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The mayor of more

Fraser Smith Big

Tuesday morning. For Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a day like any other:

5 a.m. Runs. (Pretty early someone says, shaking his head. When else? she asks.)

7:30 a.m. Meets with university and college presidents on safety issues.

8:45 a.m. Hears about refreshing COMSTAT, a data and computer-driven management tool.

9:30 a.m. Records a video greeting for a women’s group

1 p.m. Makes a 45-minute presentation to the General Assembly joint hearing on violence and murder.

Pugh slips out of her running shoes and into a pair elegant of pink, white, green and blue paint-splattered pumps to start another 14-hour (or longer) day.

After a vacancy in City Hall, Baltimore has a mayor. (Her predecessor made herself a lame duck by announcing months in advance that she wouldn’t run again.)

Madame Mayor starts every day as if she needs to show every Baltimorean that, yes, there is a mayor on the job.

Success there might be as difficult as finding a way out of the city’s death spiral — a flood of murders and shootings that defies deceleration.

She flourishes, her staff says, with the marathon pace. Maybe. Someone may have to tell her she’s courting burnout. You wonder if she does it because it’s something she can do.

Critics say she has no plan. They’re wrong. She has as much of a plan as anyone who worries about the quality of life in a city that seems out of control.

At the hearing in Annapolis, her police commissioner, Kevin Davis, tells senators and delegates that Baltimore has gone four or five days with only one killing. There is no joy or sense of relief in that news.

In her lengthy, detailed presentation at the hearing, she tends to her political obligations. Gov. Larry Hogan, she says, has done everything she’s asked. What she needs, she says, is more.

More, actually, is the sum and substance of her plan.

More police officers, more equipment, more help from the neighborhoods, more help from the feds, more intervention with young people before they turn to killing each other.

As she makes her pitch for more money, she says her police department is actually “under-invested” with 800 fewer sworn officers on the street.

She reminds her listeners that Baltimore must welcome 10,000 returning ex-offenders every year.

Somehow this contingent, the size of a small town, melts back into the life of the city.

Under the best of leaders, they would come with some help: They have no resources, no jobs and often no place to live. They’re on their own.

Their fault, of course, but they and the city are about to learn again why the statistics show most of them are on the road back to prison.

‘Best practices’

The mayor tells the legislators she wants to accelerate the demolition of the city’s “vacants.”

She also wants a more humane effort to end homelessness. Expensive, of course, but Baltimore can’t turn away.

Her city, she says, without actually saying it, is drowning.

She’s scouting around the country for “best practices.”

Her police don’t have all the technology other police departments have.

A legislator who admires her effort says Baltimore’s ancient problem of services in silos remains. The city needs a simple map, showing where people can find what they need. She has said something similar early in the day when she met with the educators.

People who want to be police officers, she told them, decide on their own they don’t qualify. Or they simply don’t know where or how to start the process.

Her police department is $46 million overspent in the overtime department.

She describes a program designed to “set up young people for success.”

She says she helped round up 8,000 summer jobs for kids.

She starts the day, again, checking to see if a collaborative pact with colleges and universities is coming together. What she hopes for is a force-multiplier — the involvement of campus security personnel in works that will supplement the police department.

She reminds the legislators once again that Baltimore’s drug problem now mirrors the nation’s problem — the devastation of opioids. There are not enough treatment centers, she says.

She wants to provide a “holistic” approach to all of this. “Wrap-around services,” she says, are available. You wonder how that’s possible or if it would help.

Not for the first  time, at the end of her testimony, she says:

I don’t get to do all this work by myself.

Others are helping, but she needs more — more of everything.

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at

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