By Jean Marabella
November 6, 2020
From health officials, he’ll hear dire predictions of COVID-19 spikes. The number crunchers will point to line after line of red ink. Residents, businesses and advocacy groups will clamor for attention to persistent problems ranging from crime to trash pickup.
Baltimore’s newly elected mayor, Brandon Scott, will be sworn in Dec. 8 to lead a city where needs outstrip the resources to address them — a problem even before the coronavirus pandemic created a public health and economic crisis.
After a year in which schools largely remain closed, many businesses have shuttered and city government has been run by a lame-duck mayor, Scott will take office with an ample to-do list.
Joining Scott in new positions at City Hall will be Nick Mosby, who replaces him as City Council president, and Bill Henry as comptroller. All are Democrats who served on the City Council together.
Scott said “clearly” his incoming team will have to prioritize two things ― “1A and 1B,” as he calls them.
“We’re going to have to lead through the pandemic,” he said, “and the epidemic of gun violence.”
Scott said he has told both the health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, and the police commissioner, Michael Harrison, that they will stay on.
As the coronavirus pandemic worsens across the country as winter approaches, “Baltimore is not going to be spared,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner.
The city gradually lifted restrictions on businesses, restaurants and other gathering places as the number of cases previously went down. But now with cases rising again, Wen said, Scott will face some tough choices.
Scott said he’s prepared to impose new restrictions if necessary. “I will not be afraid to listen to my health commissioner and the other experts,” he said. “People aren’t going to like everything, but that’s going to be my job.”
The pandemic has taken a toll on city government finances. With Baltimore collecting less revenue from sources such as parking, hotels and conventions, it ended the fiscal year June 30 with a $14.3 million deficit, said Bob Cenname, city budget director. The city has had to dip into its rainy day fund and institute hiring and spending freezes to balance its books.
While not all revenue streams are running low — a heated real estate market has kept transfer and recording fees flowing into public coffers — the future remains uncertain. Currently, city officials anticipate a $103 million shortfall in revenues this fiscal year, Cenname said.
As always, crime remains a priority, for both residents and businesses, even if they don’t decry it in as colorful terms as an executive of Dick’s Last Resort did when the Inner Harbor restaurant closed in September. He blamed the city for the company’s woes, calling it a “hellhole dumpster fire of violence and danger.”
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee business group, said he is eager for Scott to work closely with the police commissioner to reduce violent crime. Baltimore has had more than 300 homicides each of the past five years.
“We would hope that the city and the next mayor would be more aggressive in trying to work with the receiver and trying to find a solution to how we can revitalize, or reinvigorate, Harborplace,” Fry said. “Our harbor has been a calling card for the city for many years.”
Other parts of Baltimore, particularly its distressed neighborhoods, need the city to provide youth centers and attract grocery stores and other amenities, Fry said.
In recent years and particularly on the campaign trail, Scott has frequently spoken about how everything in city government must operate through a “lens of equity.”
If the past is any indication, crime and policing issues will claim much of the new mayor’s attention.
Scott said he and Harrison will work to implement the federal consent decree that mandates police reform, as well as a comprehensive plan to address gun violence. But he said he also wants to involve other agencies in a more holistic effort that seeks to identify at-risk youth and divert them from becoming drawn into criminal acts.
There are other high-level vacancies Scott will fill, including a new housing commissioner — Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young fired Michael Braverman in August — and a director of the Office of Equity and Civil Rights.
And, as a result of a charter amendment that he pushed, Scott will also hire Baltimore’s first-ever city administrator to take over day-to-day operations.
To read the full story, visit The Baltimore Sun website.
Source: The Baltimore Sun
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