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'We've had our strength tested lately': Jack Young sworn in as mayor as Baltimore seeks to move on from scandal

Bernard C. “Jack” Young took the oath of office as Baltimore’s 51st mayor at a ceremony Thursday, capping a transition of power that began five weeks ago when then-Mayor Catherine Pugh stepped aside.

“We’ve had our strength tested lately,” said Young, a Democrat. “I have encountered a number of people who are weary, frustrated, angry and question whether Baltimore will ever catch a break.”

See More: Up from the East Side: How 23 years in Baltimore politics led Jack Young to becoming mayor — for now »

Young became mayor last week when Pugh resigned after a tumultuous spring that saw an unprecedented federal raid on her City Hall office by agents investigating her financial dealings.

Young, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Democratic House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin didn’t mention the former Democratic mayor by name. But they used their turns at the podium at the War Memorial Building, across from City Hall, to pledge to move the city forward and underline their support for the people of Baltimore.

As he introduced Young, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume urged the political leaders in the room to work together.

“Your presence here today underscores in a very significant way the need for there to be a real, live, ongoing partnership with Baltimore City so that the next chapter we can write together,” Mfume said.

Then Young stepped up, delivering a nine-minute speech from a teleprompter to the crowd of about 600 people.

“For the people who don’t know me, my name is Jack,” Young said, spreading his arms wide and grinning.

Making his way through the normal throat-clearing job of thanking the officials in the audience, Young choked up and began to cry as he got to the City Council, where he served for more than two decades.

“That’s emotional,” he said, as the audience broke into applause.

Hogan got up and patted him on the shoulder encouragingly and Young’s wife of 39 years, Darlene, stood to pass him a handkerchief.

Young wrapped up his speech with a call to battle the notorious violence of Baltimore, which bedeviled Pugh’s tenure. Young blamed the problem on a tiny minority.

“It’s that 1% who keep all of us held hostage,” he said. “We need to flip that script and make sure that we let them know that they’re not going to take over this city. They’re not going to continue to shoot women and children.

“Because we’re fed up and we’re tired of all the crime that’s happening in the city of Baltimore.”

Young had been serving in an acting capacity since Pugh took a leave of absence at the beginning of April, saying she needed to recover from pneumonia as questions mounted about sales of her self-published Healthy Holly children’s book series. Following Pugh’s resignation, Young will take over the remainder of her term, which ends in December 2020.

He previously served as City Council president, a job he ascended to when another mayor, Democrat Sheila Dixon, resigned in the face of a criminal investigation. Before that, he served as a councilman representing a stretch of East Baltimore, where he grew up.

On Monday, the City Council unanimously chose Democratic Councilman Brandon Scott to replace Young as president. Scott sat next to Young on stage Thursday.

With Young in charge, Hogan said, the city had a fresh chance to address crime, encourage economic development and improve its public schools.

“Today marks an opportunity for all of us,” Hogan said. “With new leadership, we now have this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to finding real solutions to the serious problems facing the city.”

Cardin said the city’s representatives in Washington also stand ready to help Young.

“Jack Young is the right person to lead Baltimore City,” Cardin said. “He knows the strength of our city comes from our neighborhoods, the people of Baltimore.”

And Jones, herself newly installed in office after succeeding the late Democratic Speaker Michael Busch, pledged support from the General Assembly.

“As speaker, I will take a vested interest in Baltimore’s future,” Jones said. “A strengthened Baltimore city means a healthy and safer Maryland.”

For his part, Young called on the city’s residents to help him.

“The people of Baltimore, much like our great city, are made tough,” he said. “We are made tough in Baltimore.”

After the speeches, people pressed up to the stage to congratulate Young and take photos with him. Among them was Kimberly Smith, an East Baltimore resident who is a member of Young’s church and knows him as “Uncle Jack.”

“I think he’s going to be the best thing for Baltimore,” Smith said. “He really loves the city.”

Smith said two sons were fatally shot in Baltimore — the first in 2009, the second in 2015. She said the closing of Young’s speech gave her hope that in him, the city had a leader who could do something to curb the violence.

“That spoke to me, yes,” Smith said. “That made me feel emotional, like maybe this will be the chance that we can try to control this crime and get it under wraps, because it’s really out of control right now.”

iduncan@baltsun.com

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