You would think that, when some good news finally came along about the state’s racing industry and its biggest annual sporting event, the governor would be right in the mix of elected officials praising the hailed-as-historic plan.
One could imagine the congenial Hogan issuing a statement to this effect: “I want to congratulate both sides in coming to an agreement that will keep the Preakness in Baltimore, re-imagine Pimlico Race Course for year-round use, and concentrate Maryland’s racing operations at Laurel Park. I look forward to working with The Stronach Group, the owner of the tracks, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young and legislative leaders to see that this plan comes to fruition.”
Alas, that did not happen. In fact, when The Sun first reported the plan, worked out over the last few months among owners of the tracks, thoroughbred interests and city representatives, Hogan declined comment. Pretty strange.
At mid-week, I asked his press spokesman, Michael Ricci, if Hogan had any remarks to offer. Ricci sent this: “The governor has said that he wants the Preakness to stay in Baltimore. This is a very preliminary proposal that we will review, and discuss with the legislature."
Let’s go over that.
It’s true that Hogan “has said that he wants the Preakness to stay in Baltimore.” In 2017, his office issued a statement saying as much and adding this: "The governor is committed to working with all involved parties to work out a solution that preserves this tradition while ensuring the most effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”
In 2018, on WBAL-TV, he said this: “The Preakness isn’t going anywhere. ... I’m for keeping it here in Baltimore.”
But this past March, Hogan told WBAL Radio that "the overwhelming number of people in Maryland don't really care where [the Preakness] is. They would just like to keep it in Maryland.”
Hold on. That’s quite a different take from being committed to keeping the race at Old Hilltop. Anyone who caught that would have heard good ol’ Suburban Larry signaling, once again, that Baltimore issues are not really a priority for him. There’s plenty of evidence of that, and I’ll get into it in a minute.
But, fact is, there is enough information available to develop some kind of a “preliminary” opinion. Moreover, you have to wonder why the governor, who devoted his professional life to brokering real estate deals, was not intimately involved in the discussions. In that respect, he looks kind of irrelevant right now.
So is he just being cagey or cautious? He’s a Republican in one of the nation’s wealthiest states, with something like 180,000 resident millionaires, and yet he likes to cut taxes and fees and limit government, leaving costly but important initiatives to Democrats. The proposal calls for using primarily casino tax revenues to finance the transformation of Pimlico and improvements to Laurel Park. You’d think Hogan would like that aspect of it.
So maybe he’s just not that interested in what happens here — not, at least, in any big, transformative way.
Just look at the record, and what is quickly shaping up to be Hogan’s legacy: At a time when Baltimore was in real crisis, just a few weeks after the Freddie Gray-related unrest of spring 2015, he killed the Red Line, a $2.9 billion light rail project 10 years in the making, with the potential to create thousands of jobs and bring much-needed transit-oriented investment to West Baltimore, in particular. A year and a half later, Hogan and the other two members of the Maryland Board of Public Works shelved the $1.5 billion State Center plan, a major redevelopment project, also many years in the making, and of great value to several neighborhoods west of midtown.
Aside from granting state funds for the demolition of vacant houses and funds and resources for police operations, some of it already approved by the General Assembly, there is not a lot that speaks to Hogan’s support of the city. And that accounts for suspicions about whether he will get behind the Pimlico/Preakness/Laurel proposal.
Of course, the governor of Maryland is not the mayor of Baltimore. But these are not normal times. His state’s largest city entered a period of crisis just a few months after Hogan took office in 2015, with a level of violent crime we have not seen since the 1990s. The crisis is now in its fourth year and affects all aspects of daily life here. The record will show that the Maryland governor, during this crisis, worked more against Baltimore than for Baltimore; he even withheld a few million bucks that would have helped the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra through a financial mess.
It’s too bad. Larry Hogan has had an opportunity to be a transformative Republican. He could have used his popularity to champion Baltimore and stress its importance to the rest of the state. He could have cut a new path for his party, right through a struggling city with a Democratic majority. He could have started to carve out a new Republican identity as an alternative to Trumpism. Alas, that did not happen. It was probably too exotic or grandiose an idea. Fine. I’ll settle for firmly backing the Pimlico/Preakness/Laurel plan. For Baltimore, it’s the least he can do.