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The News: Private Funds Fueled Mayoral Race, Hopkins Drops Medicare Supplement Plans, Who Guards the Art?

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Hogan’s presidential posturing, a look into unionization at local museums, to fund or defund the police, and more reporting from Maryland Matters, WYPR, The Trace, and other local and independent news sources.

 

 

Baltimore City Hall. Photo from stock.adobe.com.

Less than 20% of donation money in 2020 city mayoral race came from Baltimoreans, report says
by Emily Sullivan
Published October 20 in WYPR

Excerpt: Less than 20% of the $9.2 million donated to competitive candidates in Baltimore’s 2020 mayoral race came from city residents, a new report from Maryland PIRG Foundation found.

According to the left-leaning advocacy group, non-individuals, such as PACs and corporations, had a vast financial role in the election: they accounted for just over 9% of the total number of donations but raised 52% of the money.

About a third of the total money raised came from individuals who live outside of Baltimore, while under one fifth came from city residents.

Overall, 4,886 Baltimoreans — less than 1% of the city’s population — donated to the campaigns. The average contribution from all types of donors was $844; the average contribution from individuals was $455.51. Donations in Maryland are capped at $6,000 for individuals and non-individuals alike.

“When people and corporations that can write these big checks are in the driver’s seat, they have an outsized influence on our political system and democracy,” said Rishi Shah, an organizer at Maryland PIRG.

See also:

Report: Big Money Dominated 2020 Baltimore City Mayoral Election
by Josh Kurtz
Published October 20 in Maryland Matters

 

 

Notice sent to providers that enrollees living in Baltimore City and Calvert County will no longer be eligible for Hopkins health supplements. (hopkinsmedicalcare.com)

Johns Hopkins to drop its Medicare supplement plans for Baltimore City residents
by Mark Reutter
Published October 20 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Johns Hopkins is terminating its Advantage MD plans for Medicare-eligible Baltimore City residents, forcing over 5,000 seniors to look elsewhere for reduced prescription drug prices and reasonable co-pays during the Covid pandemic.

Calvert County will also lose its HMO, PPO and PPO Plus Medicare coverage, according to documents obtained by The Brew.

The changes will reduce the service area available for seniors from 12 to 10 Maryland counties – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, Somerset, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester.

A total of 5,915 enrollees – 5,549 in Baltimore City and 366 in Calvert County – will be impacted by the dropped coverage, a spokesperson for Hopkins Advantage MD told The Brew this evening.

In a written statement, the spokesperson blamed Maryland’s health care payment model, which equalizes the costs of major procedures among state hospitals, but has “the unintended side effect” of reducing federal funding for Medicare supplement plans.

This underfunding has caused Hopkins “to reduce its footprint. . . in some regions where health risk is higher,” namely the city and rural Calvert County.

The spokesman did not explain why Hopkins did not wait until the Covid-induced public health crisis had passed before terminating its plans.

 

 

Attributed to Thomas Ruckle, "House of Frederick Crey." 1830-35. Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art.

Stop Guarding the Art
by X. Amy Zhang
Published October 14 in Momus

Excerpt: The Baltimore Museum of Art will open an exhibition guest-curated by 17 of the museum’s security officers next March. Titled Guarding the Art, art historian and curator Lowery Stokes Sims will guide the exhibition’s execution as well as provide mentorship and professional development to the temporarily relocated staff. The guest curators will select work “based on personal resonances and direct engagement in the galleries,” and provide input into nearly every professional activity and department in the museum, including marketing, installation design, and public programming. The BMA says that the project gives security staff an “opportunity to have their voices heard” and anticipates an exhibition seen through a uniquely “human-centered lens.” Replies to the announcements I read on social media were nearly uniformly laudatory (“incredible,” “inspiring,” and “BRILLIANT”), but I found myself gripped with unease and a dull anger.

What kind of culture produces enthusiasm for this project? What has trained us to respond appreciatively to this blatantly tokenizing gesture, and with such moral certitude? Art museums desperately want art to be for everyone, despite the fairly plain fact that the art world is highly elite-driven – and elite-derived. The idea that anyone’s perspective on art is equally valid and valuable is quite literally the opposite of how it works. When established North-Atlantic art museums make this kind of claim, they appear at best delusional and at worst deeply cynical.

