Council sworn in on 'hopeful day'

The Baltimore Sun

Members of the 70th City Council, led by President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, were sworn into office yesterday in a colorful ceremony that included dance and song, as well as remarks from former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Many of the council members were incumbents with little competition in the primary and general elections.

Rawlings-Blake, however, waged an aggressive campaign to continue as the council's president, defeating Michael Sarbanes, an activist and son of retired Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, and former Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

She pledged yesterday to focus on improving neighborhoods, public safety and education.

"We won't simply rest on the assumption that a rising tide will lift all boats," said Rawlings-Blake, 37.

"To sustain the success we've experienced in these neighborhoods, and to provide the foundation for success in the future, we must address the basic elements of that foundation," she said, referring to public safety and education.

Rawlings-Blake said she would re-establish council committees dedicated to those two topics. She created a committee focused on education this year. The public safety committee, created yesterday, will be chaired by City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Joined onstage by her mother, Dr. Nina Rawlings, her husband, Kent Blake, and their 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, Rawlings-Blake and others invoked the memory of her father, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who was chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Rawlings-Blake was elected to the council in 1995 at 25, making her the youngest person to win a seat. Her colleagues elected her president in January, after Dixon was elevated to mayor.

The two women hit the campaign trail together this summer, endorsing each another and stressing the need to continue the work they had begun.

The 15-member council - which includes three new members - convened last night for its first meeting and elected Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, who represents the 10th District, as vice president.

Reisinger replaces Councilman Robert W. Curran.

Four bills were introduced at the meeting, including a zoning proposal that would permit nursing homes to be built in certain neighborhoods. The bill has met with significant resistance in past terms.

Another bill would require landlords to pay for the relocation of tenants, up to $1,500, if inspectors find lead in their homes.

The new members include 11th District Councilman William H. Cole IV, who beat a crowded field of competitors to replace Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who lost his mayoral bid; and Bill Henry, who represents the 4th District, replacing Harris.

The third new member is 13th District Councilman Warren Branch, who beat incumbent Vernon Crider in a close Democratic primary that wasn't decided until absentee ballots were counted.

The inaugural ceremony included a liturgical dance by members of the St. John AME Church dance ministry and two songs by the choir at Western High School.

Council members were joined onstage by dozens of elected officials past and present.

O'Malley, who campaigned for Rawlings-Blake, said yesterday was "a very happy day, a hopeful day."

"Our city has been through many challenging times," he said, "and has challenging times ahead. As our city becomes stronger, so, too, does our state become stronger."

Dixon, who was sworn into office Tuesday, said the new chapter unfolding is " a new beginning for some extraordinary things to happen in our city."

"And I'm so pleased that this partnership that we established over the last seven years [will] move this city forward," she said, referring to partnerships involving her, O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake.

Mfume spoke of Rawlings-Blake's upbringing by a family of educators who "struggled for social and economic justice."

"Her parents taught her to work hard, play by the rules, love her country and cherish her faith," he said. "She embraced lessons learned but never lessened her commitment. She wants a better, safer, united Baltimore, a city that works for her family and everybody' s family."

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