I moved to Baltimore in June of 1982. Jobs were non-existent for mediocre graduates like me, but I was pursuing a girl more than a career. It was the era of Mayor Donald Schaefer and Clarence Henry “Du” Burns. Harborplace and the Aquarium were in their infancy. Things weren’t perfect but there was a sense of revival and promise.
Baltimore was, and still is, a quirky place for a newcomer to navigate. Where did you go to school? That was the quintessential Baltimore question asked on my first day of work. I answered with the name of my university and was of course asked about my high school, instead. My first job was at The Union Trust Company of Maryland. The bank was a dinosaur fossilizing in place and its headquarters was a bone yard at the corner of St. Paul and Baltimore Streets. I learned a lot about, but not enough to understand Baltimore’s history and its culture of moneyed families.
I heard the reverent conversations about private schools. Rich and richer. The abundance of money and brainpower in this town still makes it hard for me to understand the seeming indifference to the problems of the city. We are neighbors after all. Where is the leadership encouraging us to team up and get something done? The sad fact is that Baltimore has been plagued by increasingly flawed leaders.
There was the “it’s all about me” bandleader and his “throw everyone in jail” policies. Then came the “what’s a few $100 in gift cards among friends anyway?” mayor who is unbelievably running for office again. Next up was the “legacy politico” who was all about looking important, but completely in over her head when crisis struck the city. Then we got the misspeller-in-chief who set a new standard for corruption. Her departure saddled the city with yet another under performer who has decided he wants to keep the job.
We can’t go back in time, but we can go in a different direction. Therefore, as a relative outsider, I would like to propose a novel idea. Let’s nominate Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson for mayor. I witnessed the pride that crossed all boundaries when the Orioles won the 1983 World Series. The city glowed orange and fans flooded the streets. In 1984, I experienced the pain, grief and mourning of our community when the Colts abandoned us. The old timers cussed and cried. The city united in rage and we sulked in NFL exile for 12 long years. We reveled in the 2001 for the Raven’s Super Bowl victory — “Who Let the Dogs Out…Woof, woof.” The leadership of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed unified the team and the city. They were smart, tough leaders. Team first. City first. Cheering in the streets, Baltimore’s people were all brothers and sisters despite our racial and socioeconomic differences. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2013 Super Bowl. John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin were gritty, determined, humble leaders. Team first. City first. The crowd’s confused reaction when the Raven’s fans shouted “O!” during the national anthem was priceless. New Orleans was teeming with Baltimore pride.
Recently, my wife and I went to California to visit our son and to see the Ravens play the Rams. The flyover drowned out the shout of “O!” but the Raven’s fans took their cue from the team and imposed their will on the Rams’ fans. We were outnumbered, but we were louder. Lamar, Mark Ingram Jr. and the defense led the way to a 45-6 victory.
When Lamar won the Heisman he said, “For my teammates, this is an award for all of us.” That’s real leadership. Just what our city needs.
In actuality, I don’t really want Lamar for mayor. His current job is too important. He needs to lead us to win the Super Bowl. But we can look to him and the team as a model for fierce, determined and humble leadership. We need a mayor with Lamar’s power to inspire and deliver. Where are the smart, tough, humble, fearless and unrelenting leaders? Where is the fortitude to put city before self? It is time for the state and city government officials and agencies, charitable foundations, businesses, hospitals, universities and citizens to declare team first, city first. Just like we need Lamar to pull the Ravens together to win, we need a leader who will inspire us to tackle the city’s problems.
Jesse Gardner (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Baltimore and is the CFO and co-owner of a management company that specializes in the electric power industry.