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Rawlings-Blake gets defensive

"Nobody died during the riots," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake observed Tuesday in defending her administration's response to the widespread violence and looting in the wake of Freddie Gray's death, mayhem that left scores of police officers and civilians injured, buildings burned, businesses looted and a city reeling to recover. "Out of the two weeks of demonstrations, we only had a few hours of unrest, and then we were able to restore peace and calm" — a few hours in which she as leader of the city was mostly invisible but images of Baltimore descending into chaos were broadcast around the world.

In trying times, leaders need to step up. That's more than a matter of making the right decisions behind the scenes — and it's certainly debatable whether Mayor Rawlings-Blake did even that. It's also a matter of projecting calm and authority. Not only did she fail at that on the fateful Monday night of the riots, but the defensiveness with which she has discussed her role and that of Gov. Larry Hogan has only diminished her stature as the city has descended into a new and horrific round of violence.

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Nobody may have died on that Monday night, but at least 18 people have been killed since then and more than 50 shot. At any other time, that would constitute a full-blown municipal crisis, but what has the mayor had to say about it? What has Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said, other than a pledge to redistribute patrols? The only voices the public hears are from some police officers who blame the crime spike on the angst and ennui of their fellow patrolmen in the wake of State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's decision to charge the six officers involved in Freddie Gray's death.

But rather than reassuring the public that the city can both hold officers accountable for alleged misconduct and fight crime, the mayor appears more interested in defending herself and sniping at Governor Hogan. In both The Sun and the Washington Post, she has asserted that her reluctance to ask the governor to call out the National Guard even as her police department was issuing dire warnings about cop-killing gang members and potentially violent gatherings of high school students actually prevented a bad situation from getting worse. "You've seen that militarization of a city turn into violence," she told The Sun, and she told the Post that she worried that "the National Guard with machine guns and riot gear waiting for the kids outside school" would "potentially amp things up."

If that was her thinking at the time, why did the police department have a phalanx of riot-gear clad police, accompanied by at least one armored vehicle, waiting for students as they filtered out of West Baltimore high schools to the Mondawmin transit center?

As for Mr. Hogan, we agree that he was, in the heat of the moment that Monday evening, initially intemperate in making remarks that betrayed his frustration with Mayor Rawlings-Blake. But since then, he has been nothing if not generous in his appraisals of her and in his willingness to credit others — particularly the ordinary residents of Baltimore — with restoring order, cleaning up and moving forward. "I've said multiple times I think she did a good job," Governor Hogan told The Sun.

Whatever frustrations Mr. Hogan had, he's evidently gotten over them. Ms. Rawlings-Blake, evidently, has not. This week her spokesman complained to The Post that the mayor was "pissed off" when the governor suggested on the night of the riots that he wished she had called sooner. "She thought it was a rookie move," said the spokesman, Kevin Harris. "And you can quote me on that."

Who's acting like a rookie here, the governor who said Tuesday "I didn't want to criticize her, and I don't think she deserved some of the criticism," or the mayor — who, by the way, is trying to get Mr. Hogan to release $11 million for the city schools — who could muster nothing nicer to say than, "I will continue to work with anyone who wants to work to move Baltimore forward"?

We acknowledge that there's more to being mayor than going out in public and rallying the city, and that Ms. Rawlings-Blake has brought real skill and determination to problems for which she will never get much credit, like reforming municipal pensions and reducing employee health care costs. But the city was in crisis when rioters took to the streets on April 27, and it has been in crisis during the spate of violence that has followed. We need the mayor to rise to the occasion, not to talk about the "tremendous personal sacrifice" that the job entails. We understand that she doesn't think all the criticism she has faced is fair. Not all of it is, but that goes with the job. If it is too much for her, there are plenty of others who would be willing to take on that responsibility. The way things are going, we suspect we'll be hearing quite a lot from them before next year's election.

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