Something was broken in our city back in 2015. Our mission is to create a new majority that can put it back together.
We’ve united around a shared vision before. In 1991, Kurt Schmoke was re-elected as our first black mayor with 58% of the vote. In 2007, Sheila Dixon got 63% of the vote.
But with a fragmented city and a 36% mayor, it’s hard to imagine that kind of coalition today.
We had high hopes that the 2016 election would deliver us from 2015’s unrest. But that hasn't happened. Our current mayor took office with just 36% of the vote. No alternative emerged to mobilize a true majority during that election. And few still hope that our leadership, today, right now, can rally the city behind a galvanizing vision.
What has been broken.
The old way of Baltimore politics no longer works. For years many accepted an imperfect power-sharing arrangement between our city’s various factions. That arrangement was called Smalltimore, and it is described here.
The Smalltimore power-sharing deal worked because enough people believed in its essential promise – that schools would get better, that concentrated poverty would decrease, that our population would not decline, that our tax base would grow.
Today, no one believes this promise.
In April 2015 this promise was proved a fiction. The uprising ripped off the veneer of progress and upended the political consensus designed to deliver it.
That consensus told a story just enough people believed to make it real. A story of “eds and meds” providing enough jobs for our residents. A story of “vacants to value” reversing the decline of our neighborhoods.
But beneath these stories lies a reality in decline. That reality is described here.
Twenty-fifteen provided a reminder of that reality. In reality, we’ve moved backwards on the bread-and-butter issues of schools, crime, trash, and transportation. And we’ve stagnated on the larger challenges of jobs, housing, and economic development.
How not to fix what was broken.
We aren’t interested in any of the answers the status quo is able to produce, because the status quo cannot imagine a multiracial coalition that wants to dismantle the obstacles to real change.
As for leadership, Baltimore Now is not interested in any of the leadership templates Smalltimore can provide. We’ve seen and tried these options before.
We are not in search of a white candidate looking to take advantage of a split black vote in the next election. This kind of candidate usually seeking leadership on the basis of education and resume, preaching “competence” and data-driven government. People who remember Martin O’Malley well tend to flock to this type of leadership. Those who don’t, don’t. As far as we’re concerned, this option has a central weakness – competence is not a vision.
We are not in search for a younger version of the past generation of city leaders. This is a well-worn template in Baltimore — the neighborhood politician who is propelled to office thanks to organic ties to the community, drawing from the folklore of street-wise politicians from the past. Willie Adams on the west side, for example, who started running numbers as a kid and became the most powerful of power brokers, whose wife Victorine became the first black City Council member. Or, on the east side, Clarence “Du” Burns, who started his career with a patronage job as a school janitor and ended it as mayor.
We are not looking for a superstar outsider either, someone who would rely on fame or personality or money to paper over what is broken. Knowing these first two options amount to about half the leadership we really need, many hold out hope for the superstar to swoop in. But this hope is not a plan (unless you plan to get Barack Obama to move here). And while we absolutely need fresh eyes on the situation, we cannot simply wait for magical leaders to save us from the hard conversations we are unwilling to have.
Baltimore Now: a new coalition, a new leadership.
Baltimore Now is an exploratory committee in search of a future we do not yet know is possible.
We have no silver bullet. But we do have a willingness to do what no one else is — provide a diagnosis of a failed status quo that has produced a failed leadership. Now is the time to answer hard questions. Who are we? How did we get here? What is our path forward? The answers will call forth a new narrative, a new majority coalition, and a new leadership. Not just people who can win an election. People who can lead.
Baltimore Now seeks a “both/and” coalition that can create a “both/and” kind of leadership, which rejects these either/or choices. It is time to find a way through the divides that have simmered beneath the surface of our status quo for long enough.
We can’t keep having the debate between downtown and the neighborhoods as if their fates were not linked.
We can’t keep forcing ourselves to choose between community-based leadership and credentials-based leadership, between street-smarts and CitiStat, when we need both.
We can’t continue to debate whether we need a root cause analysis of the riots, or just “good government” to get us back on track, when again, we need both.
We know there are thousands of people like us, who don’t want to give up on our city. Better our dreams be too big than too small. It’s worth the risk. Because it’s now or never.