The city of Baltimore now falls into the hands of Bernard C. “Jack” Young, until recently known to most citizens across the entire state of Maryland as Jack Who?
He becomes mayor of Baltimore with the painful fall of ex-mayor Catherine Pugh, who wrote children’s books with one hand and took unconscionable amounts of money with the other.
This is a tragedy for her, and for a city already feeling depressed about itself. Pugh had her faults, but she entered office a couple of years ago with some pretty high expectations.
The previous mayor, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, had no feel for the public aspects of the job, for schmoozing with ordinary citizens, for showing occasional signs of energy, for showing her face in a crisis, for the things we associate with leadership.
The mayor before her, Sheila Dixon, swiped gift cards intended for impoverished children. We thought this was a pretty big crime, until this business with Pugh, which dwarfs anything Dixon ever imagined.
Catherine Pugh, what were you thinking?
Nobody saw this story coming. Pugh is smart, she’s energetic, she’s a big-picture person. She knows how politics is played – only too well, as it turns out. But she got so good at the game that she tried to practice a kind of shorthand, grabbing about $800,000 for some children’s books she scribbled while imagining nobody would notice the obvious conflicts of interest.
So now we have Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who’s been around City Hall long enough that he’s practically blended in with the wallpaper.
He’s not a deep thinker – but neither was William Donald Schaefer, the mayor against whom all others are measured.
As City Council president, Young has lived in Pugh’s shadow the last two years. But Clarence “Du” Burns lived in Schaefer’s shadow longer than that, when the job of mayor was suddenly his. Schaefer became governor with a year left in his fourth mayoral term.
But Burns had a big advantage over Young. He had Schaefer’s long-term game plan laid before him, which he intended to follow as closely as possible. Whose game plan is Young supposed to follow? Is there a game plan?
One City Council veteran I bumped into the other day said, “Jack’s been around long enough to know the game. He can get us through the next year- and-a-half anyway.”
It didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. But then, nobody had extravagant hopes for Du Burns either. But Burns was smarter than many suspected, and he handled the job fine and might have kept it had he not been challenged by a youngster named Kurt Schmoke, who seemed the very personification of a bright city future.
Here’s how the future looks right now: When Pugh’s announcement came over TV, WBAL had a split screen. Jayne Miller was live on the right-hand side. On the left was videotape footage from several days ago. It showed FBI agents raiding Pugh’s home and offices.
There’s the future. It’s in the boxes they hauled out. It’s not just Pugh’s future, either. There’s no telling what secrets might be reflected there, and which big shots’ lives might be involved.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.