No longer ‘acting,’ Baltimore Mayor Young faces key staff decisions

Adam Bednar//May 3, 2019

No longer ‘acting,’ Baltimore Mayor Young faces key staff decisions

By Adam Bednar

//May 3, 2019

Acting Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young talks on the phone outside the National Organization of Black County Officials annual Economic Development Conference, Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Detroit. Young became acting mayor on Thursday after Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned under pressure amid a flurry of investigations into whether she arranged bulk sales of her self-published children's books to disguise hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Acting Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young talks on the phone outside the National Organization of Black County Officials’ annual Economic Development Conference, Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Now that he has the job on an official basis, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young must build a team at City Hall he believes can accomplish his goals for Baltimore.

Young must quickly decide which staff will move up with him from roles in the Baltimore City Council president’s office; which managers and staff who worked for former Mayor Catherine Pugh he wants to keep; and who he will pick to fill slots left open by a slew of firings and resignations.

“I think (to earn Young’s trust) you have to be competent. I think loyalty is down the line to him,” said Carl Stokes, a friend of the mayor and a former councilman who once represented the same district as the mayor.

A spokesman for Young, who is attending a conference in Detroit, did not return calls seeking comment.

Even when Young wants loyalty, Stokes said, it’s not personal fidelity he wants. It’s a devotion to the vision and goals that the mayor values, Stokes said.

While Young’s been acting as the city’s executive for roughly a month, the potential for Pugh to return lingered over City Hall throughout that time. Following Pugh’s resignation on Thursday, and barring something unforeseen, Young will hold the job until at least December 2020.

Arguably the highest profile job that needs to be filled is director of the Department of Transportation.

Michelle Pourciau, who was Pugh’s pick to lead the department, resigned amid criticism of her handling of the agency. Frank Murphy, who filled the role previously, is currently the acting director.

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said that after Gov. Larry Hogan canceled the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail the city’s Department of Transportation did not provide much in terms of a fresh vision.

“Since the Red Line was taken off the table there’s really not been a strong direction,” Fry said.

Stokes said he feels the problems with the department stem from a mishandling of city staff. That has resulted, he said, in the loss of several quality employees.

“I think (the department) more than anything has suffered a morale problem,” Stokes said.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey, a leading advocate for transportation reform in the city, said the importance of hiring the right director is reflected in the importance of transit in the city.

Improving Baltimore’s transportation system isn’t just about getting people to work and moving goods. In a city where black neighborhoods are disproportionately isolated from access to jobs, he said, it’s a matter of racial equality. Fixing the city’s inadequate transportation system also empowers neighborhoods to foster economic development in a way that fits a neighborhood’s goals, he added.

“The roadway itself has the power to deter businesses,” Dorsey said.

Another crucial city office that has been gutted is the government relations office. Three staffers in the five-employee office, including the city’s top lobbyist, were placed on leave and eventually terminated after Pugh took a leave of absence.

Rebuilding the city’s lobbying shop will be a top priority. That’s because those positions play a key role advocating for city interests in Annapolis during the General Assembly session and beyond.

While the most recent legislative session wrapped up in April, lobbying efforts on issues important to groups like the GBC, such as keeping the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, aren’t over. Lobbying on bills that may lay the groundwork for the race to leave Baltimore, Fry said, already are underway ahead of the 2020 session.

“There’s a lot of work to do, and we’re already preparing for the next session,” Fry said.

As Young considers staff moves, another complicating factor for the new mayor is the ongoing struggle to replace him as Baltimore City Council president. On Monday the 14 council members will choose a new leader.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, the acting president, and Councilman Brandon Scott are lobbying their colleagues to back their candidacies. A source with knowledge of the vote count said the 14 council members are split evenly, with two undecided members.

Whoever wins that role will want to select his or her own staff in the council president’s office, and the roles available may depend on how Young staffs the mayor’s office.


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