Our Democracy is hanging by a thread. Less than two years ago, we witnessed a full scale insurrection in Washington, D.C., where rioters assaulted Capitol Police officers and threatened to assassinate the vice president and members of Congress. It is against this backdrop of recent political violence that makes the behavior exhibited at Tuesday’s City Council hearing so troubling.
As members of Baltimore’s governing body, we collectively condemn the outrageous and dangerous behavior exhibited at City Hall. The free exchange of ideas should never be accompanied by petty, personal insults or thinly veiled threats of a riot.
Before last night’s hearing, City Council President Nick Mosby held a news conference with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA). The Boston-based organization provides counseling and loan brokering for low-income homebuyers. According to a media advisory sent by NACA, the purpose of the news conference was to support President Mosby’s Dollar Home Legislation and “expose Mayor Brandon Scott’s opposition to the legislation.”
As we entered the City Council chambers, a long line of people waited outside to get in. Many wore yellow shirts with “NACA” printed on them. The hearing — the ninth to date on Dollar Homes — began uneventfully, with city agencies offering testimony. (In the prior meeting we voted seven for and seven against the legislation, with one member absent, which counts as a no vote. The legislation had failed to advance.)
About an hour into the hearing, as public testimony got underway, the chamber was filled with yelling and chanting coming from the hallway. Rather than pause the hearing in order to restore order, the council president elected to let the emotions build. As the first speaker concluded their testimony, and President Mosby invited NACA CEO Bruce Marks to the podium, the energy in chambers shifted from tense to chaotic. Mr. Marks, who had been walking in and out of the chamber mostly maskless, led the crowd in a chant about Mayor Scott and then took to the podium.
During his remarks he stated that Mayor Scott was, “bought and paid for by the real estate industry.” He also claimed that Councilmember Odette Ramos — an expert and longtime advocate for affordable housing — opposed the legislation because she was “in the pocket of developers,” a charge so wildly inaccurate it was obvious to anyone with a cursory familiarity with her background. Mr. Marks repeatedly told the council that there were “700 people” waiting outside the chambers (we counted about 150) and that he was trying to prevent a riot from occurring. We interpreted this as a veiled threat about what would happen if we continued to vote against the Dollar Homes bill.
President Mosby should have immediately removed Mr. Marks from the chamber. But he didn’t. He let the show go on, putting the entire City Council and the mayor’s staff in harm’s way, essentially condoning the behavior.
It raises the question: How did a Boston-based housing organization with a questionable past find its way to Baltimore to argue for legislation that wouldn’t impact its city or state? We received an email Wednesday morning from a participant who was disgusted by the events that took place and felt manipulated into supporting a program that would not affect them as a non-citizen of Baltimore. And though we assume that NACA members were invited to quell our concerns about the Dollar House bill, we fail to see how their mortgage program — backed by Bank of America — would be helpful to our residents.
President Mosby has repeatedly invoked the need for decorum at City Hall. Yet, he partnered with an organization that led an angry crowd to search City Hall for Mayor Brandon Scott and bang on his door, while threatening a riot. That President Mosby did not have Mr. Marks immediately escorted out of the building demonstrated a profound lack of judgment or respect for the body over which he presides.
We are elected by the residents of Baltimore City to do one job: make Baltimore better. The people we serve deserve a City Council that is professional, debates policy issues with dignity and has our city’s best interests in mind. We owe them that. Our city has serious challenges and enormous opportunities. In the weeks ahead, the council members who are writing this op-ed, will introduce a package of bills meant to advance good governance, racial and economic justice in our city.
President Mosby has since apologized to “the men and women who work” in the building and the police officers helping to secure it for actions at the hearing that were “completely disrespectful to the institution of the City Council.” But that’s not enough. We, the undersigned members of the Baltimore City Council, believe that President Mosby owes Mayor Brandon Scott, the City Council — especially Councilwoman Odette Ramos — and all of the citizens of Baltimore a public apology.
Phylicia Porter (firstname.lastname@example.org), Zeke Cohen (email@example.com), Ryan Dorsey (Ryan.Dorsey@baltimorecity.gov), Kris Burnett (firstname.lastname@example.org), James Torrence (James.Torrence@baltimorecity.gov) and Odette Ramos (Odette.email@example.com). The writers are members of the Baltimore City Council.