Baltimore City Council's 'bold leadership' includes bans on cat and dog sales and sugary drinks

FBI data indicate that Baltimore City’s 342 homicides in 2017 translated into a gruesome rate of 56 murders per 100,000 residents. That represented a record per capita rate for this community and rendered Baltimore’s homicide rate well above that of any other large American city.

One might have thought that that level of carnage would have distracted Baltimore’s City Council from the bigger issues of the day. But no, our City Council remained fixated on what really matters this year. Take one of their first actions of 2018: considering a ban on selling cats and dogs at pet stores. A Baltimore Sun article on the issue noted that such a measure “would have little immediate impact because there are no pet stores in the city that now sell cats or dogs,” but still, it’s the thought that counts.

On the same day the article appeared, Jan. 8th, 21-year-old Daniel Williams was murdered. It was the city’s 5th murder for the year.

Undeterred, our intrepid City Council continued to plow through a legislative agenda focused on core issues shaping our collective future. By February, Council members turned their attention to another social scourge: Airbnb. The council proposed legislation that would sharply limit people’s ability to rent out anything other than their homes, imposing the city’s 9.5 percent hotel tax in the process — because, heaven forbid that someone could generate a rate of return on investment in Charm City.

Admittedly, there were some who took a dim view of such legislation, like one Airbnb spokeswoman, who indicated that the proposed regulations were “designed with one thing in mind: protecting historic hotel profits and the ability of big hotels to price-gouge during popular weekends in Baltimore.” My point is simply that these are tough issues, and that the City Council’s willingness to tackle them is commendable.

As an aside, Baltimore’s homicide count stood at 41 by the end of February. In response, the City Council overwhelmingly voted to confirm Darryl De Sousa as the city’s new police commissioner on February 26th (less than three months later he would resign amid criminal tax charges).

The march of progress didn’t stop there. Unblinkingly, the City Council continue to wreak havoc on the critical challenges of the day. By mid-March, as indicated by Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater, the council was set to impose a series of new regulations on city businesses, including a ban on the utilization of polystyrene foam containers for carryout food and drink. The council also was set to cast final votes on regulations limiting the advertising of sugary drinks with kids’ meals at restaurants and sought to bank the building of crude oil terminals in the city. This legislative flurry occurred on Monday, March 12th.

The legislature’s unyielding ability to focus on these quality of life issues is rendered especially impressive by the ongoing oppression of violence in the city, including homicides on March 1st, March 4th, March 5th, March 8th, March 9th and March 10th. A day after the council’s legislative burst, another man was murdered in Baltimore: 60-year-old Charles Wiggins. April would produce another 33 homicides, May another 20.

Over the summer, the City Council continued to rout our shared impediments, including by offering laser-like focus on lactation spaces at places of work, preventing police from supplying special patrols around Johns Hopkins’ facilities in East Baltimore and further reducing speed limits because, apparently, panhandlers and squeegee boys, as well as exquisitely timed street lights, make it too easy to travel through Baltimore quickly now.

Given this remarkable record of leadership, the least the citizens and stakeholders of Baltimore can do is to support the City Council – financially. A June 25th Baltimore Sun article points out that the Council’s 15 members voted unanimously to create a fund to provide public funding for local campaigns. I for one can’t think of a better use of public monies in Baltimore. Can you?

Predictably, this public-spirited legislative push transpired during another violent period in Baltimore’s history. June produced 23 homicides, July and August each supplied another 30, September and October each produced 35 and November, 19.

Given the City Council’s unyielding vigilance, it is shocking that the city could produce 172 homicides in just six months.

Imagine if we hadn’t had such bold leadership.

Anirban Basu is chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group, Inc.; his email is abasu@sagepolicy.com.

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