Advertisement

Hogan, Rawlings-Blake blow opportunity born in unrest

So much for opportunity born of diversity -- that is, the idea that the Republican governor of Maryland could form a partnership with the Democratic mayor of Baltimore in the smoky aftermath of April's riot to address the long-festering problems that shackle the city and make it a drag on the entire region. It's not going to happen, and both Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake are to blame.

It's a shame. Those two had a chance to reject the super-partisanship that afflicts the country and achieve some real progress.

Advertisement

Hogan had a chance to lead Republicans, here and nationally, down a path they have avoided for decades -- right through the heart of Baltimore and other cities written off by GOP strategists after the last major riots, in the 1960s.

Though a suburbanite who drew wide support from the counties, Hogan recognized that Baltimore should be the economic engine for the region. He said as much last year. He said he wanted to help the city, and, when the rioting broke out after Freddie Gray's funeral, his commitment was put to the test.

Sending in the National Guard to help restore order, offering loans to damaged businesses, releasing funds for summer jobs for young people -- all great. But those actions should not constitute the extent of Hogan's commitment. There's a lot more the governor of the nation's wealthiest state can do to help Baltimore, a city with the highest concentration of Maryland's poor, a severe lack of decent and affordable housing, a high rate of gun violence and a public school system that still fails too many kids.

A governor has the power to bring funds and managerial efficiencies to all those issues, but only if he operates in concert with the mayor. A white suburban businessman, elected governor less than a year ago, can't march into town and tell the black city leadership what to do. That's why, in a couple of columns right after April's fires and lootings, I suggested that crazy idea: A bipartisan, urban-suburban, state-city, private-public effort to address the lack of opportunity and socioeconomic mobility that keeps thousands of Baltimoreans stuck in a cycle of poverty and dysfunction.

Nothing like that has happened. In fact, things just got worse across the urban-suburban divide that Hogan had the power to close.

On Thursday, the governor killed the Red Line, a transit system planned for a decade. It would have connected Woodlawn with Bayview through downtown Baltimore, filled a significant gap in the regional public transportation system and provided opportunity for development along its route. It would have created jobs during construction and better connected people to jobs after that. In fact, Hogan killed the Red Line just two weeks after the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's "opportunity collaborative" pointed out the profound need for public transportation to address the economic disparities that surfaced for the whole world to see after the April riots.

The collaborative called for a transit system that helps people residing in places such as Sandtown-Winchester get efficiently to job centers such as Hunt Valley, the BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport region and the Johns Hopkins eastside complex. Killing the Red Line is a serious setback for that effort. Hogan offers nothing in its place.

Killing the Red Line while putting more money into roads plays to his base -- suburbanites who drive everywhere, never use public transportation and regard such projects as boondoggles. It is completely counter to the kind of big-think and regional collaboration that's needed to address Baltimore's problems. Hogan just doesn't seem capable of that.

Before he axed the Red Line, I was willing to give him time. Right after April's turmoil, he refused to release $68 million the legislature had set aside for public schools, including Baltimore's, and he vetoed a bill that would have allowed felons on parole or probation to vote. I let those pass, figuring Hogan and Rawlings-Blake would come up with a game-changing plan for the city -- something grounded in common sense and smart planning, something sustainable.

But it never happened. Instead, the two are pretty much in a feud now.

The mayor has been nothing but chilly toward Hogan, apparently since his dig about her delay in asking him for help during the unrest. She did not appear at the recent reopening of a West Baltimore recreation center while the governor used the occasion to crow about his efforts to help the city recover.

Hogan thinks taxpayers should support the rebuilding of riot-damaged liquor stores. But the city has an unhealthy density of those places, especially in low-income neighborhoods, and the the mayor and other city leaders have been trying to close some of them for three years.

The mayor went off to California to become president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, calling for a "conversation" on urban issues that she has not had with Hogan. Hogan steps up to a podium and kills the Red Line.

So we're pretty much back to the same-old same-old, until the fire next time.

Advertisement
Advertisement