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C. Fraser Smith: Even Schaefer would be impressed

William Donald Schaefer would be shouting, “Hallelujah!”

The mayor would be on the phone to Ronald J.  Daniels, president of The Johns Hopkins University, and to Ronald R. Peterson, head of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System.

He’d be saying, “Attaboy,” or words to that effect. He’d be responding to the university’s announcement Wednesday of an effort to address some of Baltimore’s most intractable quality of life issues.

HopkinsLocal, the initiative announced this week, mean hiring unemployed men and women who live in parts of the city with more than 10 percent unemployment – 16 zip codes in all.

He’d be gushing over the plan to increase minority involvement in Hopkins building projects.

He might be thinking – or even saying – “What took you so long?” (Even if you’d been doing good things for the city all along.)

And then he’d get right back to Halleluiah.

And if he still had the floor – which he had for as long as he wanted it – he’d turn to city and state government to ask:

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? You’re letting a hospital and a university move into a vacuum you’ve left?”

He’s not here, of course. We have to deal with the leadership we have. For some reason that the people in charge have had nothing appropriately significant to say or do. Maybe this is just the way it is now. the lower its status falls, the less apt we are to see anything progressive.

Government’s a no-show in many important moments, moments when government ought to be involved. The absence is more striking when important players respond to what they see as their responsibility.

We are missing potential synergy. Private and public forces could be marshaled against intractable, generations-long social issues. Perhaps plans are in the works. Schaefer hated planning. He wanted action. He wanted to see action – because he knew the citizens needed to see movement, progress, ideas, action.

He loved the positive, things that improved the quality of life. He wanted people to have a sense of the future – a better future.

He was not always as attentive to the issues that face neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray grew up. (He would have disagreed.) Nor were any of the city administrations that followed him. Shame on them and on the rest of us for failing to demand more.

So now we are to be led by a real powerhouse. The financial commitment is substantial: $23 million more in construction and design contracts for minorities and women. The same for local vendors who would get $6 million more in business.

According to The Sun’s research, Hopkins hospital has 12,000 employees and net assets of $1.3 billion. The university has 23,000 employees and revenue of $5.4 billion.

The intangibles of this deal could be worth even more than the numbers suggest. What might the Bloomberg School of Public Health contribute? Why is there such a gap in life expectancy between Roland Park and Sandtown?  How precisely does over-incarceration cripple poor communities?

Academic institutions can help to educate the rest of us – can show us how political forces undermine society rather than making it safer.

Finally, how refreshing it is to see this mighty institution setting such an example for the rest of the business, academic and helping institutions.

Hopkins commitment goes beyond its bottom line. Even if it does not get some regulatory relief – allowing it to raise its profit margin – Daniels and Peterson say HopkinsLocal will move ahead with its plan. Every institution may not have the same flexibility – but all of them are suddenly under pressure to examine their commitment to Baltimore.

When William Donald Schaefer was mayor, he sometimes designated a “follow-through” officer to see if people really did what they said they were going to do.

Probably not a bad idea. Peterson and Daniels have set the tone, but follow-through is everything.

C. Fraser Smith hosts Inside Maryland Politics at WYPR. His column appears in The Daily Record Fridays. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.