Jack Young’s Mayorship, Born Of And Defined By Crisis, Comes To An End

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Jack Young, the 51st mayor of Baltimore, speaks at City Hall. Photo by Emily Sullivan, WYPR.

Mayor Jack Young’s term, born amid crisis and marked by a relentless onslaught of subsequent emergencies, ends Tuesday morning, as a slate of younger Democrats were sworn into their new City Hall offices.

The Democrat, previously City Council President, ascended to the Mayor’s office in May  2019 after the resignation of ex-mayor Catherine Pugh, who stepped down a month after her “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal came to light.

The punches kept rolling throughout his 19-month term: the city was in the midst of a ransomware attack as he was sworn in, and the coronavirus pandemic pummeled the city less than a year later. The man who had said he never wanted to be mayor led the city through some of its most challenging moments in recent memory.

Young, 66, has not granted any exit interviews.

His supporters and critics alike praised his “quiet determination” in leading Baltimore through tumult as well as his willingness to impose stricter pandemic measurement rules than Gov. Larry Hogan. But they also faulted the gaffes that marked his tenure, unceremonious firings and withdrawals from public appearances after he lost the Democratic mayoral primary with 6% of the vote.

“It’s a tragedy, in a way,” Mary Pat Clarke, a longtime city councilwoman who hired Young as an aide for his very first position in City Hall. “What a sad way to become the mayor, which he didn’t want to be.”

Young first said he wanted his first term as mayor to be his only — that he’d carry out the term, more than halfway over, and run for his old seat. But when then-councilman Brandon Scott convinced his council peers to elect him as council president instead of Sharon Green Middleton, the council’s vice president, everyone’s political calculus changed.

“The future was laid out, there was no going home,” Clarke said.

Young declared his campaign for mayor in the fall of last year. Until the pandemic, which largely prevented him from campaigning, Young sought voters’ approval by presenting himself as a steady hand, well-versed in the ins and outs of City Hall. His message could not stack up against Scott’s, a 36-year-old who argued that Baltimore needed a young progressive to lead amid societal upheaval. He eked out a victory against Young and other establishment Democrats in a split primary vote. Scott cruised to victory in the general election this fall.

Young served as City Council President for nearly a decade, after he was unanimously voted by his council peers in 2010 to fill the office left vacant when former council president Stephanie Rawlings-Blake became mayor following the resignation of ex-mayor Sheila Dixon.

The middle child of 10 children raised in a small East Baltimore rowhouse, Young worked his way from managing a Johns Hopkins laboratory to entering City Hall by impressing Clarke with his dedication to constituent services. When street lights burned out, alleys were trashed or rec centers closed, Young alerted Clarke to the problem and stayed on the case until it was resolved.

“Every Monday morning, he would call the office with a long list of constituent issues that he had gathered,” Clarke said. “And then he would call us Tuesday morning and say, ‘Are they all done?’ ”

His ability to cut through bureaucratic red tape and force city agencies to do right by its residents garnered Young a reputation as a dedicated public servant, and he won his first election to City Hall as a councilman in 1996, representing East Baltimore in what then was Council District 2. When district lines were redrawn in 2003, he continued to represent East Baltimore in District 12 until he became City Council President, carrying that reputation all the while.

“This is a man who grew up mostly in East Baltimore, in lower economic strata, who gave almost all of his life to public service, whether as an elected official or just as an individual in the community,” Carl Stokes, a former East Baltimore city councilman, said.

Zeke Cohen, a city councilman who’s represented South Baltimore since 2016, recalled walking the streets of his district with Young after his victory. People recognized him as the constituent services-oriented City Council President, Cohen said.

“They would tell him they had a problem with a pothole in their neighborhood,” he said. “And within seconds, Jack would be on the phone calling up an agency head, screaming and yelling to get the pothole fixed. And 99 out of 100 times, that pothole would get fixed and people loved it.”

But in Cohen’s view, that strong suit failed to impress city residents during Young’s tenure as mayor, especially during a year filled with enormous societal challenges, including mass protests across the city after police in Minnesota killed George Floyd. Scott attended those protests, Young did not.

“Instead of wanting one-off solutions to water main breaks or potholes or erroneous water bills, people are really looking for systemic solutions,” Cohen said.

Read more at WYPR



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