Decades after working in the cafeteria and mailroom at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Bernard C. “Jack” Young has become the 51st mayor of Baltimore, and for nearly a month he has been shaking up the status quo in a city rocked by crime, drug overdoses and political corruption.
Young, 64, has been leading the city since April 2 when former Mayor Catherine Pugh abruptly went on sick leave amid a scandal regarding the sale of her “Healthy Holy” children’s book that led to her resignation last week, a move that was grudgingly welcomed by federal and state lawmakers.
“For the past month, I have traveled the city and worked hard to keep government’s focus on providing essential services to our citizens,” Young said in a statement. “I have spent time in classrooms working with some of the brightest minds our public school system has to offer. I have unveiled a number of development projects that stand as symbols to the commitment that many people have to our city.”
Young is one of several recent Baltimore mayors who were once city council president. Sheila Dixon followed former Mayor Martin O’Malley after he was elected governor in 2006 and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake became mayor upon Dixon’s resignation after pleading guilty in a corruption case.
At a time when so many have lost confidence in city officials and the police department since the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and a police corruption probe, Young is determined to right the ship.
“I pledge that my focus will not change,” he said. “I have listened to the concerns of our citizens and I will continue to work diligently to address those concerns.”
After Pugh went on medical leave, Young said he was “utterly heartbroken” by the circumstances but cited Article IV, Section 2 of the Baltimore City Charter that states “[i]n case of, and during, sickness temporary disqualification or necessary absence of the Mayor, the President of the City Council shall be ex officio Mayor of the City.”
Pugh, who has kept a low profile amid the scandal, apologized to city residents.
“I am sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor,” Pugh said in a statement read aloud by her lawyer, Steve Silverman, at a brief news conference that she did not attend. “Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who pushed for Pugh to step down, released the following statement after her resignation:
“This was the right decision, as it was clear the mayor could no longer lead effectively. The federal and state investigations must and will continue to uncover the facts.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) issued the following statement:
“I wish Mayor Pugh the best as she continues to restore her health. No one ever questioned her passion for Baltimore City and its citizens, and I commend her for making this decision to put our City first. I have every confidence in the leadership of Mayor Young, and I ask that you join me in giving him our full support. Over the past month he has demonstrated his strong commitment to Baltimore and his ability to direct the City along the right path.”
Baltimore also got a new police commissioner in Michael Harrison from New Orleans. The U.S. Department of Justice closed a probe prompted by the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, concluding Baltimore police officers regularly violate the constitutional rights of Black residents through the use of excessive force, unlawful searches and arrests, and racial discrimination.
In 2016 federal prosecutors also charged seven Baltimore police officers for racketeering crimes including stealing money from civilians. Several admitted drug dealers have testified at trials against them and one police officer. In November 2017, homicide detective Sean Sutter was found fatally shot with his own weapon the day before he was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury on corruption within the city’s Gun Trace Task Force.
The same week Pugh left office, morticians were pushing a white casket out of a Baltimore church that carried Kevon Dix, 21, a member of the Morgan State University choir who was fatally shot as he headed home from a night of schoolwork. According to student sources, he was mistakenly targeted.
But despite it all, Young and leaders such as Cummings are ready to move the city forward.
“I am pleased that we can now collectively move forward and be the architects and builders of the kind of city we dream of for ourselves and those yet unborn,” Cummings said. “Baltimore’s strength has been tested before, and we have proven that our city is full of hardworking people who strive every single day to make Baltimore a better place in which to live and work.”
But a poll released Wednesday by Arnold, Maryland-based Gonzales Research & Media Research shows voters’ dissatisfaction toward the city.
According to the poll conducted April 26-May 1, about 63 percent of Democrats likely to vote in next year’s mayoral primary believe Pugh should’ve resigned. That same percentage believe things in the city are “on the wrong track.”
In terms of race, 61 percent of Blacks are dismayed with the city, as are 70 percent of whites.
The most staggering figure is that 83 percent of voters overall are dissatisfied with attempts to reduce crime, mirroring the sentiments of both Black and white residents at 84 percent and 82 percent, respectively.
“Dissatisfaction and disillusionment is from a broad perspective,” said Patrick Gonzales, who owns the polling firm. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, voters are not satisfied.”
Gonzales said one glimmer of hope could be Monday’s election of Brandon Scott, 35, as city council president.
“He’s young, he’s attractive, he’s got experience and ran as a lieutenant governor candidate,” Gonzales said. “He could bring some fresh perspective in the city. I think there is a hunger for that.”
The poll, which surveyed 329 voters, has a margin of error of plus/minus 5.5 percent.
Staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this story.