'Another brutal blow:' Baltimore acting mayor asks lawmakers to help preserve Pimlico, Preakness

Baltimore's acting mayor, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, speaks Thursday to Baltimore's state delegates in Annapolis. Young wrote a letter to General Assembly leaders, asking them to kill a bill that would favor the Laurel Park horseracing track over Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

In his first lobbying effort in Annapolis as Baltimore’s acting mayor, Bernard C. “Jack” Young implored the Maryland General Assembly’s leaders to kill a bill that would change state subsidies to favor the Laurel Park horseracing track over Pimlico Race Course.

“As you are aware, Baltimore city is going through a very difficult period in its history, with Mayor Catherine Pugh taking a leave of absence for health reasons while simultaneously facing serious allegations into her conduct as an elected official,” Young told Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch. “I am writing to you today to ask for your leadership in preventing our city from suffering insult on top of this grave injury.”


Young’s letter is part of a broader effort by Baltimore boosters to defeat proposed legislation favored by The Stronach Group, which owns the tracks, that would authorize the issuance of state bonds to accelerate Laurel Park’s renovations and eventually transfer Pimlico’s operations — including the Preakness Stakes — to the Anne Arundel County track.

The legislation, Young wrote, “would be the final nail in the coffin of Pimlico Race Course, and would lay the groundwork for Canadian Stronach Group to move the Preakness from Baltimore.”


The Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee could vote Friday on the legislation that would help build a “super track” in Laurel, said Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the committee.

One option would be to move the bill forward would be an amendment to a bill that already passed the House of Delegates concerning funding for the race course at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. The amendment would authorize the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to issue $120 million in bonds to finance $80 million in improvements to Laurel, plus $40 million for a training center at the former Bowie Race Track.

Del. Nick J. Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat who been vocally fighting moving the race, said the proposed amendment “circumvents the whole committee process.”

“This is why people lose faith in the legislature,” Mosby said. “The General Assembly can’t accept this garbage.”

Young released his letter Thursday and met with Baltimore’s state lawmakers, telling them he planned to discuss the future of Pimlico with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“The biggest thing on my agenda is Pimlico,” Young said.

Young believes the governor could issue an executive order compelling The Stronach Group to “come to the table” and discuss the future of the Pimlico track with city officials.

Hogan’s office said the governor and Young talked briefly Thursday but did not discuss Pimlico. Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said the two men planned to meet again soon.


Bill Hecht, a Stronach executive, said his company is always open to meeting with city officials and other stakeholders.

“We look forward to substantive and realistic discussions,” said Hecht, who is CEO of Stronach Properties, a division of The Stronach Group.

I am writing to you today to ask for your leadership in preventing our City from suffering insult on top of this grave injury.

—  Ex offico Mayor Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young

“We appreciate the acting mayor’s leadership and we hope that this signals a change in direction,” Hecht added.

Pugh sued The Stronach Group last month in hopes of blocking it from moving the Preakness Stakes, the second leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown, from Pimlico.

Young, the City Council president who has been serving as ex officio mayor since Pugh went on leave Monday, told the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly in his letter that he did not want to lose the Preakness “on my watch.”

He added that Stronach’s plan to favor Laurel Park over Pimlico would “land yet another brutal blow on Maryland’s leading city.”


“The city cannot afford to lose the nearly $50 million in economic impact provided by the Preakness,” Young wrote. “While these are my first few days in this temporary position, you both know that I am dedicated to this city and will passionately defend it. I am asking you to please stand with me.”

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The longtime Democratic official in Baltimore pledged to “negotiate an agreement that benefits all parties involved without unduly damaging any stakeholder.”

Young was joined in his lobbying effort by Mosby and Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP.

Mosby asked the Maryland Racing Commission on Wednesday to investigate the living conditions of racetrack workers at Laurel Park. The Baltimore Democrat toured Laurel Park with Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman last week and wrote that the “unsanitary living conditions” are “reprehensible and disgraceful.”

The Maryland Racing Commission did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Stansbury wrote to King saying the state NAACP cannot support any legislative action until “Laurel Park remedies living conditions for track workers.”


“We ask you to stand with us for the vulnerable citizens who are forced to live in a work camp, not possessing the economic freedom to live elsewhere,” Stansbury wrote. “We urge the General Assembly to require The Stronach Group to live up to their legal obligation to provide decent housing for vulnerable workers before approval of” the Senate’s version of the legislation.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.