By Dharna Noor
Mayor Catherine Pugh ended her inaugural speech in Dec. 2016 by saying “make Baltimore great again,” a confusing nod to Donald Trump’s embattled campaign slogan that disturbed many Baltimoreans. But over the past few weeks, Pugh has borrowed not just a slogan from Trump, but a whole political tactic: attack the media.
During Baltimore Magazine’s Visionaries Panel Discussion on Thursday evening at the Parkway Theatre, Mayor Catherine Pugh took the stage to critique media representations of Baltimore. She spoke just after panelists responded to a question about the “perception problem” that Baltimore faces: that the city is wracked with violence and corruption.
Pugh decried the coverage of a Feb. 7th press conference where a reporter asked her if she had been following the shocking Gun Trace Task Force trial, which has been the source of a number of revelations about police corruption in Baltimore. Pugh said, “No, I have not.”
She continued: “I have to run the city, I don’t have time to sit in a trial.”
She was also asked if she had read about the case or if she’d been briefed on it, and responded, “I don’t have time to just read articles.”
At the Parkway, Pugh claimed her remarks were misconstrued.
“So, we have a media perception problem. It’s always this ‘I gotchu’ moment,” she said.“Do I know what’s going on? Absolutely.”
While Pugh does not have time to read articles about GTTF, she does have time to read media that critiques her and offer point and counterpoint. She went on at the Parkway and said she wished the media would instead focus on how this year “violence is down 37 percent, homicides are down 30-some odd percent in the city.”
Pugh acknowledged the policing problem, and said Baltimore needs to learn “how to do community policing in such a way that the community respects you.” She boasted about how Bloomberg had invested $5 million for the Baltimore Police Department to buy new surveillance cameras, gunshot detection software, and license plate readers.
Darryl DeSousa, Pugh’s appointee for police commissioner, has also been widely criticized in recent days: Ian Dombrowski, his appointee for head of the police department’s internal affairs unit was according to a witness in the Gun Trace Task Force trials this week, involved in an ongoing unworked overtime pay scheme.
She also urged audience members to “change how people see our city,” understanding that “ every single individual, whether they’re homeless or wealthy, deserves respect, a place to live, and that we all want the same thing: we want to love our city.”
This comes weeks after city workers evicted a homeless encampment just blocks away from City Hall. In recent weeks, city officials have also been criticized for not putting any money into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which was voted into effect a year and a half ago.
Mayor Pugh also spoke about the 21st Century Schools program, under which the city received a $1 billion dollar investment to build new schools: “Every child deserves the same thing: a complete education.” She addressed the inequality between schools in different parts of the city. But critics note that Pugh’s administration has not followed through on one of her most important campaign promises: increasing the city’s contribution to public education by 15%. As activist Melissa Schober has noted, currently, Baltimore City contributes the third lowest amount per pupils, and the lowest percentage of the whole city budget in all of Maryland’s school jurisdictions.
Pugh also discussed a recent report in The Baltimore Sun, which described her plans to spend up to $150,000 to build a two-room television studio in City Hall. She came under fire for using taxpayer money for this project, but at the Parkway, she said, “it’s not taxpayer money because Comcast gives us money every year because we own that TV station,” referring to the public access channel CharmTV.
She said that the $150,000 rewiring is necessary to help existing media, not to create her own. Pugh claims she told a journalist, “You all come in here every week and plug in your television stations! So we don’t have to risk you blowing up City Hall, we have to rewire this whole building.”
In response to Pugh’s speech, Councilman Ryan Dorsey tweeted:
This was so incredibly embarrassing and appalling. It reminded me that we have a Mayor who closed her inaugural speech with “Make Baltimore great again.”
Dorsey was one of the thirty visionaries selected by Baltimore Magazine. He told the Real News, “Baltimore has far more than a perception problem. It has deeply rooted inequities than need to be addressed head-on with more than boosterism and ‘changing the narrative.’”
“If truly innovative and exciting policy changes were happening in Baltimore,” Dorsey said, “that’s what local and national media would be reporting, and that is certainly what the City Council is trying to do.”
He also noted that Pugh’s Department of Transportation is reportedly stalling on the proposal for more bike lanes and public transit that he worked on with a fellow Baltimore Magazine visionary, Liz Cornish of Bikemore.
Last month, the Baltimore Brew reported that Mayor Pugh had used city funds to hire a media consultant for $240 per hour. The consultant, Gregory W. Tucker, told the Brew he is “helping steer communications in the wake of the recent departure of the mayor’s director of public affairs, Anthony W. McCarthy.”
Pugh took the opportunity to “salute the visionaries in our city who believe in Baltimore, who want to be here, who know that it can be a great city—but again, it’s how we move forward together” at the end of her speech.
“Baltimore can be the greatest city in America,” she said.
The Real News has reached out to Mayor Pugh’s office for comment but has not yet received a response.