Mayor Jack Young finally announces he is running for mayor

Photo by Brandon Soderberg

At the YNot Lot on Saturday, Jack Young, Baltimore’s mayor since Catherine Pugh stepped down amid scandal, finally announced he is running for mayor of Baltimore City.

With a marching band and a 100 or so people present, plus a few grousing and understandably suspicious neighborhood staples—“should’ve done this at City Hall,” one of Station North’s dedicated hustlemen complained loud enough for reporters, cops, and supporters to hear—Young ended the months of speculation and confirmed what everybody already knew he was going to do.

“Jack! Jack! Jack!” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski chanted to a crowd that barely played along. Olszewski mentioned that Young “understands [the] connectivity” between the city and county and mentioned Young will “roll up his sleeves” and get things done. 

Councilperson Mary Pat Clarke exclaimed “Jack changed his mind!” to the crowd and called Young, “one of the most progressive legislators [she] ever worked with.” Previously, Young had said he was not going to enter the race, then on Tuesday, said he was going to run after all, though he has been collecting serious donations for months now. 

Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman mentioned how Young fought to keep the Preakness in Baltimore: “That’s a man who says, ‘I am not afraid of your money,” Pittman claimed, adding, Young,  “can really turn Park Heights around.” As the Baltimore Sun reported, Young raised $235,000 at a fundraiser in Harbor East in the days leading up to his mayoral announcement, much it from wealthy developers.

The event lacked the one thing that money, connections, curation can’t help you contrive—and that’s enthusiasm. Young offered up a series of solutions that are typically, predictably top-down, mentioning business leaders and Baltimore’s “renaissance,” and other platitudes related to strengthening families, racial equity, and turning Baltimore into “one of the nation’s safest cities,” without, as Baltimore Brew observed, directly addressing the city’s violence.

None of this is new. While 2016’s mayoral election felt urgent, full of people maybe even too eager to hop in and try and make some change, 2020’s election is conventional. Tomorrow, T.J. Smith, the former media spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department during the Commissioner Kevin Davis regime (homicide spike, Gun Trace Task Force Scandal, secret surveillance plane controversy) is expected to announce he is running. There is Thiru Vignarajah and there’s Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady. There are rumors that Senator Mary Washington, a legit progressive, may announce. And what has made Young appealing as Baltimore’s next mayor is that as mayor for the past six months or so—where we’ve endured plenty including the city’s IT infrastructure being held hostage via ransomware—he has not screwed anything up worse than it had been. Plus, he is a City Council veteran.

“I worked with my Council colleagues to introduce body cameras, which have helped reduce complaints against officers and is leading to a rebuilding of trust between the public and our officers,” Young said in his speech, which was less than five minutes long. “We passed a historic bill that invested tens of millions of dollars into affordable housing, making Baltimore a national leader. And we also passed an equity bill that my administration is making strides to implement. This means that for the first time, the City of Baltimore, under my leadership, will include equity in every decision we make as a government.”

Young’s experience however is also an easy way to ding him. He began representing the second district in 1996 and became City Council President in 2010 so anything that has happened to this city recently is partially on him. When Donald Trump attacked Baltimore for its rats over the summer, Young walked around parts of the city, apparently shocked by its condition. “People just have to show some more pride in where they live,” Young said at the time. “We’re not dirty but we’ve become dirty.” How someone like Young could have been oblivious to Baltimore’s trash and clean-up problems is staggering many observed.

Same goes for Young’s urgent private meetings with “business leaders” about the trumped-up “squee gee kids” kvetching—hardly a new or urgent problem for the city or frankly, a problem at all—and his outrage after it was revealed that the Ritz Carlton has not paid its water bill since 2007 (total: 2.3 million dollars). Young ordered an audit and declared, “to think that previous administrations allowed residents’ properties to be sent to tax sale while not even billing the city’s wealthiest is absolutely shameful.” Again, the City Council President during most of the past decade where this bill went ignored surely deserves some of the criticism for being oblivious to this bill—especially amid steady water bill hikes for residents. Jack Young is ostensibly, the previous administration.

And there are bizarre and well, Pugh-esque comments, such as suggesting Baltimore’s youth box their problems out instead of shooting each other and defending restaurateur Alex Smith after many criticized Smith’s typically exclusive—and discriminatory—dress code for his Fells Point restaurant The Choptank by noting that Smith had black musicians at his wedding (“If he was racist, do you think he would have a black artist play at his wedding?”). Earlier this month, Alex Smith cohosted a $4,000-per-person fundraiser for Young—the one that raised $235,000 for him.

These sorts of Baltimore City oke-dokes are part of Young’s approach. The story goes that Young’s decision to run for mayor was in part, out of spite. When Young became mayor, he backed Sharon Middleton to replace him for City Council President and said he “had a deal with” Middleton: She would take the position while he took over for Pugh and then he would return to the position once a new mayor was elected. Then Brandon Scott was elected City Council president, which screwed that all up as far as Young was concerned and Young began to consider running.

That brash honesty though (even when he’s putting what seems, to regular residents, like private agreements out there in the open), is part of what has long made Young appealing and contrasts with Pugh who was combative, often clueless, and inaccessible. Young is well-loved around the city and folks in Baltimore know him and see him around and appreciate how present he is—the city could do worse and has done worse. 

Affable, chatty real talking Jack Young however, was missing from his campaign kick-off. Young it seems, expects to be mayor and exudes little excitement for the job so far: “Together, we’re going to bring neighborhoods and government together to achieve a cleaner, healthier Baltimore,” Young said on Saturday. “Together, we’ll work to make Baltimore one of America’s safest cities. Together we will move Baltimore forward.” 

Maybe nothing is more of an example of Young’s staid approach than his choice of a campaign office: the bank building across from the YNot Lot in Station North that was Larry Hogan’s campaign headquarters in 2018. The building itself is a curious, metaphor for so much of what is dysfunctional about Baltimore City. The building, on the corner of North Charles St. and North Ave. in what has long been hyped-up as the city’s Arts District, is being sat on by its landlord and is empty most of the time until politicians pick it up as a campaign office for a few months and then it sits abandoned again.

On top of the building is a sign with “Whoever died from a rough ride? The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” scrawled across it—a reference to Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in 2015. So far, like Hogan’s campaign, Young’s campaign has not commented on the sign, content to ignore something shouting out one of the city’s central problems: Institutionalized racism and deeply-entrenched racial inequity.

There was an inevitability to Young’s announcement. Like Brandon Scott’s mayoral run, everybody knew this was coming.