Baltimore News Updates from Independent & Regional Media 11/19

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This week’s news includes: Health Department urges Marylanders to stay vigilant, homelessness on the rise, Hogan’s hopes, and more reporting from Maryland Matters, WYPR, Baltimore Fishbowl, and others.



Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall brief the Joint COVD-19 Response Legislative Workgroup Wednesday. Screenshot by Hannah Gaskill

Health Department Officials Warn Against COVID-Fatigue, Urge Marylanders to Continue Masking and Distancing
by Hannah Gaskill
Published November 18 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Health Department officials warned lawmakers at the Joint COVD-19 Response Legislative Workgroup on Wednesday of what may come in the next few months as Maryland’s COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations continue to skyrocket.

“We’re at a point where help is not coming from the federal government fast enough,” Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said Wednesday morning. “Simply put, all Marylanders must take individual action to slow the spread. The Health Department can’t do it; the Senate of Maryland can’t do it; the House of Delegates can’t do it. Individual people acting on their own are the only people [who] can do it.”

This was likely one of the last public appearances Neall will make as department secretary. His retirement was announced by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a news conference last week. He’s set to leave the agency on Dec. 1.

“These last three years, though trying, have been very rewarding and I simply do not have the strength and vitality to continue,” he told the Workgroup Wednesday. “You have to know when to say when.”

Neall stressed the importance of wearing face masks, keeping socially distanced, reducing the amount of time spent outside of home, washing hands frequently and cooperating with contact tracers.



Signs were posted last week at an encampment under I-83. (Louis Krauss)

After public outcry, Young administration drops plan to clear homeless encampment
by Louis Krauss
Published November 16 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The city has backed down on its plan to raze a homeless encampment of roughly 30 people living under the I-83 overpass after its intentions were disclosed by The Brew.

Residents of the encampment said they were told last week that they had to leave, and in an email to a reporter, mayoral spokesman James Bentley II confirmed plans to clear people from the city-owned lot at Guilford Avenue and Centre Street. Bentley later clarified that the deadline was this Thursday, November 19.

After widespread criticism of the decision by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to displace vulnerable people during a pandemic – with no specific plan for where they were to go – the camp clearing was called off today.

“There are no plans to disrupt any of the city’s encampments at this time,” Tisha Edwards, acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, said in an email to The Brew this morning.

Later in the day, Councilman Ryan Dorsey said he intervened in the matter. “Last week signs were posted indicating homeless residents would be ejected from the I-83 encampment,” he tweeted. “I raised concern and the Mayor’s Office has stated it will not be happening.”

See also:

Homelessness in Maryland worsens during the pandemic
by Kaitlyn Francis
Published November 18 in Capital News Service (via Baltimore Fishbowl)



Sheila Dixon said she had no idea the wellness center’s loan came from money voters had approved for affordable housing. (Fern Shen)

Affordable housing funds were set to rehab wellness center championed by ex-mayor Dixon
by Mark Reutter
Published November 18 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The Department of Housing and Community Development withdrew a $600,000 Affordable Housing loan committed to a “wellness center” promoted by former Mayor Sheila Dixon after The Brew questioned whether the funds were being properly used.

The loan to Bethel Outreach Center, Inc. – drawn from the Affordable Housing Program approved by voters in 2018 to underwrite housing for low-income families – was set to be approved this morning by the Board of Estimates.

But it was withdrawn yesterday by HCD after this website asked how making the building – owned by Bethel A.M.E., Dixon’s church – ADA compliant and installing a front atrium with a skylight fit into the program’s requirements.

Out of 20 projects now in the pipeline for Affordable Housing money, only the Bethel center has no housing component, according to data provided by HCD.

“It is unclear if these funds can be used for the project if it is not direct construction of affordable housing,” HCD spokesperson Tammy Hawley acknowledged.



The Motor Vehicle Administration office on Reisterstown Road in Baltimore City. CREDIT JOHN LEE

Governor Told State Workers To Telework, But Workers Say They’re Not Allowed
by Rachel Baye
Published November 16 in WYPR

Excerpt: Last week, in response to the alarming rise of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered all state employees who can telework to do so.

