The News: Public School Mask Mandate, Far Right Group Sues Baltimore, Reimagining the Museum, and more

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Holy cow Holy Frijoles turns 25, Mt. Vernon building collapse, Old Goucher’s Flatform Studios, and more reporting from The Real News Network, Grist, Baltimore Magazine, and other local and independent news sources. photo by Kelly Sikkema.

Lawmakers Approve Universal Mask Mandate in Public Schools
by Elizabeth Shwe
Published September 14 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: State lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to an emergency regulation passed by the State Board of Education that now requires universal masking in all Maryland public schools.

After a four-hour virtual public hearing, the Joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee, which is tasked with reviewing state agency regulations, voted 10-7 to approve the emergency regulation passed by the state board in late August.

Only two of Maryland’s 24 school districts — Carroll County and Somerset County — are not already requiring masks to be worn indoors.

The vote splintered along party lines, with Democratic lawmakers voting in favor of the mask mandate and Republican lawmakers opposed. Two committee members were absent.

Proponents of the mask mandate contend it is necessary to allow students to return to classrooms with as little disruption as possible, while opponents criticized the mask mandate for undermining local control.



Stock photo/Getty Images

School’s Back in Session — Now What?
by Jaisal Noor
Published September 15 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Baltimore City public school students didn’t only have to worry about returning to school in person amid a surging pandemic—many also stepped into schools without functioning air conditioning. Temperatures upwards of 90 degrees forced the early dismissal of hundreds of students at two dozen schools when they reopened on Aug. 30. Schools without AC have had to close early every day this week.

Despite their school closing early on the first two days of class, Baltimore City College High School senior Samreen Sheraz told Battleground Baltimore that school is off to a good start.

“Students are getting the ‘normal’ school environment back, which means they have motivation, and support from peers and teachers,” Sheraz, a member of Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society (SOMOS), said. “It is much easier to get it in person rather than online.”



Baltimore is facing a federal lawsuit after it cancelled a prayer rally featuring, among others, former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon. (Wikipedia)

Church Militant sues Baltimore, calls cancellation of Pier Six event free speech infringement
by Fern Shen
Published September 14 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The far-right Catholic group Church Militant has sued the city of Baltimore in federal court, saying the decision by the administration of Mayor Brandon Scott to cancel the group’s upcoming rally at the Inner Harbor was “obviously unconstitutional.”

“They don’t get to shut down our speech. It’s that simple” said Michael Voris, Church Militant’s founder and CEO of St. Michael’s Media, speaking with The Brew.

The Michigan-based group contends that its First Amendment rights to free speech, religion and assembly were violated when City Solicitor James L. Shea canceled the organization’s contract to hold the meeting on November 16 at the MECU Pavilion on city-owned Pier Six.

Church Militant’s attorney, Marc Randazza of Las Vegas, and local Maryland counsel David S. Wachen of Potomac, filed the complaint late Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. They also filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to reverse the city’s decision as soon as possible.



Public domain photo by Baltimore Heritage

Interested in the city’s economic future? Check out the BDC’s ‘Baltimore Together’ plan
by Stephen Babcock
Published September 15 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Baltimore City has a comprehensive economic development strategy, and leaders are seeking feedback before it goes into final form.

The plan, called “Baltimore Together: A Platform for Inclusive Prosperity,” is open until Sept. 30 for public comment.

Helmed by the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), which is the City’s economic development agency, the plan counts creating an equitable economy and building an innovation ecosystem among its main objectives for the economy.



Siblings Kaya Gordon Levi and Ayana Gordon. —Courtesy of Flatform Studios

For Flatform Studios, Creation and Community Are at the Core
by Grace Hebron
Published September 15 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: “We’re a mix of a bunch of different cultures and stories that led us to Baltimore,” says Flatform Studios founder Kaya Gordon Levi, referring to her family, including younger sister and co-collaborator, Ayana Gordon. The tie that binds them to the city is it’s “best cookies and cream ice cream.” Well, sort of.

