Mayors take busman's holiday, visit another city

As they have since they first hit town, the nation's mayors were treated to a first-class version of Baltimore Sunday evening — special light-rail cars that breezed past regular riders from downtown to the industrial-chic Clipper Mill complex, where artists opened their studios, bands played and area vineyards, restaurants, farms and seafood companies offered a locavore spread.

If there was no way to totally shield them from Baltimore's urban ailments over the course of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting here this weekend, it was also probably unnecessary: The city execs from out of town not only would understand, they would know any police sirens they hear or potholes they drive over are not their problems.

"It's sort of relaxing," Maher Maso of Frisco, Texas, said of being in another mayor's city. "Somebody else has to deal with it."

"Mayor Maher," as he's echoingly known, is one of nearly 200 mayors from across the country in Baltimore until Monday for the gathering. They've been hearing speakers and attending meetings during the day, and going to parties and after-parties in the evening, from Little Italy to Fort McHenry to Silo Point and, last night, the former foundry that is home to condos, offices and the Woodberry Kitchen restaurant.

"They're really showing us the good side of the city, which doesn't bother me at all," said Mayor Denny Doyle of Beaverton, Ore. "The warts and the beauty marks are what cities are all about."

Doyle, mayor of the town famous as the home of Nike, sometimes likes to go rogue at conferences like this, hopping into a cab and asking the driver to take him somewhere off the beaten path. He's also a self-described public transit "junkie," and was eager to compare Baltimore's light rail to his own city's.

"Not bad at all," he said, as he rode up to Clipper Mill, even though Beaverton has five light rail lines to Baltimore's single one. "They're very expensive," he offered as an excuse for his host city. "Think of what you have to do in a city to get the right of way."

On Monday, the mayors will vote on a resolution urging a quick end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and re-directing the war funding to needs at home. They will also announce the results of their annual city water taste test and be entertained by John Waters at the American Visionary Arts Museum.

Mayors said they didn't have much time from official conference activities to head off on their own, but some have ventured a bit, mostly to the harbor or other nearby spots. They seem to be perfect guests, with nothing but praise for their host, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and the city.

"You compare and contrast," Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said of visiting other cities. "I like to look at the infrastructure. I look at public transit, revitalization efforts, new housing."

Mayors at heart can be municipal nerds, checking out the buses, street conditions and police vehicles as much as the tourist attractions when they're out of town.

"We can't stop ourselves. Some people look at buildings, we look down — at the cracks in the sidewalks and the potholes," said Peter Lewis, mayor of Auburn, Wash. "We look at the color of the fire hydrants, because they're different. When we're in a park, we're looking to see where the sprinklers are. We look at the color of the buses, and are they hybrids? We look at police cars, and wonder, is that a command car, is there LoJack?"

Lewis, though, was able to see the city beyond its municipal equipment. "I really enjoy the city of Baltimore," he said. "The spirit I see here, it's great. There's joy and soul to it."

Arlene Mulder of Arlington Heights, Ill., and Jim Brainerd of Carmel, Ind., gazed out of a window in the Baltimore Hilton and found themselves discussing not about the view of Camden Yards or other downtown sites, but the curbs. Mulder noticed the wheelchair ramps weren't painted the "ugly red" that she thought was required. Brainerd said he thought the ramps had to just be tactile enough for a disabled person to sense them.

They enjoyed seeing Baltimore's more conventional attractions as well, not to mention bonding with other mayors similarly dealing with the same issues these days: taxes, public pensions and the like.

"Each host mayor wants to show off their town," said Mulder, who after 19 years as mayor has been to numerous such gatherings.

In her showing-off effort, Rawlings-Blake apparently had a big assist from an enthusiastic cadre of blue T-shirted volunteers, who have been helping the out-of-towners at the hotel and on their outings.

"I haven't gone through a door or walked down a hallway," Mulder said, "without someone in a blue shirt giving me the biggest smile."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad