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In upcoming political memoir, Maryland Gov. Hogan calls 2015 Baltimore unrest his ‘baptism of fire’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan talks about his new book and that he still has work to do as Governor of Maryland.

In his forthcoming political memoir, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan portrays himself as a decisive leader who restored calm to Baltimore after rioting and unrest in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured in police custody.

Hogan on Tuesday released five chapters from his book, “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America,” to be published July 28. They detail Gray’s death and the days that followed. The Republican governor describes the period as a “baptism of fire for the brand-new governor of Maryland!”

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Some see the book’s publication as an attempt by Hogan to raise his national profile, possibly in advance of a 2024 presidential run. In an interview Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun, Hogan said it’s “way too early” to discuss that.

“I understand why there’s speculation about that, because so many people write books as a precursor to some kind of a run for higher office,” he said. Hogan acknowledged “a lot of people have tried to encourage me” to run, but “it’s not something I’ve really given that much thought to.”

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Hogan said he’s also been asked repeatedly to write about his life: after he scored his upset victory in 2014 to win the first of two four-year terms, after the Baltimore unrest, after beating cancer. Finally, he said, he agreed.

“It wasn’t that calculated about, ‘Let me write a book so I can run for office,‘” Hogan said.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday at Government House, the governor's residence, in Annapolis.
Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday at Government House, the governor's residence, in Annapolis. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

In the book, Hogan writes of being faced with the crisis over Gray’s death in the state’s largest city just three months after taking office. He touts what he describes as his decisive action to call in Maryland National Guard troops and work from his Baltimore office for about a week.

The way Hogan tells it, he stepped forward in the absence of strong leadership from Baltimore’s Democratic mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and his actions restored calm to a wounded city.

Gray, 25, was in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore on April 12, 2015, when he ran as police officers approached him. After a brief chase, Gray was handcuffed and put in a police van without a seat belt. Forty-five minutes later, after multiple stops, police called medics because Gray was in medical distress. He was taken to a hospital where, suffering from spinal cord injuries, Gray died April 19.

Hogan had blistering criticism for Rawlings-Blake, who he blasts for not cracking down on demonstrators as protests developed. Hogan repeats an infamous quote from Rawlings-Blake, in which she said: “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.”

“In other words,” Hogan writes, “unless the gang members and the out-of-town agitators injured or killed someone, the mayor was going to let them destroy property and cause other kinds of mayhem.”

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's memoir Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's memoir Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America. (BenBella Books)

Hogan says he realized the situation had the potential to get worse and he couldn’t trust Rawlings-Blake’s leadership. He asked his staff to start drafting state of emergency orders.

“Paralyzed with fear and indecision, the mayor was truly making some very poor decisions: ordering the police to stand down and missing in action when her city was desperate and needed her most,” Hogan writes.

Hogan said in the interview that he directs much of his criticism in these chapters at Rawlings-Blake because he dealt with her the most. “It was the mayor that was making decisions,” he said. “I came in as the governor to take over the security of the state and deal with all of the issues.”

On April 27, the day of Gray’s funeral, Baltimore experienced the worst violence, with arson and looting. Hogan makes only a glancing reference to violence near Mondawmin Mall, which many believe may have been triggered by a shutdown of a mass transit hub, stranding young people. Neither the city nor state has said who ordered the shutdown and the state won’t release its camera footage from the site.

Hogan recounted repeated phone calls to Rawlings-Blake to try to get her to agree to the state of emergency. Hogan adviser Keiffer Mitchell was in Baltimore with the mayor and at one point said she couldn’t be found. Hogan ordered Mitchell, a former Democratic state delegate from Baltimore, to tell the city police commissioner to find her. Ten minutes later, the mayor called and eventually agreed to the emergency order, Hogan writes.

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“‘Governor, since you have a gun at my head and are going to do it anyway, I guess I’ll ask you to come in,‘” Rawlings-Blake said, according to Hogan’s recollection.

“She would blame me, the governor who acted decisively to save her city when she was too overwhelmed, too indecisive, and too frightened to get the job done,” Hogan writes.

Rawlings-Blake did not respond Tuesday to Hogan’s criticism. When asked in 2016 about similar comments by Hogan in a speech while she was still in office, she declined to comment. A spokesman said she preferred “to focus on governing the city rather than obsessing on perceived past slights or differences of opinion.”

Baltimore activist Kwame Rose said Tuesday bringing the National Guard into Baltimore made things worse.

“It’s given young people trauma. We don’t need over-policing. The policing was the problem in the first place,” Rose said.

Hogan also writes about getting a call from Democratic President Barack Obama that was critical of him. “‘I’m concerned that your actions could potentially inflame an already tense environment,‘” Hogan recalled Obama saying. “‘My strong advice would be that you exercise caution and restraint in the city.‘”

Hogan writes that Obama attempted to guide “me, the rookie, white Republican governor who had recently defeated his candidate for governor of Maryland in this overwhelmingly Democratic state and whose majority-black, largest city was now in flames. A lot of land mines there.” Hogan had defeated the Democratic candidate, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, in the 2014 election for governor.

Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill declined Tuesday to comment.

Hogan writes that in the days that followed, he talked tough when Rawlings-Blake relayed a threat from gang members who said they were angry about a curfew and would burn down the Inner Harbor. Hogan writes that he shot back: “I don’t care if the gangs or the drug dealers are upset because their drug sales are down.”

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“You tell them to go ahead and make my day,” he recalled telling Rawlings-Blake. “Tell them to come on down, I’ll be waiting for them, and several hundred state troopers and National Guard soldiers will be waiting for them.”

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Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby also comes in for criticism. Hogan recounts how Mosby quickly moved to file criminal charges against six officers involved in arresting and transporting Gray. Ultimately, none was convicted.

Hogan described the lack of convictions that stemmed from the charges a “complete defeat” for Mosby. “Mosby, the ‘no justice, no peace’ prosecutor, was 0 for 6,” he writes.

Mosby did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

The governor wrote that people shouldn’t confuse Gray “with a singer in the church choir.” Hogan called him “a Crips gang-connected, street-level drug dealer with a long criminal rap sheet, well known to these Baltimore City police.” In the portions of the book released Tuesday, Hogan offered no evidence for his characterization of Gray as being connected to a gang.

Rose called Hogan’s description “sickening.”

“I can’t believe in this climate he would write something to dehumanize a man whose death sparked and inspired tens of thousands of young people to be a part of solutions,” he said.

”I don’t care if Freddie Gray was a murderer, I don’t care if Freddie Gray was the biggest kingpin. In that situation where he interacted with Baltimore City Police, he should have never died,” Rose said. Gray was neither; his record was mostly related to low-level drug sales.

“This young man never even had the opportunity to sing in the choir,” Rose said.

Hogan’s tale of Baltimore on fire has regained relevance in recent weeks, as cities experienced a wave of protests over police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis.

While demonstrators and police in Baltimore said they learned lessons from 2015 that helped them keep rallies here largely peaceful this time, Hogan condemned protesters, city leadership and police this month after a statue of Christopher Columbus was toppled and thrown in the harbor.

In the book, too, Hogan stakes out a position of standing with the police against chaos in the streets.

”The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department were put in an impossible position,” he writes of 2015. “On the one hand, their fellow officers were the ones being accused of killing Freddie Gray. Now, they were literally under attack and not permitted to respond.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker, Justin Fenton, Emily Opilo and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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