 

 

Workers rally for union recognition outside the Walters Museum in August. On Thursday, they appealed to City Council members.

The pandemic heightened concerns for many Baltimore art museum workers. Now, they’re unionizing.
by Marcus Dieterle
Published October 15 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Ruby Waldo says she has felt the “gravitational pull” of the Walters Art Museum nearly all her life living in Baltimore.

“My relationship began with the Walters as a child where I spent many hours in the drop-in studio for weekend art-making and summer camp,” she said. “Later, in high school at the Baltimore School for the Arts, the museum became a beloved extension of our art history classroom.”

Now, as an educator in the Walters’ visitors experience department, Waldo continues to be enthralled by the museum’s magic. But she also has concerns about museum operations, which she and many of her colleagues hope to change by forming a union.

In May, workers at the Walters publicly launched their unionization effort, Walters Workers United, citing concerns about health, safety, transparency, pay equity, and “top-down decision making” by management.

And they’re not the only cultural institution employees hoping to unionize.

Baltimore Museum of Art workers in September announced plans to unionize, raising similar concerns about their own museum.

See also:

Walters Museum workers appeal to City Council members in union efforts
by Emily Sullivan
Published October 14 in WYPR

Excerpt: Workers at the Walters Museum, management and Baltimore City officials debated whether the museum is a public or private institution at a council hearing Thursday, as staffers attempt to unionize through AFSCME, which represents city employees.

The museum is funded both publicly and privately; staffers receive benefits including healthcare through the city. Councilman James Torrence called the informational hearing “to allow us to better understand the importance of the labor election process and the implications of it.”

Supporters of the union liken the Walters to a quasi-agency, such as the Enoch Pratt Free Library, that falls under AFSCME’s jurisdiction.

Julia Marciari-Alexander, the museum’s director, has not voluntarily recognized them. She wants to bring the matter before the National Labor Relations Board, which, under the National Labor Relations Act, generally deals only with private companies.

“My position has been consistently and adamantly one of impartiality and non-interference in this process,” she said.

 

 

Lynnie Reed and Tahir Juba of Baltimore nonprofit Wide Angle Youth Media. —Photography by Tyrone Syranno Wilkens

Eyes on the Prize
by Sheri Booker
Published October 18 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Tahir Juba was just 13 years old when his older brother suggested he join him at an “interest” meeting for an after-school program at Carver Vocational-Technical High School in West Baltimore. While the brothers knew very little about the program, Tahir, then a freshman at Polytechnic Institute, jumped at the offer of free pizza and a small stipend. But it was the now-23-year-old’s introduction to camera operation and storytelling with a positive emphasis on Baltimore communities that has kept him coming back for the last decade.

The multi-hyphenate photographer, filmmaker, and editor has spent the last 10 years with Wide Angle mastering the art of storytelling and is now a full-time producer with the nonprofit organization, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. On any given day, he could find himself drafting a proposal, communicating with clients, operating a camera, directing, scouting locations, or editing professional projects with Adobe Creative Suite.

“When the media portrays Baltimore in a negative light, you don’t want to just add more to that—or leave parts out that need to be addressed,” Juba says. “The way we tell the story of the people of Baltimore can be as simple as choosing B-roll in a certain neighborhood verses the Inner Harbor and tourist attractions. It’s showing what Baltimore really can be through neighborhoods that don’t get much light.”

“If we don’t tell these stories [of our city], other people from the outside looking in will,” continues the current Morgan State University student, who credits Wide Angle with helping him get into college, and budget his finances as well. “I’m just showing Baltimore in a different light as a city.”

 

 

During a Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) accused Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) of using false and divisive rhetoric about law enforcement funding. File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Hogan ‘Pouring Gasoline’ on a Fire to Bolster His White House Hopes, Franchot Says
by Bruce DePuyt
Published October 20 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) accused Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Wednesday of using false and divisive rhetoric about law enforcement funding to propel his presidential hopes.

Hogan, seated just inches away at the bimonthly meeting of the Board of Public Works, bluntly rejected the charges.

The back-and-forth came out of nowhere, as police funding was not on the board’s agenda.

