Baltimore News Updates from Independent & Regional Media 10/15

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This week’s news includes: Scott feels the BRESCO burn, a risky return to the classroom, vaccine vacillation, and more reporting from The Real News Network, The AFRO, Maryland Reporter, and others.



At a May forum for mayoral candidates, City Council President Brandon Scott said Baltimore should allow its contract with the BRESCO incinerator to expire. (YouTube)

Backtracking on a campaign promise, Scott now favors extending BRESCO contract
by Fern Shen
Published October 13 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: During the mayoral primary campaign, candidate Brandon M. Scott had a firm position on the trash-burning BRESCO incinerator: he called for the city to stop sending its garbage there after the contract expires in 2021.

“We must close BRESCO. We must break with the contract in 2021 – that goes without saying,” Scott said at a May forum, siding with the community and environmental groups that have pushed for years to shutter the polluting South Baltimore facility.
Those activists were alarmed after it was disclosed that lame-duck Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is negotiating to extend for 10 more years the city’s contract with BRESCO.

Ever since, they have been calling on Young to leave the incinerator decision to Scott, who beat Young in the June primary and is the overwhelming favorite to win the general election on November 3.

But one person who is not joining the chorus is Scott.
“The reality is that we only have one mayor at a time,” he said in an interview with The Brew.

See also:

Scott pulls back a bill to permit highway billboards along railroad rights of way
by Mark Reutter
Published October 13 in Baltimore Brew



An empty classroom. On Wednesday, Baltimore City schools announced a partial reopening plan that includes the district's most vulnerable students. CREDIT MISSKPRIMARY/FLICKR

Baltimore Schools Will Bring Most Vulnerable Students Back Into Classroom, Starting November
by Emily Sullivan
Published October 14 in WYPR

Excerpt: Baltimore City schools will bring some of its most vulnerable students back into the classroom next month, the district announced Wednesday.

Students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, special education, English learners and those experiencing homelessness, as well as those who have missed at least 20% of online classes, will be able to receive in-person schooling in the district’s second quarter, which starts Nov. 12.

“What we have remained committed to doing is having a steady learning that is careful, that takes into account the primacy of health and recognizes that our community is not monolithic,” City Schools CEO Sonya Santelises said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

See also:

Baltimore City Schools See $21 Million Shortfall As Pandemic Expenses Total $131 Million
by Emily Sullivan
Published October 14 in WYPR



REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Is Returning to the Classroom Worth the Risk?
by Jaisal Noor
Published October 14 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Over the passionate objections of many teachers, parents, and students, Baltimore City Schools announced on Oct. 14 that they are pressing ahead with a plan to increase in-person instruction for high need students starting in November. This in-person instruction would be held at 25 of the district’s 161 schools. Students can return on a voluntary basis, but teachers will be required to return to the classroom.

Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonte Brown criticized the move, arguing educators should not be forced to risk their own health and the health of their communities by returning to school before it is safe.

“I’m concerned that safety protocols and measures have yet to be fully fleshed out, and the unfinished plans are currently being poorly implemented. In order to reopen safely, the board needs to actually negotiate with the union, the reopening plans need to be complete, the district needs to commit to putting structures and processes in place to ensure that safety protocols are being followed,” Brown told The Real News. “The majority of the people that I’ve spoken to that are in school buildings and worksites report lack of PPE [personal protective equipment] or safety protocols regularly being breached.”



Picking up Wi-Fi hotspots at North Ave.

To the incoming mayor of Baltimore: Close the digital divide for all
by Adam Echelman
Published October 12 in Baltimore

Excerpt: More than half of teachers in low-income communities say that their students’ lack of access to online resources at home presents a major challenge, the Pew Research Center reported in 2015.

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the digital divide: the unequal distribution of computers, internet, and digital literacy across the US. Yet, as the Pew study reminds us, this issue has persisted for years, often under the radar. The incoming mayor must act urgently to ensure that this spotlight on digital inequity does not fade as we adjust to the changes that 2020 has brought to our day-to-day lives. Without a holistic and long-term digital equity plan for the City, families will remain unable to access the education, employment, healthcare and other online resources needed to succeed. We need a holistic and long-term digital equity plan for the City, now.