The story of Flatform Studios—the Old Goucher venue and collaborative event space run by the siblings with the help of Gordon Levi’s husband, Le, the brains behind the business model—begins with the man behind the aforementioned treat. Their grandfather, Cecil Gordon—a native of Antigua, who came to Baltimore from Leicester, England—served the scoops in oyster pails at Johnson’s Grocery in Druid Heights. On weekends, the sisters (then kids) looked forward to enjoying the confections in exchange for helping out at the McCulloh Street store.

“It was a huge part of our childhood,” recalls Ayana, a photographer and model.



​​Baltimore Museum of Art Wants to Reimagine Itself “From Scratch”
by Hakim Bishara
Published September 14 in Hyperallergic

Excerpt: After facing backlash for its plan to de-accession major works, the BMA will consult with community members to reinvent its role.

Can a museum that has been operating since 1914 be “reconceived from scratch”? That’s what the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) pledges to do with a long-term research and planning project supported by a $150,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Announced yesterday, September 13, the “Mellon Initiative” seeks to reimagine the BMA’s structure and function in society based on working groups and community outreach. According to the museum, the plan is an extension of its 2018 strategic plan, which aimed to diversify its exhibitions, acquisitions, public programming, staff, and board.




Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby speaks during a Monday council meeting, where he introduced a bill to require the Scott administration to provide the council with monthly, quarterly and yearly reports on American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Mosby Introduces Bill To Bolster Council’s ARPA Spending Oversight
by Emily Sullivan
Published September 14 in WYPR

Excerpt: City Council President Nick Mosby introduced a bill Monday that would require the Scott administration to provide the council with monthly reports and quarterly briefings about American Rescue Plan spending.

“The purpose of this bill is to ensure that the council has our legislative duty as oversight,” the Democrat said. “We understand and know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city to really eradicate and sustainably change some systematic problems that have been plaguing our city for far too long.”

The legislation also would require Department of Finance officials to provide equity assessments and annual reports on the disbursement and management of the $641 million in federal funding that the city received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA, to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Treasury issued the city the first half of the money earlier this year; the rest will hit in mid-2022. The funds must be committed by 2024.

Mosby’s bill was cosponsored by council members Eric Costello, Sharon Green Middleton, Danielle McCray, Mark Conway, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, Robert Stokes, Sr. and John T. Bullock, Odette Ramos, James Torrence and Zeke Cohen. Mosby assigned it to the Ways and Means Committee. Scott, who supports the bill, will hold an ARPA hearing with the council early next month.

See also:

Starting Next Month, Baltimore Nonprofits Can Apply For ARPA Funding
by Emily Sullivan
Published September 13 in WYPR




Empowerment Temple main entrance Courtesy of Groundswell

Baltimore is hooking up a Black megachurch with some serious solar battery power
by Maria Gallucci
Published September 14 in Grist

Excerpt: Empowerment Temple, a predominantly Black megachurch in Baltimore’s Park Heights area, is a place neighbors can often go for free meals, school supplies, and drive-thru COVID-19 tests. Soon, they’ll also be able to visit the long, beige building to charge cell phones, refrigerate medications, and cool off (or warm up) during the next power outage.

City and state agencies are providing hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip the Maryland church and other facilities with solar panels and battery storage systems — creating “resiliency hubs” that serve vulnerable communities following extreme weather events or grid failures.

“A hallmark of our ministry is, ‘How can we help people in distressed situations?’” said Anthony Robinson, a church member and leader of the nonprofit Economic Empowerment Coalition, which is helping implement the clean energy project. “We see this as an opportunity to be of service to the broader community.”



The cracked bricks of a historic Mt. Vernon rowhouse, braced with wooden support beams. (Fern Shen)

“Somebody is culpable here,” says CHAP chairman as panel okays demolition of Mt. Vernon building
by Fern Shen
Published September 15 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: One of the developers behind the Mt. Vernon construction project that severely damaged a townhouse next door – to the point where the 160-year-old architectural gem will almost certainly have to be demolished – called the situation “obviously very unfortunate.”

