Mark Washington calls the efforts to redevelop the crime- and blight-ridden Tivoly Avenue area of his neighborhood a “Sisyphean rock.” But after 11 years and three mayors, all of whom he credits with helping push the rock up the hill, the community leader said he could finally see the top: The plan was to announce shortly a developer who would build new housing on the 9-acre site.
But then one month ago, that third mayor, Catherine Pugh, took an open-ended leave of absence amid the growing scandal and, now, a federal investigation over her financial dealings. Washington, who heads the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp., said he’s sure he wasn’t the only one who immediately began emailing other city officials, fearful that their ongoing projects would enter the same limbo that the mayor’s office currently finds itself in.
“I was told, no, things aren’t going to be put on hold,” Washington said. “I feel the city of Baltimore is in very capable hands with Ex Officio Mayor Jack Young.”
But even as Young, the city council president who has replaced Pugh on a temporary basis, has won plaudits for bringing a measure of stability to the government, some say they fear longer-range effects of having an interim mayor. Baltimore, with its many needs and its strong-mayor form of governance, can’t operate indefinitely without clarity on who will serve out Pugh’s term through the end of next year, observers say. If this instability goes on much longer, it tends to sap the energy that could be spent in better ways. — the Rev. Douglas Miles, a leader of the community group BUILD
“The Fire Department continues to put out fires, the garbage continues to be picked up, the police are still on the streets,” said the Rev. Douglas Miles, a leader of the community group BUILD. “But if this goes on much longer, if this instability goes on much longer, it tends to sap the energy that could be spent in better ways.
“I think this is new territory for Baltimore,” Miles said. “I can’t recall a time when we faced this kind of crisis in leadership.”
A government as large as Baltimore’s won’t skid to a halt over uncertainty even at its topmost ranks, experts said. But there’s a difference between the ground-level running of a city, they said, and the kind of leadership that addresses overarching needs and sets a course for the future.
Jay Brodie, the retired head of the Baltimore Development Corp., said he worries less about the “stuff that’s in the pipeline,” and more about major initiatives, whether it’s repairing neighborhoods beset by vacant buildings and crime or developing better public transportation.
“Mayors are needed to keep the momentum going through the various arms of city government,” he said. “They need to be pushed, and there needs to be someone pushing, and that’s the mayor.”
Roger Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore, said Young and his staff are faced with not just taking over the mayor’s duties but continuing their own. And, with top Pugh aides having left, been put on leave or fired, “a lot of things are in a holding pattern,” he said.