Today, roughly one third of Baltimore households lack a computer or high-speed internet at home. These children, working adults and elderly residents are predominantly low-income, Black, and Latinx. Digital inequity reaches into every facet of life and affects every sector of the economy. While the City Council and Baltimore City Public Schools have made bold strides, the incoming mayor and staff must look beyond a single agency, organization or short-term solution and work collaboratively to develop a long-term digital equity strategy, coupled with a multi-year investment in expanding access to internet, computers, and digital literacy skill building for all.



Gov. Larry Hogan's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has the approval of the vast majority of Marylanders, according to the latest Goucher College poll. CREDIT RACHEL BAYE / WYPR

Poll: Marylanders Skeptical Of Hypothetical COVID Vaccine
by Rachel Baye
Published October 13 in WYPR

Excerpt: If an FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19 were available today at no cost, less than half of registered voters in Maryland say they would get it, according to the latest Goucher College poll.

A slim majority of Democrats say they would get the vaccine, while slim majorities of Republicans and unaffiliated voters say they would not.

The poll shows widespread agreement that individuals’ actions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, can prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, Republicans and Democrats are split over whether the worst of the pandemic is yet to come — Republicans and unaffiliated voters say the worst is behind us.

“Individuals are more likely to believe messages that come out from politicians who share their party affiliation,” said Mileah Kromer, who oversees the poll as director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.



Art of the Times
by Lydia Woolever
Published October 13 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: When the coronavirus arrived in Baltimore this March, some of the first people to feel the effects of the new global pandemic were artists. Concerts and exhibits were quickly postponed, then canceled, with museums and music venues imposing social-distancing restrictions before ultimately closing their doors. The halls grew quiet at The Walters. The curtains hung heavy at Center Stage. The seats sat empty at the Meyerhoff. Even Station North, usually bustling with nightlife between The Crown and Motor House, had gone dark.

Overnight, musicians, painters, actors, photographers, and more watched their livelihoods come to a screeching halt. Resources and relief funds attempted to ease the economic pain, but by early May, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s artists were unemployed, according to the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, and with no end in sight.

But art, at its essence, is a response to the world around it, with some of history’s greatest masterpieces borne out of times of crisis. (Shakespeare apparently wrote King Lear during the bubonic plague.) And so artists here did what they do best, honing their various mediums and the city’s DIY spirit to help us make sense of it all. Even as crowds could no longer fill galleries and theaters, they found fresh ways to create, turning to the internet, where they would bring art to the quarantine comforts of audience’s own homes, and eventually the great outdoors.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra launched Offstage, where violinists and cellists performed livestream recitals from their living rooms. The Baltimore Museum of Art debuted its BMA Salon and Screening programs, where local gallerists presented exhibitions on virtual walls. The Creative Alliance offered DJ dance parties on Zoom, while the Sondheim Artscape Prize was announced via YouTube, and the Parkway Theatre held its annual Maryland Film Festival online. All the while, photographers took self-portraits, writers kept quarantine diaries, and creatives of all kinds crafted “isolation creations,” from floral designs to dress-up recreations of famous fine art on Instagram.



Passengers waiting for trains at Penn Station platforms in Baltimore. by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

Comprehensive regional rail from Baltimore through to Richmond by 2045? A new coalition thinks it’s possible.
by Alex Holt
Published October 9 in Greater Greater Washington

Excerpt: Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Richmond haven’t seen a lot of new rail service over the past two decades — but it’s not for lack of transit plans. There have been plans to tackle every mode of transit in every city, a mode-agnostic “Regional Transit Plan” for Central Maryland, a plan for improving transit in Baltimore City, and a plan specifically for Maryland’s commuter rail… the list goes on.

Missing in the “Capital Region,” as the Greater Washington Partnership calls it, is a vision of what it would take to create “regional” rail between all three cities. It is for that task that a coalition of business groups, legislators, transit agencies, and other groups launched the Capital Region Rail Vision Project early last month. The initiative will bring interested parties together to map out the path to an efficient, interconnected rail system connecting the entire region before 2045.