“Effective immediately all state employees who are approved to telework must again begin a period of mandatory telework except for essential direct public facing services and other essential personnel,” Hogan said at a press conference on Nov. 10.

Earlier that day, state Budget Secretary David Brinkley, whose office oversees personnel matters, sent a memo to all cabinet secretaries and agency heads.

“Physical distancing remains one of the strongest tools against this virus and teleworking provides our employees with that protection while allowing them to continue to deliver vital services to our citizens,” he wrote.

However, the Maryland branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, the state’s largest employee union, says the governor’s announcement did not change the number of employees teleworking at state agencies or lead to changes that would allow them to more easily telework.



Photo via Twitter/Maryland Department of Health

Maryland says 1M smartphone users opted in to mobile contact tracing in first week
by Stephen Babcock
Published November 18 in Baltimore

Excerpt: In between the many election alerts we’ve all been getting, iOS and Android users might’ve noticed a push notification for a new service related to the pandemic over the last week.

For users who opt in, the new feature is designed to put smartphones to work in the fight to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. MD COVID Alert notifies users of potential exposure to COVID-19, and helps the state’s contact tracing efforts, officials said.

The exposure notification service was developed by Apple and Google, after the two tech giants who are often competitors decided to come together to address the pandemic earlier this year. State government got involved in launching it locally.

“Many employees from the state then worked with that technology to make sure that it would work with our contact tracing operation and to customize the messaging and parameters delivered to users in the state,” said Maryland Department of Information Technology Deputy Secretary Lance Schine. “There has also been a large effort to promote the use of this application, because the higher the adoption rate by citizens the more effective it will be with our contact tracing efforts.”



Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) speaks at the Ronald Reagan Institute on Monday morning. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Having Already Cast a Write-in Vote for Reagan, Hogan Seeks to Wrap Himself in His Cloak
by Danielle E. Gaines
Published November 16 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Monday urged President Trump to accept defeat in the 2020 election and criticized the federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s once again raging across the country and in Maryland ― and cast himself as a common sense White House candidate for 2024 in the mold of President Reagan.

In comments at the Ronald Reagan Institute, Hogan never directly addressed the question of whether he would run for president in 2024, but fielded questions about how he would navigate a Republican presidential primary and about the future of the GOP.

During a 20-minute address and a 35-minute Q&A session, Hogan said an “exhausted majority” of Americans are looking for less divisiveness in their political leaders.

“We cannot afford to continue to perpetuate toxic politics. America is at a critical crossroads. Unless we begin to change the self-destructive course that both parties are on, this mess will just repeat itself all over again in 2024,” Hogan said.

In the 2020 election, Hogan faced harsh criticism for casting a write-in presidential ballot for Reagan, who has been dead for 16 years.



Illustration by Harry Campbell

Iron Pipeline
by Ron Cassie
Published November 18 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: The first time someone shot at him, Kevin Shird was a tall, skinny 16-year-old. He’d been playing basketball when another kid he barely knew walked up and accused Shird of disrespecting his girlfriend. When the teenager reached for the gun in his front waistband, “dip” in Baltimore parlance, Shird chucked the basketball under his arm at him and ran. The next time someone pulled a gun on Shird, he was 17, and the target of a street robbery. When he was 21, a guy took a shot at him in broad daylight on West Fayette Street over a neighborhood beef. This time, he shot back.

Shird grew up in Edmondson Village. Not the easiest place to be a teenager. His father was a corrections officer and his mother worked at a department store, but raising four kids and paying for food, rent, and gas and electric bills was a lot to manage. Eviction was an ever-present threat. Sometimes the water got shut off. Getting three solid meals a day was a struggle at times, but getting a gun for protection wasn’t difficult at all. He’d known drug dealers since he was little, and he eventually went to work on a corner. His first gun was a .22 caliber Colt revolver, bought cheap from a heroin addict. Pretty quickly, he traded up to a .357 Magnum.

