Nobody asked me, but Fox News missed an opportunity for a sting at the debate-boycotting Donald Trump on Thursday night. They could have left an empty lectern to symbolize Trump's arrogant absence. It would have been an appropriately crass thing to do, in perfect pitch with the tone of the Republican presidential campaign. Alas, it did not happen.
And this was not the first time it did not happen. Take cover: Incoming historical fact with Baltimore angle.
In 1980, when President Jimmy Carter was running for re-election, he declined the invitation of the League of Women Voters to participate in a September debate to be televised live from the Baltimore Convention Center. Former actor and California Gov. Ronald Reagan agreed to take part, as did John Anderson, the Republican congressman from Illinois who ran as an independent.
Carter's handlers demanded that Anderson be excluded. The league refused that demand and promised to have an empty chair on stage to symbolize Carter's absence. Alas, it did not happen. The league reversed itself a couple of days before the debate. The debate went off, with only Reagan and Anderson. While there was no empty podium or chair on the stage, I can fairly say the image stuck to Carter. The rest is history.
Nobody asked me, but before we move on and forget the whole thing, someone ought to do an after-action assessment of how Baltimore and the five surrounding counties functioned during and after last weekend's winter storm, and what the economic loss to the region was. In the age of climate change and strange weather patterns, we should be asking if the city and counties have enough snow equipment, the right kind of equipment and enough trained personnel to manage it. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council should conduct a study. Otherwise, it will all be forgotten about until the next time.
Nobody asked me, but the excuse that the Baltimore region sees only big "historic" storms and not enough average storms to make us better adapted to snow is no longer acceptable — not after what we've been through in recent years, and not with scientists predicting more extreme weather.
Nobody asked me, but the people running the Baltimore public schools appear to have reached an historic level of cluelessness. Last year, they were shocked to find that the system was running a $60 million deficit. Now, more shock: They apparently don't know for sure how many students are enrolled in the schools, and there's more hand-wringing over a sudden drop in enrollment and a likely drop in state funding. I'm glad I'm not a member of the Baltimore legislative delegation tasked with defending this system.
Nick Mosby, the city councilman and candidate for mayor, sounded like an "education mayor" when I interviewed him the other day. His "15-Point Plan for a Better Baltimore" might be a smorgasbord of wishful thinking, but it comes with an agenda of holistic ideas to improve student achievement. It's unusual to see a mayoral candidate devoting so much attention to education policy because, after the city relinquished partial control of the schools to the state in the mid-1990s, mayors could pretty much look the other way — and they mostly did. Mosby, for one, seems to think it's time for a mayor to assert more authority over the schools.
Nobody asked me, but if Gov. Larry Hogan thinks it's smart politics to thumb his nose at Baltimore legislative leaders when he proposes something for the city (closing down the old jail, proposing a new penal colony in its place, for instance), he's getting some bad advice. He ought to talk to the locals about such things first. You know, invite them over for cookies and a chat. That he didn't — and probably would have, had such a project had been proposed for, say, Anne Arundel County — smells of partisan politics and paternalism.
Still, you have to give the governor points for charging forth, proposing to knock down and replace the jail with a new corrections complex, and to do so in five years instead of 13, and at $480 million instead of $780 million. Democrats in the General Assembly ought to get over the insult of not being briefed and see if Hogan can deliver.
Tell you what's sad and bordering on pathetic: In order to pull off his plan for the new corrections complex in Baltimore, Hogan wants to hold off on a biosciences project at the University of Maryland, a business school project at Coppin State and projects at Morgan State and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Why is this even a choice? Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the nation — in some surveys, the wealthiest. The state government has a projected $450 million budget surplus and maintains a triple-A bond rating from all three New York rating agencies. Yet, here we are, holding off on investments in higher education to ramp up construction of prison and jail cells.