County residents are invested in city’s plight
All of us — living in the city and the surrounding counties alike — are hostages to the city’s poor governance and to the resulting legal and social disorder, we on the outside are powerless to effect any real change.
I read the recent column by Dan Rodricks, “A primary day fraught with crime tensions and big questions about Baltimore” (July 19), and was taken aback when he wrote: “I hear Baltimoreans decry a lack of urgency about problems, and I hear people with only fleeting interest in the city speak of it in the ugliest terms, as if they had nothing invested in seeing Baltimore thrive again.” Although I was born, bred, educated and have lived and worked in and around the city all my life, I have made my home in Baltimore County for over three decades, so I suppose that Mr. Rodricks had me and the other residents of the surrounding counties in mind when he referred to those with a “fleeting interest,” who have “nothing invested” in the city’s plight.
I do not know who has spoken to Mr. Rodricks about the city “in the ugliest terms.” But in the circles I frequent the city’s plight is a topic of constant comment and not with any smugness or self-righteous delight, but rather with anger and outrage born out of a sense of frustration, itself the product of the realization that we, on the outside looking in, are powerless to effect any change at all.
As I write this, more than 200 men, women and children have been killed in Baltimore so far this year, and I am reminded of the lines from a poem written long ago: “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.” Like me, every one of them was a citizen of the state of Maryland, and it outrages me that the life expectancy of any Marylander should have to depend on what side of the city-county line they live on.
David Brooks has written that the primary problem in all societies is order — moral, legal and social order. While politics may be downstream from culture, as some have written, so that city government can’t be held responsible for that jurisdiction’s moral tone, it is primarily and ultimately responsible for maintaining the city’s legal and social order. Mr. Rodricks states that Baltimore faces serious and complicated challenges and that public safety, or the lack of it, lies at the root of the city’s ills, and I agree. And he writes that Baltimore’s citizens want it, and I suppose that’s so. But then he says that these are the things that the citizens of Baltimore “deserve” and that they “voted for,” and there he and I part company.
For those of us old enough to remember when the city was administered competently and efficiently and with pride and purpose, the level of ineptitude, incompetence, venality and corruption that now pervades all aspects of municipal governance simply beggars belief. If the city’s voters didn’t put these officials in office, then who did? And if the city’s voters won’t kick them out and find competent replacements, then who else can? If the city’s voters are “entitled” to better governance then aren’t they also ultimately responsible to see that they get it? And if they can’t, or won’t, then how can they “deserve” more than they get?
It should be obvious to everyone living in Baltimore and the surrounding jurisdictions that our safety, prosperity and happiness are inextricably linked. But there are two parts to our dilemma. On the one hand, only city voters can choose their governing officials, and the evidence suggests that they are simply unwilling or unable to identify and to empower people who can fix things. Perhaps, to be charitable, it may be that city voters are just so demoralized that they’ve all but checked out.
On the other hand, while all of us — living in the city and the surrounding counties alike — are hostages to the city’s poor governance and to the resulting legal and social disorder, we on the outside are powerless to effect any real change. So, we stand on the sidelines watching the carnage with real and deep sadness for the plight of our fellow citizens who live, or try to live, in Baltimore.