By 1992, in his early 20s, Shird was operating his own Diamond in the Raw drug crew in West Baltimore. The need for more guns, with greater capacity, had grown exponentially. He had to protect himself and his business, and six-shot revolvers no longer sufficed. Not with the semiautomatic Glock pistols—strong, lightweight handguns initially manufactured for the Austrian army and then heavily marketed in the U.S.— flooding the streets. The Baltimore police had already switched over from their service revolvers to semiautomatic Glocks in what was essentially becoming an arms race. Where did Shird turn for firearms? With a criminal record, he couldn’t legally purchase a firearm. No matter. The guns came to him and his crew.

Every few months, a burly man driving a nondescript sedan with North Carolina license plates would roll up to one of his Fulton Avenue or Mount Street corners. Not far from the Western District police station, in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray would be arrested a generation later, the North Carolina stranger would pop his trunk and display a cache of 12 to 15 semiautomatic handguns and ammunition. The man with the Southern drawl did a brisk business, accepting cash only from the highest bidders. The guys who moved the most heroin grabbed the prizes: 16-shot Glock automatics and, if their bankroll was big enough, body armor.

“It was all still in their boxes,” says Shird, who later did 12 years for drug trafficking. “We had an endless supply of Berettas, Glocks, 9mm handguns manufactured by Smith & Wesson. It got so you could place orders. Tell him what you wanted. Look, guns have always been easy to get in Baltimore, but if there’s one thing people have to understand, it’s that kids in Baltimore aren’t born with guns in their hands. Guns aren’t manufactured here. There aren’t even any gun stores left in Baltimore City to buy one legally. [There’s one, owned by an ex-cop.] All these guns—the cheap, broken ones, the ones passed around with a body on them, the ones traded for drugs, the expensive ones sold on the black market—they all come from someplace else.”



DeRay Mckesson accepts the Best Political Podcast award for 'Pod Save The People' onstage at the 2020 iHeartRadio Podcast Awards at the iHeartRadio Theater on January 17, 2020 in Burbank, California. Credit: Rich Fury / Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Marc Steiner Show: DeRay McKesson on the Movement; Debating Black Expatriation from the US (video)
by Mark Steiner
Published November 18 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: In the second episode of the Marc Steiner Show, DeRay McKesson talks about his victorious Supreme Court case against a police officer, and how the left has the numbers, but not the organization. Then, TaNesha Barnes and Dr. Lester Spence debate the best recourse for Black Americans after an election where 71 million voters actively supported—or ignored—Donald Trump’s racism.



Merriweather Post Pavilion. Image via Facebook.

It will be like dominoes.’ Music venues shuttered by pandemic push Congress to ‘Save Our Stages’ with federal funding
by Marcus Dieterle
Published November 18 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: With coronavirus metrics on the rise across the U.S., businesses are seeing restrictions reinstated.

But for many in the entertainment sector, in-person operations have been halted since the pandemic began. Unable to open their doors for music concerts and other events, entertainment venues are calling on federal leaders to provide the emergency coronavirus relief that they need to stay afloat.

The U.S. House of Representatives in October passed the Save Our Stages Act as part of a more expansive coronavirus relief package, the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act.

But with the U.S. Senate at a stalemate with the larger package, the Save Our Stages Act and the venues it would support have been left in limbo.



State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) on his front porch. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Franchot Plans to Campaign for Governor ‘Like a Tiger’ — And Lays Out Early Priorities
by Bruce DePuyt
Published November 18 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) has been honing the elevator speech he will use in his 2022 campaign for governor — and he is eager for people to hear it.

As he and a reporter settled into socially-distanced chairs on the sun-drenched front porch of his Takoma Park home on Monday, he whipped out several sheets of white, lined notebook paper and asked if he could read it before taking questions.

“This is something I wrote last night — or two nights ago — by myself. ‘Hi, my name is Peter Franchot…’”



Header image: "Scooterpalooza" from National Aquarium Twitter

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