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Democratic Mayor Pugh invites GOP Rep. Harris to Baltimore after he labels downtown 'dangerous'

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris spoke to about 130 people during a town hall meeting at the Joppa-Magnolia fire hall March 1.
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris spoke to about 130 people during a town hall meeting at the Joppa-Magnolia fire hall March 1.(David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she called U.S. Rep. Andy Harris on Friday and invited him to Baltimore after the Republican congressman told a Carroll County audience earlier this week that the city’s downtown is “dangerous.”

But the Democratic mayor said Harris told her he did not need to visit the city with her because he comes to Baltimore regularly and his comments were misinterpreted.

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“I called Andy and asked him what he was thinking. Why would he make those comments?” Pugh said. “I invited him to come on downtown. He said he comes here. He said he’s been here. He said his comments were taken out of context.”

At a town hall meeting Wednesday in Carroll County, Harris said it was risky and “dangerous” to walk in the city’s downtown.

“We have to put risks in proportion,” the Baltimore County Republican said in response to a question about school shootings. “If we want to do something dangerous today it’s not going to your elementary school, it’s going to downtown Baltimore. That’s what risk is. Over 300 murders a year with a handgun.”

There were 342 homicides in Baltimore last year — the worst in the city’s history on a per capita basis — three of which occurred downtown. An aide clarified that Harris was speaking about all of Baltimore, not just downtown.

Video taken by an audience member at the town hall in Hampstead shows Harris facing a skeptical crowd on gun control as he offered an argument against banning assault weapons and raising the age for purchasing weapons.

The mayor released data that showed crime in downtown Baltimore — a popular area for tourism — is declining. Violent crime is down 13 percent to start the year in downtown, while property crime is down 48 percent compared with last year.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the public safety committee, also reached out to Harris, Maryland’s only Republican congressman. On Twitter Scott said he would introduce Harris to “people and programs who work everyday on the issue” of violence in the city.

“Hey @RepAndyHarrisMD if you want to see the outrage about violence in Baltimore call me and set up a visit,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “Otherwise please put down the 101 version of the hysteria spreading handbook.”

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In an emailed statement, Harris said he had an “excellent conversation” with Pugh.

"I pointed out that my comments at the Carroll County town hall were about Baltimore City as a whole, not about the Inner Harbor or the stadium areas,” Harris said. “Mayor Pugh is clearly making progress toward reducing violent crime, but Baltimore City still has a way to go. Regarding school safety, my point was that, statistically, our schools here in Maryland generally, and Carroll County specifically, are very, very safe places — but we still we have to do everything we can to make sure that our students actually feel safe in our schools."

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