Over bacon and eggs at Jimmy's Restaurant in Fells Point, Gov. Larry Hogan convened an ad hoc kitchen Cabinet of business owners Friday to take the pulse of Baltimore.
For more than an hour, the Republican governor peppered a half-dozen business and community leaders with questions about the city, relationships with the police, problems they had and ideas for how to solve them. It felt, participants said, like a campaign event, only Hogan still has three more years before the next election for governor.
"I know it's all political," said Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. "But I think it's a good approach that he's doing networking and he personally comes and meets people. He just makes sure he has eyes and ears on the ground. ... If you only come when you need to get votes, people don't like that."
The governor visited Fells Point and Lexington Market on the first of a multiday swing through the state.
Hogan said he wanted to know to what extent Baltimore businesses have recovered from the April unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal injury in police custody, and to assure them he is prepared to keep things under control.
"Everyone's concerned about the potential [for unrest], but look, we have some great community leaders here who are trying to keep the peace and keep things from getting out of control," he said. "We're prepared."
Hogan praised city leaders, particularly Kevin Davis, the new police commissioner, for being prepared for any reaction from the trials of the six officers charged in Gray's death.
Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke by phone Monday about preparations for potential unrest, the mayor's spokesman said. City and state officials say there has been better coordination and communication since the rioting.
"I guess the bottom line is, we're hoping for the best but we're prepared for whatever might happen," Hogan said. "We're just hoping that the trials go well, that the truth comes out and that justice is served."
The governor will go this weekend to Western Maryland for a four-day visit with business owners and elected officials. Hogan said that trip and his Baltimore visit are examples of the ways he hopes to get out of Annapolis and mingle with Marylanders.
"It's our effort to stay in touch with the people of Baltimore City," Hogan told reporters. "We're going to cover everybody in the state and let everyone know that we care about them and what's going on in their communities."
At Lexington Market, Hogan posed for photos with shoppers, snuggled with a baby or two, popped into a barbershop and shook hands with residents who recognized him.
Many had thoughts on whether Hogan, who in October completed chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, should keep his bald look or let his hair grow back.
Frank Bonner, 58, walked up to the governor and offered his view: "You're beautiful, and leave the damn head bald."
He looked around the market and said, "You're the only governor who has done this."
Bonner said he appreciated Hogan taking time to mingle with Baltimoreans, as well as the governor's interest in addressing heroin addiction. Even though the city is full of Democrats, Bonner said, "We love him in Baltimore City, and we love him as a person."
Hogan said he plans to roll out redevelopment plans to help solve the city's vacant housing problem, promising a "significant amount" of state money, time and resources to work on demolishing property and soliciting private investment.
As he concluded his breakfast in Fells Point, Hogan told the group, "I just want you to know we're here to help. We're not magicians. We can't fix everything.
"We can't take the place of city government," he said, "but we're trying to make state government more responsive."