Members of Baltimore’s preservation board listened politely as Jonathan Pannoni, of Landmark Partners, spoke yesterday about how the damage was “not intentional” and how “there was an external force that occurred that put this building in jeopardy.”

But Chairman Tom Liebel lost patience when Pannoni, asked if the front façade wall of 4 East Eager Street could be saved, dismissed the idea as “difficult and economically impossible.”

“We are typically somewhat sensitive to economics,” Liebel chided. “But given there was clearly some measure of failure here – and there will likely be an insurance claim – economics is not a particularly compelling argument.”

“Somebody is culpable here,” he added.

See also:

Historic Mt. Vernon building, damaged by construction project next door, likely to be demolished
by Fern Shen
Published September 14 in Baltimore Brew

Commission rejects proposal to demolish parts of Mt. Vernon historic houses for Catholic school expansion
by Ed Gunts
Published September 14 in Baltimore Fishbowl



The Maryland State House in Annapolis. Photo by Christopher Boswell,

GOP Poll Shows Opportunity for Md. House Republicans and Offers a Campaign Road Map
by Josh Kurtz
Published September 13 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: A poll conducted recently for Maryland House Republican leaders suggests that the current issue and political environment favors the GOP — and could enable the badly-outnumbered House Republicans to pick up seats in the 2022 election.

But to make gains, pollster Rob Schmidt of the firm McLaughlin & Associates advises, the Republicans must work to “win the middle” and focus “more on issue contrasts rather than personality contrasts” with the Democrats.

The poll, obtained by Maryland Matters this month, is generally bullish on GOP prospects. Voters in key districts “are showing to be very receptive to a Republican issue agenda focused on economic growth, making Maryland more affordable, fighting crime, supporting law enforcement and reforming education,” Schmidt wrote in a July 30 memo to House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany). “Conversely, many of the Democrats’ liberal positions and votes on these same issues prove to be vulnerabilities for them.”

The poll gives a solid glimpse into Republican strategic thinking heading into the election year and is a possible preview of Democratic weak points in swing districts.



The Maryland State House dome is lit up on the final day of the 2021 General Assembly session. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

After N.Y. Special Session On Evictions, Some Wonder If Maryland Should Do The Same
by Bennett Leckrone
Published September 10 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: After the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a Biden administration moratorium on evictions, lawmakers in New York convened a special session last week and extended the state’s eviction protections through Jan. 15.

Now, some advocates and local leaders are hoping the Maryland General Assembly will do the same.

Maryland’s eviction protections ended in August, and with federal rental assistance money slow to get to tenants and landlords, some worry that relief funding isn’t moving fast enough to prevent an onslaught of evictions.

There are multiple ways eviction protections could be instituted in Maryland. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) could reinstate eviction protections; Congress could put eviction protections in place; and the General Assembly could theoretically convene a special session to pass eviction protections.



After suffering a second fire in 2016, the Holy Frijoles team hosted a Hampdenfest fundraiser selling t-shirts and jarred salsa to raise money for the rebuild. —Holy Frijoles via Facebook

Holy Frijoles Marks 25 Years of Weirdo Tex-Mex Fun on The Avenue
by Ethan McLeod
Published September 9 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Geoff Danek distinctly recalls one particularly brief exchange with a Hampden neighbor in the spring of 1996. He was hard at work on the build-out of his new restaurant in a tiny space on West 36th Street when the man popped his head in to ask about the building’s future. When told of the plans for Holy Frijoles, a new Tex-Mex joint being added on a stretch then filled mostly with pizza shops and takeouts, his visitor offered a less-than-inspiring “good luck” and headed away.

“I always remember that, like he figured we were doomed,” Danek said recently, seated at a table inside. “And here we are, 25 years later.”

In that quarter-century, Holy Frijoles has become a beloved mainstay in the North Baltimore neighborhood known to many for its strip of varied restaurants and shops.



Header image: Holy Frijoles exterior on the Avenue. —Courtesy of Geoff Danek

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