You might call Michael Cryor the Kevin Bacon of Baltimore — he's seemingly not more than a degree or two of separation from anyone in town. That doesn't just go for the folks in Baltimore's boardrooms or City Hall, where he has been a quiet voice in the ears of a succession of mayors dating back to at least Kurt Schmoke. It goes for just about anyone you meet on any street corner in Baltimore, and it explains why he has had such a rare combination of personal success and impact on raising the lives of others.
A Baltimore native and 1964 graduate of City College, Mr. Cryor earned his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Morgan State University and pursued graduate studies in the field, stopping just short of a Ph.D. Perhaps that explains his ability to connect with people and bring them together even under trying circumstances. His primary career has been in public affairs, but that doesn't begin to cover the work he has done, from facilitating major corporate deals to tackling the seemingly intractable problems of his hometown.
Indeed, it was a difficult time for Baltimore when then-Mayor Martin O'Malley chose Mr. Cryor to help lead an audacious campaign that was on the surface about stemming the toll of drug addiction on the city but was really about restoring hope. The Believe campaign launched just after the killing of the Dawson family in East Baltimore in an act of retaliation for Angela Dawson's efforts to stop drug dealing and other crime in her neighborhood. Mr. O'Malley says he recalls Mr. Cryor's courage in trying to "exorcise that debilitating thing we suffer from, that sense that we can't do anything about our drug problem and crime problem."
Wally Pinkard, who co-chaired the Believe campaign with Mr. Cryor, says it was his combination of out-of-the-box thinking and practicality that gave shape to what could have been an amorphous effort. But it never would have worked without his ability to cross lines in the city, Mr. Pinkard says. "He could speak to the people out in the community, people who would never sit at the table with the business community or even the civic leadership," Mr. Pinkard says. "His ability to bridge the chasm that often exists between the two was a great skill."
When Mr. O'Malley became governor, he persuaded a reluctant Mr. Cryor to become chairman of the state Democratic Party. It was an unusual move in that he had previously been a behind-the-scenes player, but not in that he was new to politics. Quite the contrary. He had met Mr. O'Malley when the future governor was working on Barbara Mikulski's first Senate run and he was chairing the campaign of one of her chief rivals. A couple of years later, he helped run then-Sen. Joe Biden's presidential campaign, a fact the vice president needled him about during his commencement address at Morgan State last month, when Mr. Cryor was receiving the Alumnus of the Year award. "I've known Michael a long time," Mr. Biden said. "Michael was the co-chairman of Biden for President, so you've got to question his judgment."
But his judgment is not something that often gets questioned. Amy Elias, the founder and CEO of Baltimore's Profiles public relations firm, who has worked with Mr. Cryor on a variety of projects over the years, says what distinguishes him is thoughtfulness and deliberation. "He doesn't rush in," she says. "He takes in ideas, he's a collaborator." Mr. Pinkard calls him a visionary. Mr. O'Malley refers to Mr. Cryor as "the horse whisperer" and says he was the guy they always put with him in the holding room before debates to center his mind.
Nor can any question his selflessness. He gives freely of himself, first with his family — Ms. Elias says he's the best grandfather she's ever seen — but also with his entire hometown. He has been blessed with great success, and he has made it his mission to give others the same gift. Mr. Schmoke, who is now president of the University of Baltimore, says Mr. Cryor is a "next-generation civil rights leader," whose work focuses on economic justice. "He's been excellent in opening doors of opportunity for people," Mr. Schmoke says. Morgan State University President David Wilson says Mr. Cryor's work with students goes far beyond an occasional guest lecture — he serves as a real mentor in what it means to be a leader. "He shows them that you can realize all your success without losing yourself in the process," Mr. Wilson says. Which gets back to his ability to connect to others. "For all his success," Mr. O'Malley says, "he's never a person who looks past an individual."
Born: Aug. 2, 1946, Baltimore
Education: City College High School, 1964; B.S., Morgan State University, 1968; M.S. Developmental Psychology, Montclair State University, 1970; additional courses in psychology, New School for Social Research and City University of New York
Career: Director of the Department of Consultation and Education, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York (1971-1973); associate dean at Morgan State University (1973-1980); executive vice president, Susan Davis International (1987-1995); president of the Cryor Group (1995-present)
Civic involvement: Director on the boards of BGE, Pepco Holdings, the Hippodrome Foundation and the Center Club; chair of the Board of Visitors for the University of Maryland School of Medicine; co-chairman Baltimore Believe campaign; chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party (2007-2009); chairman One Baltimore