Fourteen weeks out from the Democratic primary, Jack Young finds himself sitting on top of a pile of campaign contributions (nearly $960,000 cash on hand) from supporters who apparently think that, with Baltimore’s crime crisis entering its sixth year, the way to go is status quo.
How did Young end up on top of the money pile among candidates for mayor? It seems like only yesterday that, as Catherine Pugh’s replacement, his stated purpose was to right a listing ship, not take its helm for a long cruise.
Let’s run the timeline:
April 1, 2019: Pugh takes a paid leave of absence as mayor in the midst of the Healthy Holly scandal. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young takes over as ex officio mayor, promising to be a “stabilizing force” in City Hall. He expresses no interest in running for mayor in 2020. “I am interested in being president of City Council,” he says. “I thought, at one time, the mayor’s office was something I wanted. But I love being City Council president. That job is one of the best jobs you can have in city government.” He later adds: “I’m just going to do this [mayoralty] as a placeholder. I will be running for the president of the City Council of Baltimore.”
April 23: Asked about the possibility of Pugh returning to City Hall and assuming her duties again, Young says, “I would hate to see it.” Though he resists calling for Pugh’s resignation, Young probably senses that she’s not coming back.
May 2: Pugh resigns as mayor in the midst of investigations of her self-published children’s books.
May 9: Young takes the oath as mayor. City Councilman Brandon Scott, elected by his peers to be the council’s new president, hints at running for mayor in 2020.
July 9: Just two months later, Young tells The Sun’s Luke Broadwater that he is considering running for mayor, too. Suddenly, all talk about being a mere “placeholder” looks like ... just talk. “If I want to change my mind and run for mayor, that’s an option I have,” Young says. “I’m considering all options.” Young claims Scott’s election as council president — something Young neither wanted nor anticipated — made him change his thinking. While the buzz has Scott running for mayor (and he enters the race two months later) nothing really stops Young from running for council president again. But, stuff happens.
Oct. 20: Young brings in $250,000 in campaign contributions from “business leaders” in one week. Most of that comes from a $4,000-a-ticket fundraiser at The Bygone, a way-upscale restaurant in Harbor East.
Oct. 22: Young confirms that he’s running for mayor, bedazzled by the infusion of cash to his campaign, a big chunk of it from developers, lawyers, the usual suspects. “The business community can see we are on the cusp of a renaissance in Baltimore," Young says.
That’s where we are? On the “cusp of a renaissance”?
While I understand that people who in some way conduct business with the city always give money to candidates — and usually the ones they see as likely winners of the next election — I have to ask: Doesn’t the investor-developer class think change is needed?
The city has big problems, starting with the insane rate of gun violence that came Wednesday morning to downtown Baltimore. A man was shot and killed at a bus stop near one of the city’s steadiest attractions, Royal Farms Arena. On Saturday, the same day the Ravens played the Titans at M&T Bank Stadium, 12 people were shot, five of them fatally. There were 15 homicides in the first 15 days of the year.
Last year, after Young took over as mayor, the homicide problem got worse, and the city finished with 348 killings, nearly 40 more than the previous year.
How is any of this good for business?
In November, when the annual homicide count hit 300 for the fifth year in a row, here’s how Young responded to a question about the homicide rate as a reflection of a lack of leadership: “I’m not committing the murders and that’s what people need to understand. How can you fault leadership? This has been five years of 300-plus murders. I don’t see it as a lack of leadership.”
It was the worst possible reaction, a suggestion that nothing could be done, that some evil force in the city was beyond containment. Young also seemed to be asking for sympathy. After all, he’s the accidental mayor, pushed into the job just six months earlier.
And that’s true. But don’t forget: Jack Young was first elected to a City Council seat when Kurt Schmoke was mayor and Bill Clinton was president. Time flies, friends. That was 24 years ago. Young had also been council president for nine years. He’s been in office during bad times and some good times — the years when homicides dropped and the population losses stopped — but we are now in the sixth year of a crime crisis, and the city has lost population again.
While “business leaders” might have confidence in Young and see him as an earnest leader and the winner of April’s primary, a lot of other Baltimoreans — traumatized, tired, worried, fed up — will be looking for something other than the status quo. As the Rev. Douglas Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church and co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, put it: “Money won’t win this election.”