A state senator from Baltimore City is calling on business leaders to come to the aid of a jurisdiction plagued by violence and government dysfunction.
“If you want to reform a great American city, dig in in Baltimore,” said Sen. William “Bill” Ferguson during comments Monday at a legislative forum sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee. “This is the time. This is the place to make a difference. You coming out today is the first step.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never been more hopeful than I am today despite the challenges. Because folks like you will demand better,” said Ferguson, in a seven-minute speech that was meant to lay out issues for the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session.
Baltimore will be a large topic of discussion in Annapolis. Everything from education funding and school construction, jobs and opportunity zones, reforming the police department and allowing Johns Hopkins University to establish its own private law enforcement entity will be on the docket for the remaining 75 days of the session.
And, once again, lawmakers, Gov. Larry Hogan and city leaders will also look at ways to stem what Ferguson and other legislative leaders in attendance at the GBC event described as soul-sucking violence — 300 or more homicides annually for the last four years — that is damaging the ability of the city to do business and attract visitors.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and minority leader, lamented coming back to Baltimore to talk about crime, violence and how it hurts the city and businesses.
“There’s no urgency in this city to fix it,” said Jennings. “I’m sorry. I’m going to be frank. You have a mayor who’s looking for a police chief. You have a city council that’s fighting with her on it. They’re not getting along. They just need to get their heads out of their ass and get it done.”
Jennings told the audience he and other lawmakers are cognizant of the city’s importance to Maryland but said patience is growing short for some of his colleagues.
“Here in Baltimore City, it is an incredible city that has incredible potential,” said Jennings. It was what put this state on the map 200 years ago. It has held this state together and it needs our help now. The problem is, how much help are we going to give it?
“It’s not an endless bucket of money, and it’s not just money. Some of it they have to do themselves,” said Jennings, adding that the crime and violence has resulted in a mounting toll of lost businesses and investments and negative public perception.
Still, legislators will continue to try and provide some help, said Ferguson.
“There is nothing, nothing more important over these next 90 days than figuring out what every single one of us is doing to change the expectations for what is possible for this city, for this region and for the state of Maryland,” said Ferguson, who at times sounded as if he were giving a campaign speech for an as-yet-undeclared campaign for mayor of Baltimore.
“At its core, what we are talking about is what we believe about one another. We’ve hit a moment right now in the city of Baltimore and in the region where we’ve forgotten what it feels like to win. We start to accept the dysfunction. We start to think to ourselves, ‘How are we ever going to get out of this?'”