Charm city is at crossroads but hope is still alive - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Charm city is at crossroads but hope is still alive

BALTIMORE – This city has come to a crossroads in its history, and not only because a new mayor has arrived with the old one disgraced and forced from office. This time it’s a psychological crossroads. We’ve stopped believing in ourselves as a city with a future.

Bernard (Jack) Young is seen as an interim caretaker for a town that sees itself on the skids. The latest census figures show barely 600,000 residents. This, in a city with nearly a million people in the post-war years. Will the last one leaving Baltimore please turn out the lights?

The drug dealers and the street-corner kids continue to murder each other at a furious pace, no matter that we’ve trotted out four different police commissioners in the past year or so.

The public schools continue to cope with dropouts and illiteracy. There are thousands of abandoned houses, each one a potential refuge for various manner of vermin and each a testament to neighborhood depression and decay. There’s trash littering uncountable numbers of streets.

We’re four years past the Freddie Gray disturbances, and yet downtown restaurant owners bemoan the drop-off in clientele since then. Orioles’ attendance has plummeted over that span, too. (Yes, the ballclub’s performance is at least partly responsible for that – but all those empty seats seem symbolic of a downtown clearing out.)

And we’re likely to lose the historic Preakness Stakes, whose televised running in less than two weeks will no doubt show the nation our new mayor – which will remind everybody, once again, what happened to the old mayor.

Jack Young is a modest man who never seriously thought of himself as mayoral material. He got the job by accident, and he doesn’t expect to keep it beyond the next election. Most likely, he won’t be among the anticipated carload of candidates.

But he can give the city something important in the meantime: a sense of its self-respect, a sense of vitality, a sense that somebody at the top of government cares about the problems in their community – and cares enough to show up.

The smartest thing any mayor does is surround himself (or herself) with smart people – the ones who run the police department and the housing agency, who stay on top of problems before they become catastrophies, the ones who work behind the scenes and find new ways to solve old problems.

They’re the ones who give the mayor a chance to breathe, who let him (or her) become the very face of government by attending community gatherings, ethnic festivals, all kinds of public gatherings geared to win media attention – and telling everyone what’s positive in the city.

The truth is, there’s lots of good stuff going on. The waterfront neighborhoods are thriving. So are large swaths of the east side, where the value of houses around Patterson Park has doubled over the last decade. What we now call Harbor East we once called empty lots. Boston Street was undeveloped waterfront, but now it’s filled with million-dollar homes.

A city is always made up of many different communities, some coming and some going, some thriving and some coming apart.

This mayor has to remind Baltimore of its best qualities. William Donald Schaefer did it, even when the city was traumatized by riots that utterly dwarfed the Freddie Gray disturbances. Baltimore is best, he kept insisting, until the words took on a life of their own.

Kurt Schmoke called us The City That Reads. In a time of crack cocaine and killings, the words were mocked -The City That Bleeds – but Schmoke was reminding us of a commitment to children. Martin O’Malley kept calling us the best city in America.

We’re not – but we’re not the worst, either. There’s still an awful lot of charm here. And we need to remind ourselves of those elements, because the crossroads we’ve reached is measured in sheer emotion and not just the latest political scandal or crime statistics.

About the author

Michael Olesker

Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of five previous books, including Michael Olesker's Baltimore: If You Live Here, You're Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts' Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press. Contact the author.

One Comment

  1. Joseph Prucha says:

    Michael Olesker’s article provides a spark of of hope for our beloved Baltimore City whose recent history reflects a path of hopelessness. As a native Baltimorean who grew up in a wonderfully caring East Baltimore neighborhood, I still believe in a saying attributed to Jesse Jackson…”Keep hope alive!”
    I saw on the news about the recent actions of Bernard Jack Young, our inherited new Mayor due to the finally much needed resignation of Pugh. Jack along with the new Chief of Police was literally out in the streets going house to house trying to find out needed info concerning the recent shootings involving one and two year old innocent children. Unlike Pugh, Jack Young is out there on the streets of Baltimore trying to get to the bottom of this horrible crime and murder epidemic inflicting our dear homeland.
    I am hoping Jack Young keeps up his personal involvement and care to turn our city into a once again respectable, safe and clean community! Baltimore City, my home town, currently does not have a good and respected image both nationally and internationally.
    Jack Young, please keep being a committed involved and personally concerned Mayor! Clean up our city and make it safe and respectable once again! We native Baltimoreans back you big time!


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