Tag: stephanie rawlings-blake

Mayor Delivers Ambitious, Vague Inauguration Speech


Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was sworn in on Tuesday for her first full term as mayor. It’s hardly surprising that the primary goal laid out in her inauguration speech was an economic one. “Our number-one goal in the next ten years must be to grow Baltimore—strengthen our neighborhoods, create new jobs, and attract new people,” she said.

Though certain themes came through loud and clear — sacrifice, the greater good, cooperation — the speech avoided defining those terms more specifically.

It did, however, contain at least one concrete objective: draw 10,000 new families to the city in the next ten years. Getting them here will require “a complex web of individual actions and collective sacrifice, a steely resolve to demand better, and a potent sense of urgency to act now.” But what individual actions? What collective sacrifice? And a resolve to demand what from whom? Alas, the most basic details are lacking.

Certainly, there is a point past which a harsh economy and high unemployment become an issue of, as the mayor says, “basic rights,”  but at one point Rawlings-Blake goes so far as to compare troubleshooting the economy to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. “Unwilling to wait for government to give them the right to vote, to live where they wanted, or to receive an education, men and women took to the streets,” she said. “We must now draw on that example of collective action and individual determination as we fight for the fundamental rights of Baltimore’s future.”

“Took to the streets,” huh? I wonder if she’s heard of the Occupy movement.

Read the full text of Rawlings-Blake’s speech.

Will Raising the Bottle Tax (Again) Save Baltimore Schools?


Seventy percent of Baltimore schools are in poor condition, and fixing them up is a $2.8 billion project. The city doesn’t have $2.8 billion. So what’s to be done?

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a plan this week to increase the city’s bottle tax from two to five cents; that would provide a projected $155 million in bonds. Add in funds from the yet-to-materialize slots casino, and the city is still far from the amount necessary… but, hey, it’s better than nothing.

It’s not likely to happen without a fight. When the mayor proposed an initial two-cent tax last year, grocery store owners and beverage lobbyists put up a fierce fight because they didn’t want business to b pushed into the county. More than doubling that initial tax is sure to raise hackles even more.

But city schools are undeniably in bad shape, and the undecided City Council members are sure to feel pressure from the mayor to support her cause. As it stands now, six of the fifteen councilmembers support the plan; the others are either undecided or in opposition. Our bet is that we can all look forward to a protracted battle over the issue.

Occupy Baltimore Loses Power, Gains Strength


The city cut off power to Occupy Baltimore’s portion of McKeldin Square at 5PM on Wednesday. Protesters gathered at the site on October 4 and many have been camping out continuously since. The city claimed that the extension cords running from the square’s electrical outlets created a public safety hazard.

Occupy protesters are looking for new ways to charge their cellphones, but have no plans to pack it in, even after the city demanded that the group scale back the protest to just two overnight “watchmen.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake defines her efforts to evict the protesters from the site not as an attack on freedom of speech or the Occupy ideals themselves, but merely as the eviction of an unlawful “campout.”

But in the world of political agitation, every ignored ultimatum from the establishment is one more exclamation point tacked on the end of your political statement. After camping through four weeks of almost no pushback from the city, who could really expect Baltimore’s “Occupy” protesters to pull out now, just when they are getting the chance to really agitate?

"Soft Side" Campaign Aimed at Baltimore Teens


In West Baltimore in 2008 a young pit-bull terrier was set on fire in the middle of the day. This and a shocking number of similar incidents prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to create the city’s Anti-Animal Abuse Commission. The commission is responsible for “Show Your Soft Side,” a billboard and poster campaign whose goal is “to change the mindset” of would-be animal abusers.

Each billboard features a local athlete (so far Raven Jarret Johnson, Oriole Adam Jones, and mixed martial arts fighter John Rallo have participated), his pet, and the slogan “Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog.”

For a billboard campaign, it’s particularly aggressive and unambiguous (compare the vague optimism of “Leadership… Pass It On”). The commission notes that animal abuse is perpetrated almost exclusively by teenage boys who see the violence as a step toward manhood, so the campaign features men who fit perfectly an adolescent’s notion of masculinity. The slogan is reminiscent of “DUI is for LOSERS,” but the stern, unforgiving tone is more appropriate here, where the subject is not an irresponsible decision with disastrous potential, but a deliberate, horrifying act of sadism.

