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After Freddie Gray, mayor needs governor for Baltimore's big fix

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has taken the full force of derision for her handling of the riots. All kinds of experts, both the self-asserted and those lettered in criminology, have offered hours of merciless criticism of Rawlings-Blake, and she's still dogged by the ludicrous allegation that she told police to give rioters "space" to destroy property.

The critics come from all over — talking heads who never governed anything, Internet trolls who hate everything, and Baltimoreans who believe their mayor did not act fast enough to prevent the fires and lootings.

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Few have come to Rawlings-Blake's defense in public, which is part of her problem. She doesn't seem to have a lot of high-profile allies and friends. They say it's lonely at the top, but this mayor takes that to a new level. She has a tough hide.

Assuming Rawlings-Blake runs for re-election — and most of us do — city voters will get to decide whether her decisions, words and actions in the matter of Freddie Gray and the riots that followed his funeral are cause for dismissal.

In the meantime, the mayor needs to realize that she has an opportunity to transform her city (and maybe salvage her political career), but she needs to act in a bold and urgent way. She needs to build an alliance with the governor of Maryland. She can't go this alone.

Rebuilding Baltimore — fixing the broken relationship between police and thousands of black citizens, breaking the cycle of poverty in a generationally impactful way — is going to be huge work. This has to be a bipartisan, urban-suburban, public-private effort. Otherwise the fix won't last.

I've spoken to many people — those who want to see a better Baltimore versus those who just sneer and snipe at the city's misery — and everyone seems to recognize that the riots pushed us into a crucible. Income inequality, the concentration of urban poverty, vacant houses and blighted neighborhoods, drug addiction and the war on drugs, violent crime, the struggles of ex-offenders to find jobs, the struggles of inner-city kids to get through high school — it's all there in front of us. It's in front of the nation. It's in front of the world.

So we need the Democratic mayor to work with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

We don't need this: "Asked about her relationship with Hogan, Rawlings-Blake said, 'I will continue to work with anyone who wants to work to move Baltimore forward.'"

I'm not the only one who felt a chill at those words, published in The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday.

The mayor is sober and serious; to some that means too cool for school. When she was a guest on my radio show a few months ago, a male caller wanted to know why she didn't smile when interviewed on national television. Rawlings-Blake gave a good answer without showing any resentment of a question that a man in her position never would get.

Baltimore needs a serious and smart mayor, especially now.

But the mayor needs the governor, not just "anyone."

And they both need a sense of urgency.

Establishing the One Baltimore campaign to respond to the unrest, and putting Michael Cryor in charge of it, was a good move by Rawlings-Blake. It capitalizes on amazing displays of good will by people across city and suburb in response to the ugliness of April 27.

There are plenty of people in the region who do not care what happens here, as long as they can get to and from an Orioles or Ravens game safely. But there are many others who live in the city or close by and who understand that the region's central city cannot be allowed to fail. The mayor is smart to capitalize on that spirit and energy.

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In the short term, One Baltimore will be a big help.

But in the long term — for sustainable improvements to the quality of life of thousands of Baltimoreans who've been struggling on the margins for too long — the mayor needs the governor. And the governor needs to call on the corporate class, the owners of businesses, the county executives and members of the General Assembly to finally form a regional effort on Baltimore, the kind that has been discussed and dismissed for decades.

He should approve the Red Line to get that major, job-creating, development-triggering project underway.

But that's just a piece of what needs to be done. Baltimore and Maryland need leaders who embrace a huge challenge.

This could be the stuff of legacy — for a Republican governor, a chance to chart a new course for his party through urban America; for a Democratic mayor, a chance to show the country how to confront the poverty and inequality that exists in metropolitan areas everywhere.

"The mayor has an opportunity to make history by rebuilding an American city, creating a city of tomorrow today," said City Councilman Jim Kraft.

But she needs the governor, and they both need what Dr. King called the "fierce urgency of now."

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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