When we speak of the true carnage of this past weekend, we do not mean the game involving Baltimore’s Ravens. Let’s move on, shall we? We mean Baltimore’s shooting victims, of whom there were at least a dozen over the weekend, five of whom died.
Thomas V. Mike Miller no doubt noticed the current state of affairs, which follows 348 Baltimore homicides in 2019, the fifth year in a row in which the city topped 300 killings.
Miller is the longtime state Senate president who last year stepped down to battle cancer. But he’s still a senator. And he’s still talking about Baltimore’s problems in provocative ways.
Provocative this time in that he’s implying city political leaders aren’t doing their jobs. Provocative last time back in the 1990s when Miller’s words might have cost him a shot at becoming governor of Maryland.
This time, Miller took the floor last Thursday, Jan. 9, and told Senate colleagues that when it comes to Baltimore, “We’re sitting here while Rome is burning.”
In fact, it’s been burning since the last time Miller talked so openly, and so critically, about Baltimore.
Back then, it was 30 seconds of ad libs that changed a career. It happened when Joan Gartlan, a WMAR-TV reporter who’d moved to a Washington TV station, accompanied Miller on a little tour through some of Baltimore’s most undernourished neighborhoods.
Miller thought he was speaking off-the-record. Gartlan thought she was doing her job, which is to get people in power to express their true feelings, which is what Miller did.
He called Baltimore a (“bleeping bleep.”) He said it was “worse than” (a scatological term unacceptable to readers of this website).
He said these things with a TV camera running and a microphone nearby, and that was the end of his gubernatorial dreams. He was perceived as a bully picking on an underdog. If Baltimore was such a dump, why wasn’t he doing something to help?
Instead of using the moment to open an honest dialogue about a range of city problems, Miller complained about being sandbagged on television. And then, as such things happen, the issues of the city’s troubles slipped away.
And here we are today, more than 20 years later, and apparently Miller has noticed the same problems remain.
Well, good for him. Miller’s a smart guy and a decent guy, and if he’d used his words to open a meaningful public debate two decades ago, it might have made a difference. Instead, by focusing on his own troubles, he merely marked himself as an intemperate outsider.
He’s not. He’s a career politician – 33 years as Senate president – who’s a student of history and government and genuinely cares for the entire state. But as with all pols, some parts of the state matter more than others.
And in the time between Miller’s last public outburst about Baltimore and today, has anyone in Annapolis paid the kind of attention to Baltimore it so desperately needs?
Not Baltimore politicians, according to Miller.
“You have one mayor waiting to be sentenced,” Miller said last week. “You have people running for Congress. You have people running for the mayor’s office. You have a prosecutor who has different priorities in Baltimore City. We’re elected officials and we need to address it.”
Does Miller have something in mind? Here’s a chance to go beyond the bombast of the moment – this moment or the bombast of two decades ago.
“This is a problem that we need to address, honestly and truly,” Miller said, referring specifically to the homicidal gunplay. “It’s crying out for help. We need to focus on it.”
He’s right. Maybe he can tell all of us how to do it, even if it’s two decades late.
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,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
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