By Barry Rascovar
Dec. 6, 2016 — It started with such bright promise, yet as Stephanie Rawlings-Blake leaves the mayor’s office today for the last time there’s a deflated feeling that she failed to live up to expectations.
She came into the mayor’s job with an ideal pedigree — the youngest elected City Council member in history, 12 years as a councilwoman, vice president and then president of the City Council. A lawyer and Public Defender, she learned important lessons from her father, Howard “Pete” Rawlings, a legendary figure in Annapolis known for his courage and dedicated budget expertise,
Like her father, she was a policy wonk with the determination to make tough decisions for the betterment of the city. Rawlings-Blake followed after her father in doing what’s right, not what’s popular.
She straightened out Baltimore’s red-ink-laced budget, took on the police and fire unions to get the city out of a horrendous pension bind and found a way to cut the city’s too-high property tax rate more than prior mayors.
In case you haven’t noticed, business development is surging in Baltimore. A program is in place to attack vacant housing blight. The city has a $1 billion plan under way to modernize its public school buildings.
Sadly, all this was overshadowed by the mayor’s standoffishness, her failure to enlarge her inner circle of advisers and her arrogant behavior on the day when civil unrest broke out in Baltimore in 2015.
On that day, Rawlings-Blake closeted herself in meetings, refusing to take phone calls from Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. about calling in the National Guard.
It was shockingly poor judgment followed by a continuing inability to display the kind of one-on-one contact with distraught citizens that might have helped tamp down the flammable situation.
Meanwhile, Rawlings-Blake, despite her years of City Council service, proved unable to win over council members on key issues. She feuded for years with Council President Jack Young and with Comptroller Joan Pratt, and also regularly criticized the governor.
She too often listened only to a small coterie of trusted advisers and longtime friends, then seemed surprised when her ineffective lobbying in Annapolis and in the Council chambers led to failure.
She spent too much time in her last year on official trips, promoting her national Democratic Party standing and grooming herself for a future career as a partisan TV analyst.
What a disappointing way to end her political life. She leaves the mayor’s office after seven years with barely a pulse-beat of citizen support.
Yet Rawlings-Blake has in many ways set the table quite nicely for new Mayor Catherine Pugh, who will reap the benefits of her predecessor’s courageous budgeting reforms, school construction program and economic development moves.
Future historians will remember Rawlings-Blake far more favorably than Baltimoreans do today. It’s unfortunate that she leaves on such a low note. She performed some valuable services during her tenure as the struggling city’s top elected official. Yet her deeply flawed leadership on the day when Baltimore burned will always be a black mark against her mayoralty record.