“The intent is to step back a second and say to ourselves ‘what is our ideal outcome? What’s the ideal future state of our region’s rail system?” said Joe McAndrew, Director of Transportation Policy for the Greater Washington Partnership. “What does that mean for the region? If we were to have, say, 30-minute headways between Baltimore and Washington, DC, what does that mean for the State of Maryland and for the region’s economy, for job production and economic productivity? And from there, do the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs?”



The redevelopment of the Preakness at Pimlico is a $375 million project geared towards improving the area along Northern Parkway and opening space on the field for public use between races. (J.K. Schmid)

Will the Preakness Save Park Heights?
by J.K. Schmid
Published October 8 in The AFRO

Excerpt: It’s been a strange and strained year for Preakness.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic leaves Baltimoreans self-isolating out of public spaces, public spectacle and public eye, all while the eyes of the world fall on Pimlico Racetrack to witness the second leg of races between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont stakes.

Delayed from May, the race took place Oct. 3. In an upset, Swiss Skydiver, a chestnut filly from WinStar Farm, beat the favorite, Authentic, by a neck.

The statistics and stories of the horses, their breeders and riders, give an answer to who will win and settle many anxieties and uncertainties at the intersection of politics and culture. We are all trying to adjust to the era of COVID-19 that has left over 200,000 Americans dead, and over a million persons dead worldwide.

It’s a slight return to normal and business as usual.

But normal and usual aren’t sustainable, particularly for Baltimore’s Park Heights, the community surrounding the Pimlico Racetrack.



Protesters gathered outside of Baltimore City Hall in June in a call to defund the police department. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Poll Shows Marylanders on Board With Police Reform
by Josh Kurtz
Published October 12 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: As Maryland legislative committees craft comprehensive police reform packages for the 2021 General Assembly session, they appear to have significant support from voters, according to a recently-completed poll.

The Goucher College Poll, conducted in late September and early October, found strong support for a variety of measures designed to crack down on police violence and seek more accountability for law enforcement […]

“Maryland residents are largely supportive of key police reforms that are currently being discussed by state lawmakers and have dominated our national discourse,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, who worked with students to craft poll questions and conduct the poll. “Some of these proposals, like creating statewide use-of-force policies and requiring police officers to undergo racial bias training, earn support from majorities of Democrats and Republicans. But there’s a mixed message on police budgets.”



Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

New GBC board chair emphasizes the need for racial unity and equality
by Bryan Renbaum
Published October 14 in The Maryland Reporter

Excerpt: The new chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s board of directors emphasized the need for racial equity and unity amid national protests over the police killings of unarmed African-Americans.

“Favoring one group over another causes societal challenges that limit progress for individuals, communities, and cities. We must all be in this together, interconnected,” Calvin Butler Jr., said in a speech at the group’s 65th annual meeting on Wednesday shortly after he was named to that position.

Butler, who is senior executive vice president of Exelon and CEO of Exelon Utilities, said he felt personally affected by the late-May killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis officer.

“I remember over the weekend listening to 24/7 news coverage and waking up Monday morning just feeling tired. I called my chief of staff and said: ‘Cancel my meetings for the day. I need time to just sit back and reflect.’”

Butler added: “I never met George Floyd. But I experienced the tragedy of his death so intensely. Down deep, I recognized somehow that he and I were interconnected.”




A voter’s guide to this high-anxiety election
by Ian Round
Published October 12 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The November 2020 presidential general election may be one of the most important in United States history with, some say, the future of democracy at stake.
Without a doubt, it is the most nerve-racking in modern times.

Between the menace of the Covid pandemic and Donald Trump’s relentless attempts to spread doubt about the security of voting by mail, Baltimore voters are anxious, even though the outcome of local elections have been largely predetermined by an overwhelming Democratic Party voting bloc.

A less-than-ideal user interface of the Maryland State Board of Elections (SBE) website hasn’t reduced that anxiety.

Many Maryland voters are uncertain about the status of their mail-in ballot requests and whether their votes will be counted.

So here’s some advice: Make a plan to vote. Pick a day and set aside time to research candidates, charter amendments and ballot measures.

Here is some information about procedures, key deadlines, links and other resources that may help.



Header image: photo by Ryan Chance from Baltimore Magazine

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