The commission hopes to reach teens before they ever harm a cat or dog, as young animal abusers frequently graduate to even more serious acts of violence.

After Vozzella: Will Her Truth-Telling Voice Fade Away?


Yesterday marked for The Baltimore Sun the first Thursday without Laura Vozzella’s witty, snarky, tell-it-like-is presence.

After 11 years as a Sun writer and almost six as columnist, the astute reporter (and sassy observer) has relocated to The Washington Post, which leaves us wondering who her replacement might be — who could fill her wise word-count, if indeed she’s being replaced at all? (No sign of a new columnist, and no gossip on the street, could very well mean the ever-shrinking paper considers the provocative city column category said and done.)

If so, it’s a shame. We’ve relished Vozzella’s insights. We loved these highlights from her farewell column last week, in which she thanked high-profiles locals who made her revealing columns hilariously readable and teachable: “Former Mayor Dixon, for your passion for furs, Jimmy Choos and a married man doing business with the city. Developers A, B and C, for all those gift cards you donated to Mayor Dixon’s favorite charity: Mayor Dixon. Olympian Michael Phelps, for taking that Vegas cocktail waitress home to meet mom one Thanksgiving…A convention of out-of-town bishops, for downing $55 bottles of wine at Cinghiale…A Catholic priest Who Shall Not Be Named, for denouncing me from the pulpit of my own church for writing about the aforementioned bishops…Molly Shattuck, the Grandma Moses of NFL cheerleading, for proving motherhood and ripped abs are not mutually exclusive….Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, for scolding a constituent who called you “Stephanie,” overcoming your Cleopatra-wig phase and managing to always look bored with the family business (politics), even when the job brings you within inches of Barack Obama.”

Just in case the brightest Sun powers that be are considering cocky columnist applicants, here are some candidate ideas from BFB:

Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun reporter–has been named best reporter by City Paper and Baltimore Magazine. Pros: He’s a skilled and dogged crime reporter, a solid writer, and well-trained journalist. Cons: He’s likely a tad too serious to tackle the gig’s fun-poking requirements.

Max Weiss, editor of Baltimore Magazine
Pros: She’s funny, clever, and well-versed in pop culture and politics. Cons: She might love Baltimore a little too much to knock our heroes from their pedestals.

Marion Winik, nonfiction writer, poet, Baltimore Fishbowl columnist
Pros: She’s intelligent; knows what’s happening around town, around the world.
Cons: Her best, most heartfelt writing may be found in those small moments in which she takes ruthless aim at herself, rather than the jerks all around her.

Which local thinker/scribe would you nominate to be Vozzella’s replacement? Let us hear.

Mommy, Where Do Campaign Funds Come From?


A recent article in The Examiner compared the sources and sizes of Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral candidates’ campaign funds.

In terms of cash on hand, incumbent Stephanie Rawlings-Blake finds herself in an almost luxuriously comfortable lead with $1.4 million. Compare that to the funds of Catherine Pugh or Otis Rolley, the mayor’s stiffest competition, who have each raised around $250,000 over the course of the entire campaign.

Rawlings-Blake’s money tends to come from unions and businesses; Rolley’s from individuals; Pugh’s from elected officials, loans, and one Scott Donahoo, a car dealer who donated $75,000 to the Pugh campaign.

Perhaps hoping that distancing himself from our disgraced former mayor was worth $1,000, Rolley returned the grand donated to his campaign by Sheila Dixon. Pugh took it.

What do you think? Do the sources of campaign funds give us important information about the candidates? Or is it just another distraction from the real issues?

Despite the misprint on the sample ballot sent out by the state board of elections, the Democratic primary (which nearly all news outlets are calling “election day”) is September 13.

Big Fish Q&A with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake


When Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presided over Harborplace’s 30th anniversary ceremonies in July 2010, she unabashedly declared, “I remember being here when I was 10 when Harborplace opened. It was a fantastic day. I also used to work here as a puppet master at the Puppet Master.”

As a rule, politicians should probably avoid uttering the phrase “puppet master.” Even more important: best not to confess to operating as one in public. And yet, in this case at least, the admission was entirely harmless. While the job does not appear on Rawlings-Blake’s resume, as a young woman she worked as a puppeteer. Conjure in your mind Punch and Judy, Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy, and the Muppets; banish from your brain guileful, covert political manipulator.

