Frustration over race and gender of Baltimore's mayors should be focused on decades of city neglect
By Donte' L. Hickman
May 10, 2019 | 10:50 AM
Mary Bubala, left, questions Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya "Kaye" Wise Whitehead, far right, in the wake of Catherine Pugh's resignation as mayor of Baltimore.
Recently, I was sent through social media a video of WJZ anchorwoman Mary Bubala asking a question on TV about the need for a change in mayoral leadership of the city of Baltimore. She said the last three mayors have been female and African American. She continued that two have resigned, and asked if this signals that it’s time for a different type of leadership. I must admit that when I heard it I was riveted, because she actually cited their race and gender as the basis of what needed to be changed in leadership. To me, the premise of her question was inappropriate, insensitive and inconsiderate, especially for an experienced journalist of her stature and character. Race and gender have nothing to do with competent leadership. She should’ve qualified her descriptives of their leadership with something more relevant like policies, legislative agenda, comprehensive approach, party affiliation or even personal indiscretions.
The fact of the matter is that each of the last three mayors was very effective in their leadership of our city in many aspects. Leaders, whether male or female, black or white, should be evaluated by their merits, and not their color or sex. Does Ms. Bubala’s question mean that she is a racist or sexist? I don’t know her personally and can’t make that conclusive judgement. My discernment of her as a tenured journalist in our city leads me to think that she is not. But what she said and the tenor in which she said it represents an undercurrent and misunderstanding of so many people who are privileged and fail to empathize with people who are and have been oppressed. Some may say that people who are offended have become too sensitive and make it difficult for people to say anything anymore. But I say that we have to become more sensitive and thoughtful about what we say that normalizes racism, sexism and classism.
"We have had three female, African-American mayors in a row... Is it a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?" That question ended an anchorwoman's career and launched thousands of social media comments. It's a bad question. But the reaction is extreme.
So let’s answer the question. Is a different type of leadership necessary? The answer for me is no. We need more leaders like Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Sheila Dixon and Catherine Pugh who stepped up to the plate and led a racially, economically and educationally divided city with strength, determination and optimism. We need more leaders like Stephanie, Sheila and Catherine who fought for sometimes ungrateful and insensitive people who failed to understand the limited constraints of public resources. Those three female, African American mayors made us proud in their service, self-confidence and sacrifice for the City of Baltimore. People can debate their styles, personalities, strategies, politics, ideas and choices, but their race and gender should never discount, disqualify or describe their impact, relevance and effectiveness.
What Baltimore needs is not a different “type” — i.e. race or gender — of leadership, but a different level of support financially and legislatively. There is a culture that is born out of depravity in our city and urban centers across our country. We have to be more intentional about redressing the systemic and economic disparities that have demoralized, destabilized and disenfranchised generations of inner city communities and families. Until we restore people and rebuild properties we will continue to endure crime, chaos and corruption. There is no mayor or police commissioner who can save our city alone beyond the restoration of consciousness, justice and personal responsibility. It is precisely the polarization of black and white and male and female that distracts us from the weightier matters that keep our inner city communities and children mentally, economically, educationally and socially imprisoned.
What’s going on in this story ranges from WJZ’s handling of the matter, to the frustration and anger many feel about the state of political life in Baltimore today. And those factors are multiplied by the unpredictable power of social media and the incredibly polarized state of American life.
The question Mary Bubala asked (and for which she has since been fired from her anchorwoman job) seems to have signaled some frustration with the race and gender of our previous three mayors, but I contend that the frustration should be refocused on the more sinister decades of neglect and the effects of poverty and oppression. Female, African American leaders didn’t break our city, but they were broken in their attempt to try to fix it. And it will take all of us — black and white, male and female — to put our city back together.
Donte' L. Hickman is pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore City, Harford and Howard counties. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.