And the headline on the local television news reads, “Mayor announces Downtown Rise, plan to revitalize Baltimore City.” What this story tells you is that Mayor Scott has officially given up on the city he runs. …Not incidentally, “Downtown Rise” is a terrible name for any program, poorly written and politically inappropriate, but thank you Mayor for helping me make my point.
The map below is from the city’s Department of Planning. The Mayor should stop by, maybe talk to some of his own specialists. Who knows what he does all day, other than taking calls from special interests, but I suspect he can find the time.
The map shows the entire City of Baltimore. Now, if you squint – or blow up the image – and focus on the Inner Harbor area, that’s the “downtown” where Mayor Scott is focusing his plans for development and growth.
On behalf of the people of Baltimore, I’m officially daring Mayor Scott to produce even just one serious planner or urban and regional economist who can justify his thinking. Just one bona fide expert who will elaborate, in detail, precisely how further investments in downtown Baltimore will benefit the entire city, will produce jobs, educate the people, improve the health of his constituents, and reduce the crime, that will make the entire city, all inclusively, a better place to live and work. Just give us one real expert. Let’s put the data on the table so we all understand what he’s doing. Not just sound bites, generalities, and sentiments in poorly crafted speeches and glossy proposals, but real data that define the relationship between downtown development and, well, everybody else.
While the Mayor, who I’m going to nickname Mayor Brandon “Downtown” Scott, focuses on making substantial investments in what is arguably already one of the best and safest parts of the city, the vast majority of Baltimore continues to decay at the expense of its residents.
Why is “BDS” (“Brandon ‘Downtown’ Scott”) doing this? How can he be so completely tone-deaf? The simple answer is that it’s because he owes the developers and businesses already invested in downtown Baltimore his career in politics. And because he’s desperate.
He’s desperate because he knows the city is out of control. The city he was elected to lead is evaporating out from under him. According to 2020 Census data provided by the Mayor’s own Planning Department, the city population is now only 585,700, down 6% since 2010. The city’s White population is down by 11%. Even Black residents are leaving, their numbers down by 14% over the past Census decade. The only good news is that, to some extent, Black residents are being replaced by Hispanic/Latino people whose numbers are up by 77% over the same period. Will that latter trend continue? What jobs are attracting these new urban immigrants to the city?
More importantly for the Mayor’s psyche, there’s an election coming up. He hasn’t filed yet for re-election, but it would be stunning if he didn’t. Of the six candidates who have filed so far to run against Mayor Scott, the only real opponent is former Mayor Sheila Dixon.
What did Sheila Dixon ever do for Baltimore to reverse the city’s downward slide? Nothing, certainly nothing to deserve a second chance. She did, however, finish a close second in the 2020 primary with 27.5% of the vote versus Scott’s 29.6%. Yes, BDS effectively became Mayor of Baltimore even though 70.4% of Democratic voters preferred another candidate. He wasn’t even close to being the first choice of a majority of Democratic voters.
More to the point, a recent Goucher College poll of Democrats indicated a very substantial preference for Ms. Dixon over incumbent Mayor Scott in every major area of public concern. With only six months to go before the May 14th Democratic primary next year, Brandon has very little time to get his act together and save his job.
What BDS is not particularly worried about is that there may be other candidates out there to threaten his incumbency. Candidates for the 2024 Democratic Primary have until February 9, 2024, to file. If they filed today, they’d have only six months to campaign before the primary. So where are they, the other qualified Baltimoreans, Black or White, who should be running?
Baltimore needs a Mayor with the knowledge, experience, expertise and independence from various commercial interests to orchestrate a Marshall Plan-level remodeling of the city’s economy. Brandon Scott is not that person. Neither is Sheila Dixon. If you’re qualified to be Mayor and believe you can save – or even just begin the process of saving the City of Baltimore – this is your moment. Mayor Scott has no idea what he’s doing. Former Mayor Dixon had her chance and blew it. Now is the time for you to take your shot and start saving the entire city before it really is too late – and the state has no choice but to take over.
Certainly, without question, there are qualified African American and White men and women residing in the city who are significantly and demonstrably more capable than either Scott or Dixon. So why aren’t any of them running? The simple answer may be that none of them wants the job. Money to run is something you can raise if you’re a truly qualified, inspirational candidate, but you’ve got to want to be Mayor. The problem must be that these qualified prospective candidates consider the city to be a lost cause and don’t want to spend the next four to eight years of their lives wasting their time. If you’re one of these prospective candidates, please don’t give up on Baltimore yet.
You’re right. The fact is, remodeling the city’s economy, government and physical plant will not happen in eight years. Saving Baltimore is a generational thing. What the next Mayor starts, what he or she can accomplish over two terms in office, is not going to be fully realized in his or her tenure, or under the next Mayor and maybe not even the one after that. But don’t let the long-term nature of the solution deter you.
Set impressive, but relatively modest goals for your first four and total eight years in office. Don’t aspire to save city overnight. It’s not going to happen. Consider your election to be the match that lights the fire for the all-inclusive redevelopment of the city.
Let’s say you’ll have only five objectives – none of which have to do with using public money to remodel the downtown/Inner Harbor. If that effort is worth doing from a purely business point of view, developers will be more than willing to do it on their own, without hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars the city needs to spend elsewhere. As for those five objectives, they might go something like this:
1. Eliminate food deserts in the city while creating local jobs for current residents at essential businesses in which the neighborhoods have a vested interest.
2. Help un- and under-employed people get the cars they need to get to work in the suburbs until you have time to bring new, better-paying jobs to their neighborhoods.
3. Diversify the city’s economy with special emphasis upon industry segments, including urban agriculture, that are labor intensive and whose skillset requirements are a good fit for the city’s current residents.
4. Use the city’s inventory of vacant and abandoned housing to incentivize employers that are new to the city to locate in neighborhoods that need jobs the most.
5. Work with the state and federal government to support employers willing to provide on-the-job training to current residents who need better jobs but who may not be otherwise qualified.
Set a limited menu of difficult but doable goals and sell those goals and your candidacy, neighborhood by neighborhood, everywhere else in the city. Leave it to BDS to advocate for downtown development while working for one of his favorite developers after he leaves office.
Les Cohen is a long-term Marylander, having grown up in Annapolis. Professionally, he writes and edits materials for business and political clients from his base of operations in Columbia, Maryland. He has a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Economics. Leave a comment or feel free to send him an email to Les@Writeaway.us.