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Good leadership is needed to turn Baltimore around

Bernard C. "Jack" Young, president of the Baltimore City Council, speaks to the media in Annapolis. Young will take over as ex officio Baltimore mayor as Mayor Catherine Pugh takes a leave of absence.  (Pamela Wood / Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore is at an inflection point where it will either undertake the tough measures needed to turn the city around or continue on its long descent to irrelevance. Yet Baltimore’s acting mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young apparently thinks that the best use of his time is petitioning state legislators to keep the Preakness at Pimlico (“Document: Acting Baltimore Mayor Jack Young's letter to lawmakers about Pimlico,” Apr. 4). The Preakness is irrelevant. There is no rational argument for why it should remain in Baltimore and the city has more pressing matters. If our political leaders conduct business as usual, it only ensures that Baltimore will continue with its descent.

My family has been in Baltimore for five generations and both sides of my wife’s family have been here for over six. Baltimore was a great place to grow up because most of my extended family lived here and the city had a vibrant economy at the time.These days, most major corporate employers have decamped for places with a more hospitable business climate, and all my brothers, cousins, and relatives moved elsewhere for better job prospects. I too am considering a move to North Carolina because the opportunities are more plentiful. We may stick it out in Baltimore a bit longer, but I feel that it is only a matter of when we leave, not if.

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It’s great that Amtrak signed a deal to start developing the area around Station North, but banking on a high-speed rail to turn Baltimore into a bedroom community for Washington is not a viable economic strategy. Where is the plan to bring more corporations into Baltimore, to foster trade schools, or provide jobs for the residents who can’t just pack up and move somewhere else? Ironically, the same situation played out in Prince George’s County during the 1970s until Larry Hogan Sr. became county executive and undertook the politically unpopular but necessary steps to put Prince George’s County on the path to recovery. His strong medicine was tax reform.

Between 1950 and 1975, Baltimore City raised its property taxes 19 times, according to Steve Hanke, professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University. His recent letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal is worth reading. A similar state of affairs was choking Prince George’s County when Larry Hogan Sr. started his plan of attack. But it is not up to Gov. Larry Hogan to fix this; it’s up to the leadership in Baltimore. Do you have the political will to do what is necessary, or must we continue watching Baltimore squander its potential, drive residents away and slide further into irrelevance?

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Both my wife and I are the last ones of our respective families to remain in Baltimore, and whether we continue here or vote with our feet like so many others depends on the actions our city leadership takes over the next several months. The clock is ticking.

Jeff Burnett, Baltimore

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