When Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott (D) becomes the city’s 52nd mayor Tuesday, there will be no major celebratory events.
Lavish inaugural galas were once the norm at the Baltimore Convention Center. Today, the huge complex has been converted into a field hospital for recovering COVID-19 patients.
As the virus continues its stranglehold over the city, there will be a much quieter transfer of power at City Hall. Positive cases are skyrocketing, and Scott as well as outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) were both forced to self-quarantine this past week after being potentially being exposed to someone with COVID.
Scott, 36, will become Baltimore’s youngest mayor. He inherits a city ravaged by violence as homicides have already exceeded 300 for the sixth straight year. The economic fallout from COVID-19 also appears far from over as countless small businesses have shut down permanently while bars and restaurants continue to face restrictions on hours of operation.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, Scott says, “There are two priorities. We have the pandemic of COVID-19 and the epidemic of gun violence. We have to make sure we are handling the growing COVID numbers in this crisis in the best way possible while focusing on violence reduction strategies offenders and gun trafficking.
“We need to hold people accountable while simultaneously addressing the other issues that need to be handled by people other than the police department,” Scott added.
The incoming mayor says it is critical that Congress enact a new stimulus package that will benefit small businesses as well as citizens.
“We know that our public health institutions are going to need help,” he said. “We are hoping that they actually send aid to cities to bridge these budget gaps that are being caused by COVID so that we can support our businesses and restaurants. I’m going to be working with our federal delegation to make sure Baltimore gets what it needs.”
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, says public safety and economic development should be top priorities of the new mayor. “You must have an economic and workplace strategy to help the city grow and create job opportunities with attention to help small and minority businesses recover as a result of the pandemic.”
Scott will also have to confront the future of Harborplace, once the centerpiece of Baltimore’s renaissance. Long before COVID-19, the Inner Harbor tourist attraction had been struggling to survive. Its two sprawling pavilions, once filled with restaurants and trendy shops, are now more than half empty.
“The central business district needs more revitalization, and I think Harborplace is a part of that,” Fry says.
Solomon Omo-Osagie, Political Science professor at Baltimore City Community College, says the new mayor cannot afford to be complacent. “Make it plain that we want a shift in thinking. We want a better city, we want a better community.”
Baltimore City’s population of just over 600,000 is the lowest in many decades. Omo-Osagie is urging Scott to immediately convene a meeting of community leaders and listen to their concerns. “If your community is not safe, you can forget about prosperity. There must be security, there must be safety.”
Longtime Baltimore activist Doni Glover, who is publisher of BMoreNews.com, calls Baltimore “a city in crisis. On the streets, it’s mayhem, it’s lawlessness, it’s disorder, it’s disrespect.”
After the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in 2015, which led to two days of unrest, the Baltimore Police Department entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice. The goal was to make policing more efficient while protecting the constitutional rights of citizens.
But Glover says while there is still mistrust of police in some neighborhoods, officers now find themselves between a rock and a hard place in policing the streets.
“The kinder, gentler cop is not effective in Baltimore,” he said. “The cops are only going to go so far knowing that they could be sued or prosecuted.”
While Baltimore’s mayor does not have direct control over the city school system, Glover is urging Scott to recruit corporations and nonprofits to donate more laptop computers “to ensure every student in Baltimore has access to the digital highway.”
Glover adds “Being mayor is a thankless job. We hope he [Scott] is up to the task of running the city. He articulated very well on how he wanted the job, so we have to see what he delivers.”
John Rydell has covered state politics for more than 30 years with WBFF-TV and Maryland Public Television. He can be reached at [email protected]