It all began with a Tweet from a Baltimore-area Twitter account.
“The mayor's pick for Baltimore's next commissioner #JoelFitzgerald,” read a tweet from the account @bmoreProjects Thursday evening. Below, a picture of Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald.
The Tweet was seen by a Dallas-area local reporter, who showed it to Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, asking whether the chief was leaving for a job in Baltimore.
The Fort Worth mayor thought, “I guess it appears he is leaving per a tweet she was asked to respond to,” said Laken Avonne Rapier, a spokeswoman for Price, Friday morning.
Answering the reporter’s question, she said, “"It appears he has taken the police chief spot in Baltimore. He's done a good job in Fort Worth, and I wish him the best in this new position."
Given that Price is the leading public official in Fort Worth, her statement that her police chief was leaving for Baltimore quickly became news in Texas and in Maryland, as well.
After the mayor had received a number of inquiries about Fitzgerald possibly leaving for Baltimore—“whispers of it last night”—Rapier said the mayor accepted it could be a possibility. She noted that Fitzgerald was from the East Coast and could be looking to return closer to his native Philadelphia.
Contacted Friday, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said she was still vetting candidates for the city’s next police commissioner and would not confirm Fitzgerald was her pick, nor that he was being considered for the position. Her administration has released very little information about its vetting of the 50 applicants. Officials, including City Solicitor Andre Davis, who is aiding in the search, have said the new commissioner would be named by the end of the month.
Rapier said Fitzgerald has not submitted a letter of resignation or provided a “verbal resignation,” as of Friday morning. Fitzgerald and Price spoke on the phone Friday, where the mayor was informed that he had been in discussions and interviewed for the Baltimore job, Rapier said. She said the Fort Worth mayor was not aware before Friday.
The user behind the @bmoreProjects Twitter account did not immediately respond to a call for comment Friday morning. The name on the account is MediaWatchdog, with a description of “Pushing press to get THE story instead of simply getting A story. Legacy resident of West Baltimore, Former reporter & educator.”
Kinji Scott, a longtime community activist, who was also tweeting about Fitzgerald Thursday night, said his Tweets set off a chain reaction “from here to Texas.” He said a person – whom he declined to name – close to the mayor told him that Fitzgerald was her choice, and he believed that the community had a right to know given the stakes involved with selecting a police commissioner. So, he turned to Twitter to spread the word.
“As a community member, I think we should all be aware of who it is given the climate in the city,” said Scott, of Northeast Baltimore. “My concern is that the mayor is not being forthright about her selection of a police commissioner. If this is the guy, go with it.”
Scott said the city needs transparency from the mayor as a fundamental step toward building trust between the police department and the black community.
The activist said he spoke to Pugh Thursday night on the phone after he began tweeting about Fitzgerald. He said the mayor said she was concerned about Fitzgerald’s job security as she continued the vetting.
“She confirmed that this is the guy she picked and she would have to go with someone else now that the information is out,” Scott said. He said Pugh followed up with a text message to him saying, “No one has been selected.”
Several top Pugh aides did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Scott’s account of his communication with Pugh.
Scott said Fitzgerald, a Philadelphia native, deserved a chance to run Baltimore’s department. He said he was not concerned about some of the challenges Fitzgerald has run into during his career, and believed that Fitzgerald, as a black man, has likely encountered a fair amount of racism.
“She should give the community a chance to accept him,” Scott said. “I don’t think there is a police chief or commissioner in this country that isn’t going to have some negative press. I actually support [this] choice. What I don’t support is her not being forthcoming.”