The daughter of Howard “Pete” Rawlings (chair of the Maryland House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee) and Dr. Nina Rawlings (a pediatrician), Rawlings-Blake was born in Baltimore and raised in the city’s Ashburton neighborhood. After graduating from Western High School in 1988, she earned an undergraduate degree in political science from Oberlin College in 1992, followed by a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1995. At that point she embarked on dual careers in public service and legal services: elected to the Baltimore City Council from the 4th District in 1995, two years later signing on as an attorney with the local Legal Aid Bureau.

From 1998 to 2007, Rawlings-Blake worked as a staff attorney for the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender, while continuing to serve as a council member, moving to the reconfigured 6th District in 2004 after the city switched to single-member district representation. She ascended to City Council president in 2007 and mayor in 2010, in both cases succeeding Sheila Dixon.

Rawlings-Blake, 41, lives in the city’s Coldspring neighborhood with her husband, Kent, and their daughter, Sophia.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.  

Make it happen.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

I defined my goals at a very early age. I have so much love for Baltimore that I grew up knowing that I would use my skills and talents to make our city better. My most important goal is to make Baltimore a better place for my family and all of our families. Our city should be a place where families can choose good schools for their kids; where our streets are safer and families feel more secure in their homes; where neighbors work together and businesses choose to invest and create jobs.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

Watch and listen to everything around you. Know your community and neighbors, and get involved in anything that can help you make the lives of others better. 

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

“Quit politics.” I heard that right after I was elected [to the City Council] in 1995 and started studying for the bar exam. An older lawyer told me that I could be one or the other, and people wouldn’t respect me as a lawyer while I was in office. I studied hard, passed the bar on my first try, and practiced for about 10 years on behalf of indigent clients in Baltimore.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

I’ll name two. 1) That the squirrels that my mom named Michael and Suzy weren’t the same two squirrels every day when we saw them. 2) Unfortunately, that your metabolism really does slow down after 30.

What is the best moment of the day?

When I wake up and see my family.

What is on your bedside table?

My BlackBerry.

What is your favorite local charity?

 The Maryland Food Bank. 


What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?

Work hard, be honest, and protect your integrity.

Why are you successful?

I’ve been a successful public servant because I have a passion for helping others. The people I serve know that they can count on me to be honest.

Which book, film, TV show, or video game have you introduced to your daughter that has had a profound, positive effect on her? Describe that effect.

Sophia loves black history books, and a biography of [Olympic gold medal winner] Jesse Owens inspired her to begin to run track.

Orioles’ players have “at-bat” music, a song snippet–personally chosen by each team member to represent him–that plays over the Camden Yard sound system when they step into the batter’s box. What would be your at-bat song?

DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win.”

If re-elected mayor, which item will be foremost on your agenda–the specific initiative you immediately strive to accomplish?

My top priority for the next four years is addressing those issues that have the greatest impact on all of Baltimore’s families. We must redouble our efforts to create more jobs, make our streets safer, provide children with a quality education, and empower our neighborhoods. All of these issues hold equal value and must receive equal attention in order to move our city forward.

Did Our Mayor Get a Makeover?


The teenagers I worked with last summer had some definite opinions about Baltimore’s mayor — only, they were mostly about the way she looks. I remember one particularly heated discussion:  “What is with her hair?” J. scoffed. “I know. Can’t she afford to get it fixed?” M replied.

It’s true (if sad) that politicians — especially, it seems, female politicians — often have their appearances picked apart and obsessed over. Combine this with the culture wars over black women’s hair, and you’ve got a tricky situation for women in the public eye. If they’re perceived as spending too much money/time on their looks, they’re vain or wasteful. Not enough, and they’re sniped at for not properly representing the city.  Earlier this year, Councilman Robert Curran said as much to the Baltimore Sun:  “To be a good leader, you have to look good, too. I hate to say it, but that’s part of leadership. I don’t think [Rawlings-Blake] would be the leader she is today if she hadn’t gotten in control of her weight. She was able to take command of her own physicality, and then show she could take command of the city.”

So no surprise that now that Rawlings-Blake has officially announced her reelection bid, she seems to have revamped her look as well. Will her mayoral makeover serve her well in the upcoming campaign, or are these surface changes a distraction from the real substantive issues we should be thinking about? Does it matter what the mayor looks like?