The benefit of long experience — not to mention accumulated years — is the ability to put things in context, to have perspective. Like others of my generation, I began my career at a time when phones were only attached to walls, “texting” was not yet a word, and mail was delivered by a Postal Service employee (in my case, named Earl) every Monday through Saturday, and mostly at the same time of day. Were those better days? I’m not so sure. Certainly for some, but most definitely not for all, and certainly not for African Americans in our city and in most cities across our country.
Eventually, my desire to make a difference, to work toward solutions and serve Baltimore’s larger interests by serving those most in in need of some advantage compelled me to seek elected office. Never did I imagine I would serve on Baltimore’s City Council for nearly 40 years. I’ve come to think that I’ve seen it all. And yet, I am also struck by how very familiar so many of the challenges are that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is working tirelessly to address and remedy. Again, the benefit of perspective.
It’s to our disadvantage that we live in the age of immediacy — insta-everything — such that the failure to receive a “like” or response to a text or photo mere seconds after posting is regarded as a slight, causing us to question and fret, imagining that something is terribly wrong.
This immediacy culture is ill-equipped for the hard and persistent work required to change systemic neglect and under-investment in our most troubled neighborhoods. Nor is it well-suited to deal with the disappointment that inevitably occurs when change doesn’t happen fast enough from public policy and its implementation — not because it’s not happening but because life is complicated. Real change requires collaboration, compromise, the ability to see a different viewpoint and accommodate it. It requires “all” to be part of the solution, and relentlessly so, rather than placing the responsibility on the shoulders of “one,” as in a recent op-ed assailing Mayor Pugh’s leadership.
I have had the honor and delight to know Catherine Pugh for decades. We served on the City Council together and were typically the ones who turned out the lights and closed the door together late in the evening after a long day of addressing constituent concerns and working on city issues. I know her to be a smart, creative, incredibly hard-working public servant who truly believes that by “lifting the least, we lift all.” Our collaboration fortunately continued even after she left City Council for the State House, where she was a dependable partner and always a fierce advocate for this city we love.
Catherine Pugh was under no illusions about Baltimore’s steep challenges when she sought and eventually won the mayoral office. With my perspective and years of accumulated experience, I can say without any qualification that she is pursuing the right approach and is focused on the right issues that will indeed — in time — make Baltimore a much better place than it is today. Mayor Pugh is promoting a new era of neighborhood investment, such that the excitement and promise being realized around Baltimore’s continuously improved Inner Harbor is also experienced in neighborhoods north, west, south and east. Mayor Pugh is empowering our young people and creating pathways that will lead them to better places than where the streets of our city lead now. Mayor Pugh is reducing violence by addressing its root causes and activating neighborhood groups, non-profits and city agencies to ensure that their impact adds up to more than the sum of their parts.
She, better than any of us, knows that this hard work cannot and should not be hers alone. In the same way, her success will also be ours. To those who wish to express their impatience and frustration, I suggest you withhold your harsh words and vent through involvement and action, by joining in the difficult work of bringing about change, day-in and day-out. By all means, challenge approaches and suggest new ideas, however different from the mayor’s or others. But be part of the solution. Progress and change will come, not because of the sole vision and efforts of this “one” hard-working and dedicated public official, but because the many others of us who are as impatient as she is, joined with her to get it right for all citizens.
Indeed, Mayor Pugh “ain’t the one” who alone can assure our success. We are the ones.
Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former Baltimore City Councilwoman who served the 5th District in Northwest Baltimore from 1977 until 2016