltimore. And he laid out plans to form a partnership with Details, a nonprofit that puts people to work deconstructing vacant houses.

Young said a deconstruction job by Details creates six to eight times more jobs than standard demolition.

He also announced a partnership with nonprofit housing provider St. Ambrose, which is "working to transform whole blocks on the west side," he said.

Young said the plan is to "identify and fast-track organizations with a proven record of success," clearing the way for redevelopment of vacant properties.

Pugh said she will have an open-door policy for council members, as former Mayor Martin O'Malley did when she served on the council.

"I thought that was good for me," Pugh said.

Having access to the mayor helped her collaborate with him to establish the Baltimore Marathon, she said.

Burnett, 30, who campaigned for almost two years and knocked on 10,000 doors, said he finally has the chance to create the change he wants.

"My priorities are what they have always been: to try to create more jobs for people here in the city with different workforce training and development," Burnett said. "It's about empowering our community, for us to be the change-makers we need."

Stokes, 58, said representing East Baltimore's 12th District is humbling. He has worked in Oliver, Remington, Charles Village and nearby neighborhoods for three decades on housing, employment and taxation issues, including as a legislative aide to former Councilman Carl Stokes. The two are not related.

Stokes said his top concerns are addressing crime, affordable housing and jobs.

"We have to create some opportunities for our young people," Stokes said. "We have to listen to our young people. We have to create some economic opportunity for African-Americans in this city."

With the departure of more than half the council, Councilman Eric T. Costello has rocketed up in seniority. He spent the last two years as the newest council member, following his appointment in 2014 to replace William H. Cole IV, who was tapped to run the Baltimore Development Corp.

The new and old council members will complement one another, he said.

"There is a lot of energy from the new folks," said Costello, 36, a former government auditor. "You have the returning council members that have a lot of experience. My hope is it meshes very well together."

In heavily Democratic Baltimore, winners of the April Democratic primary won easily in the general election last month.

Longtime members Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Robert W. Curran and Helen L. Holton retired.

Councilmen James B. Kraft, Carl Stokes and Nick J. Mosby did not seek re-election. All were unsuccessful in their pursuit of other offices.

Incumbents Warren M. Branch and William "Pete" Welch lost their seats to Democratic challengers in the primary.

Young named new chairs of council committees. Costello will lead the budget and judiciary committees, Scott will be chairman of the public safety committee, Middleton will chair the taxation committee, Cohen will lead the education committee, Bullock will be in charge of the housing committee, and Sneed will lead the labor committee, among other assignments.

Only one new member had an item on Thursday's agenda. In a signal of the tone that might be set by members of the new council, Dorsey introduced the resolution "condemning" statements made by Trump.

The council declared its opposition to and condemnation of "divisive and scapegoating rhetoric, rooted in hate and prejudice, and used, approved of, or encouraged by President-elect Donald Trump targeting historically disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed groups."

Council members, who are considered part time, receive $66,000 a year. Young receives an annual salary of $113,000.

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