City mayors don't focus on city [Commentary]

It does not take political expertise, a crime fighting background or an economics degree to understand that the city of Baltimore is struggling. As the economic engine for a metropolitan area of 2.7 million people, the continued vitality of the city is an issue of vital importance far outside its limits.

Unfortunately for the last 15 years, a succession of mayors who are more interested in grabbing for the brass ring than they are in providing competent leadership for the city they claim to love have ruled Baltimore.


Martin O'Malley was elected in 1999. He was a different guy back then. He had an anger for what was happening on the streets and a passion to fix it, which was most evident in his fights with former Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy over prosecuting cases. However, after he was talked out of a gubernatorial run in 2002, all of that changed. Mr. O'Malley became focused solely on his next gig, and the one after that. Gone was the reformer passionate about the city, and in his place was a Martin O'Malley focused on the State House and beyond. No longer was he a take charge mayor, but the guy who has spent the better part of a decade dodging responsibility for the city and blaming his problems on others — something he still does to this day as he runs for president.

Sheila Dixon's problems as mayor stemmed not from trying to better herself politically, but financially. Instead of fixing the city, Ms. Dixon helped herself to gift cards donated for needy families and fur coats she received as gifts from her city contractor boyfriend. Mercifully, her term ended in resignation after her trial.


Ms. Dixon's disgrace paved the way for the current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She's had the good fortune of being born into a political family and the luck of promotions due to vacancies. So far, as mayor, Ms. Rawlings-Blake seems to be more interested in the family business than she has been in good governance. She appears to spend as much time out of the city as she does in it, disproportionately focused on her role as secretary of the Democratic National Committee and making appearances on Meet the Press to attack Congressional Republicans. With that schedule, who has time to govern?

It's unfortunate that for so long Baltimore has been saddled with mayors who are more concerned with career advancement than they are with fixing its problems: violent crime, high taxes, a shrinking job market and crumbling schools. Problems that make HBO's crime drama "The Wire" often time seem less like fiction and more like a documentary.

But it isn't just the big, overarching problems that show how far off the ball city leadership has been. It's smaller issues too. Like the fact that it took until 2014 to realize that city police detectives did not have voice mail on their desk phones.

How many simple, basic issues like that have been missed over the course of the last 15 years because City Hall didn't have its eye on the ball?

There are a lot of great people in Baltimore who are trying to do a lot of great things. Non-profits and the private sector are trying to get crime off the streets, trying to get people off of drugs, trying to teach basic workplace skills, trying to make sure that the homeless can get a meal and trying to make sure students get a good education. But at some point, when does the bloom fall off of that rose? When will people finally throw their hands up and give up on the city because the mayor has other concerns besides Baltimore?

Think it won't happen? There is a reason that Tracey Halvorsen's blog post "Baltimore City, You're Breaking My Heart" went viral at the beginning of this month. It taps into the frustration, the anger and fear about the direction the city is headed and the lack of will by those in elected office to do anything about it.

Once that boils over, everybody who can move out of the city will. Then what?

There is still more than two years between now and the next Baltimore city election. In that time, I hope for the sake of the city that we all love, the people of Baltimore can find an adult to run the ship of state.


Brian Griffiths is a frequent contributor to Red Maryland, a conservative radio network and blog whose content appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun and on His email is

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