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Government & Politics

Jack Young’s Moment, Baltimore’s Hope

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young moments after being sworn in earlier this year. Photo by William F. Zorzi

It was as if the reality that he was truly now the 51st mayor of the City of Baltimore finally hit him at that very instant.

After the prolonged month-long wait for the former mayor to resign amid her legal problems, after the lofty remarks of Maryland’s governor, senior U.S. senator, new House of Delegates speaker and others, after all the platitudes, praise and hopeful speechifying, after being sworn in by the clerk of the Baltimore Circuit Court, after signing the mayoral oath book – only then must it have all sunk in.

After all that, Bernard C. “Jack” Young stood before hundreds and hundreds of supporters and well-wishers, city workers and elected officials, friends and family, who had gathered Thursday afternoon at the fortress-like War Memorial, across an open plaza from the front of City Hall, to witness the ceremony of his being officially sworn in to office.

Young, an East Baltimore Democrat, began his remarks by acknowledging all of them – dwelling, understandably, on his family members – and thanking each.

He said he was grateful to the people of the City of Baltimore “for providing me with strength and encouragement” in the five weeks since first taking over as acting mayor from Catherine E. Pugh (D).

“For the people who don’t know me, my name is Jack,” he said by way of introduction, extending both of his arms out from his side, in a light-hearted gesture.

Finally, he got around to thanking his colleagues on the Baltimore City Council, all Democrats, men and women he has led as president of the body for the last nine years.

Twice, nearly in the same breath, Young mentioned “the incredible members of the Baltimore City Council” to great applause.

But then he stopped abruptly for just a few seconds, a long enough pause to notice.

“That’s emotional,” he explained, though no explanation seemed necessary at that point.

The crowd began to applaud.

He composed himself and started again.

But as he began his remarks anew, his voice cracked with emotion.

“S’all right,” shouted one man from the rear.

The applause grew louder and the assembled rose to their feet, cheering.

As they did, Young’s wife Darlene got up from her seat on stage, walked to the podium, handed him a handkerchief, and he wiped the tears from his cheeks.

Young, who will turn 65 next month, does not have a reputation for hiding his emotions, good, bad or indifferent.

“With Jack, what you see is what you get,” said 14th District Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke, a Democrat.

It has been a long and at times difficult climb in politics since he started as a part-time $2,000-a-year clerk in the office of then-Council President Clarke in the late 1980s. He was first elected in 1996 to the City Council from East Baltimore’s then-2nd District and became Council president in 2010.

Now, looking back down from Baltimore’s version of a mountaintop, Young finds himself in charge of a city with a relentless murder rate, a government seemingly rife with corruption, agencies that often appear unable to provide basic services and a very weary electorate.

Under the City Charter, Young officially became mayor when Pugh finally resigned May 2. Under provisions of the Charter, he took the helm as acting mayor April 2, when Pugh announced April 1 that she was taking an indefinite leave, citing health issues, amid what was then an unfolding scandal over the questionable sale of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

Two weeks ago, the heat from that scandal seemed to get turned up a notch, when the FBI and IRS agents raided her offices in City Hall, two properties she owns in Ashburton, including her home, and several other locations affiliated with her, removing computers, files and records after serving federal grand jury search warrants.

The Pugh fallout seemed to hang over the ceremony Thursday, with some speakers alluding to it, but never explicitly mentioning it.

Young himself came closest, saying at one point, “We’ve had our strength tested lately.”

While acknowledging the problems facing the city, though, he was upbeat in his remarks about the future.

“I don’t know nobody else that is more resilient than Baltimore,” he said. “We are made tough.”

He made clear that his administration was going to push to fix what many believe is broken with Baltimore.

“We have a unique opportunity to right the ship,” Young said.

In closing, Young said that the city’s crime problem would be a priority, saying that the 1 percent of the population that is the criminal element needed to be stopped.

“They are not going to take over the city,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

Marc Steiner, a one-time public radio talk-show host, emceed the event.

Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. led off the proceedings, pledging his “full and continued support” to Baltimore and Young.

“Baltimore City is … a city that has been tested and which continues to face longstanding, serious challenges,” Hogan said. “But today marks an opportunity for all of us. With new leadership, we now have this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to finding real solutions to the serious problems facing the city.”

The governor said he looked forward to working with Young to “revitalize” the city.

“The fight for Baltimore City’s future is a fight worth fighting,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) shared the stage with an array of dignitaries at Mayor Young’s swearing-in ceremony. Photo by William F. Zorzi

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), a former Maryland House speaker from Baltimore City, told the group that he and other members of the state delegation to Congress “are all in for Baltimore City.”

“Jack Young is the right person to lead Baltimore City,” Cardin said. “He has always put the people of Baltimore first.”

Cardin did make a point of mentioning Brandon M. Scott, a Democrat from East Baltimore’s 2nd District who was elected president of the City Council by his colleagues on Monday. Scott, who was on stage, sitting with Young’s family, did not address the crowd.

“We are all … working on the local and federal level to make sure Baltimore has the resources they need to prosper,” he said.

With Young as mayor, Cardin said, “Baltimore is in good hands.”

Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who was elected speaker of the House of Delegates last week, becoming the first African American and first woman to be a presiding officer in the Maryland General Assembly, received a standing ovation as she approached the podium.

Jones, who emerged as the compromise candidate for speaker in a fight for the job between Baltimore City Del. Maggie L. McIntosh and Prince George’s Del. Dereck E. Davis, clearly indicated that she was willing to look kindly on the city’s requests of the legislature.

“It is my goal to support Mayor Young, as he handles Baltimore City’s needs,” Jones said. “I want Mayor Young and the citizens of Baltimore City to know, as speaker, I will take a vested interest in Baltimore’s future.”

Echoing others, Jones said to Young, “I know you are the strong mayor Baltimore City needs right now.”

Kweisi Mfume, the former Democratic congressman from Maryland’s 7th District, introduced Young, speaking briefly and urging the various assembled political leaders to work together for the good of the city.

Young singled out three former Baltimore mayors, all Democrats, in the audience: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Sheila Dixon and Martin J. O’Malley, who went on to be governor for two terms.

Among the elected officials at the ceremony were Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), as well as members of the city’s delegations to the Maryland House and Senate, and members of the City Council.

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Jack Young’s Moment, Baltimore’s Hope