Squandered Promise

It’s a good bet that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh will be running for re-election in 2020. Why shouldn’t she? Incumbents are always hard to beat. She’ll have plenty of developer and other business money to fund her campaign. She’ll win the Democratic Primary and that will be that.

What’s striking is that the people who should be tossing Mayor Pugh to the curb in favor of someone new who really knows how to turn the city around aren’t old enough to vote. They’re not old enough to vote, nor do most of them realize the fundamental truth of Mayor Pugh’s first term in office. They are the 84,000 kids who are enrolled in the worst public school system in the state of Maryland. Literally, Baltimore City schools are ranked 24th out of Maryland’s 24 counties, including Baltimore City. Dead last.

What these 84,000 kids don’t fully appreciate yet is that, despite her intelligence, impressive resume for the office and personal commitment to the city, she’s managed to waste her entire first term in office by missing the point.

Let’s just consider a couple of examples related to issues we’ve been following here at Local Initiatives…

The problem with Baltimore, for example, is NOT that Pimlico doesn’t shine the way it used to and that the Preakness might move to Laurel Raceway. For one thing, public interest in horseracing has been on the decline for decades. Neither the state of Maryland nor the city of Baltimore can afford to be propping up a failing and, let’s face it, relatively unimportant sector of our economy.

Is the Stronach Group that owns The Jockey Club and, through it, Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie raceways, a problem? Absolutely, but it’s not because Frank Stronach and company want to move the Preakness to Laurel. That actually makes sense, from their point of view, because Laurel is near Washington while Pimlico is in Baltimore. And, honestly, Baltimore isn’t the most desirable place to milk profits from one of the Triple Crown races. No. The problem with Mr. Stronach is that he’s getting a whopping 7% of casino slot machine revenues, year in and year out, for no good reason. That’s over $71 million currently that should be going to Maryland public education. It’s a point Mayor Pugh doesn’t seem to understand and certainly isn’t talking about.

Forget about Pimlico, Mayor Pugh. Work with the Baltimore City delegation in Annapolis and redirect the Stronach 7% money to help Baltimore City schools. Pimlico isn’t a city emergency. A public school system ranked last in the state? Now that’s a real problem you need to fix, urgently, as if the lives of your constituents depended upon it, which they do.

Another example…

First you told the city that the Horseshoe Casino would anchor a new downtown entertainment zone that would change Baltimore, presumably for the better. And then, when that didn’t happen… When the Horseshoe Casino turned out to be the only casino in the state with declining revenues, your solution is to help casino developers bring a trendy Topgolf driving range and bar to the entertainment zone to save the Horseshoe. For what benefit to your constituents? For a relative handful of jobs – and a wallet-full of re-election campaign contributions?

Com’on, Mayor Pugh. This is a quiz. What do the decline of Pimlico and a struggling casino have in common? …Alright, we’ll give you a clue. The answer rhymes with “Baltimore.” Baltimore is what they have in common. Saving Pimlico and opening a downtown entertainment zone may have some effect on those immediate neighborhoods, but they’re not going to have any discernable, meaningful impact on the lives of the two thirds of your city whose families struggle, financially, to get through the day. And they’re certainly, absolutely not going to give the city’s children the quality education they need to be competitive for jobs and college admissions.

Lucky for your re-election, Mayor Pugh, the 84,000 Baltimore kids enrolled in public education don’t realize how your lack of focus on the crisis that is Baltimore City public education threatens their future accomplishments and welfare.

Lucky for you, Mayor Pugh, they aren’t old enough to vote.

Now, who out there among the many who are better-qualified to be Mayor – and who know a real emergency when they see one – are willing to run against you?

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