Instead, Franchot — a leading candidate for governor next year — pivoted off of a recommendation to authorize $556,787 in compensation to Leslie Vass, a Baltimore resident whose 1975 conviction on an armed robbery charge was overturned several years into his imprisonment, after a key trial witness recanted their testimony.

The motion, which was uncontroversial, passed unanimously.

 

 

Eric Costello accepts the President’s Award from DPOB’s Shelonda Stokes. (Fern Shen)

After steering the billboard bill to passage, Costello is honored by Downtown Partnership
by Fern Shen
Published October 20 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: When Nick Mosby asked the City Council he heads to fast-forward Councilman Eric Costello’s digital billboard bill Monday night despite residents’ complaints that they hadn’t been notified about it, no reason for the unusual legislative maneuver was offered.

The explanation for the speed up became clearer yesterday at the annual meeting of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (DPOB), a festive evening of nibbles, networking and applause for efforts to boost an ailing central business district.

Addressing the gathering, Costello spoke of legislation that he introduced to strengthen the district – bills to reauthorize existing tax credits for historic preservation and downtown development, culminating with the digital billboard measure.

“Just last night, unanimously, the City Council approved the North Harbor Area of Special Sign Control,” Costello announced, prompting a few cheers. “And Mayor [Brandon] Scott signed that into law this afternoon! Thank you, Mr. Mayor!”

 

 

Wikimedia Commons

Hogan launches ‘re-fund the police’ effort
by Rachel Baye
Published October 15 in WYPR

Excerpt: Gov. Larry Hogan took aim at police reform efforts and at violent crime levels in Baltimore, as he announced what he calls a “re-fund the police” effort Friday morning.

In his announcement, Hogan criticized the “defund the police” movement that gained popularity last year and led to broader police reforms.

“Trying to reduce crime by defunding police is dangerous, radical, far-left lunacy,” he said. “The state of Maryland will not defund police, as long as I’m governor.”

Hogan linked the “defund” movement to violent crime rates in Baltimore, a frequent target of his criticisms.

However, Baltimore actually increased its police budget this year, over the objections of many reform advocates.

“Violent crime is out of control in Baltimore City. They’re on pace to surpass 300 homicides again this year,” Hogan said. “The city of Baltimore is a poster child for the basic failure to stop lawlessness.”

 

 

A billboard above North Avenue and Charles Street in the heart of Baltimore calls for the defunding of the city's police department. The sign has been a fixture in the city since the summer of 2020. Shan Wallace for The Trace

Baltimore Still Thinks It Can Defund the Police
by J. Brian Charles
Published October 18 in The Trace (published in partnership with Baltimore Magazine)

Excerpt: Ray Kelly worried that the sound system wasn’t going to work. If the speakers failed, he was less likely to draw people to the park to build support for Baltimore’s movement to defund the police — to shift law enforcement funding to other services and projects that proponents hope can decrease violence. If he couldn’t get their attention with music, Kelly worried, he wouldn’t be able to explain the opportunity they had to radically reimagine how to keep their communities safe.

“Music is what brings this community outside,” Kelly said. He fussed with the wires until R&B singer Miguel’s “Sure Thing” began to fill the park. Moments later, as Kelly predicted, the small trickle of residents who had wandered out of nearby buildings to see what was happening gave way to a flood of more than 200 people.

The more listeners the better, because the defund movement is at a crossroads in Baltimore and elsewhere. The country experienced a record homicide spike in 2020, with cities like New York and Los Angeles reporting historic year-over-year surges — still well below the record murder rates of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but enough to stoke fears nationwide. Political support for defunding law enforcement has withered in many places, the gains earned during the summer 2020 protests flagging as people worry cities cannot fight surging crime without police. New York City voters picked Eric Adams, a former police officer and defund critic, in the Democratic mayoral primary in June, while the new president of the Los Angeles civilian oversight panel is an outspoken critic of the defund movement. Supporters in both cities are frustrated by the lack of sustained political support from government institutions, as across the country, defunders are still voicing their demands through demonstrations.

 

 

Signs have been popping up around Baltimore with messages offering to buy unwanted items — like haunted dolls. Photo courtesy of Twitter user @NihilSegniter.

Looking to sell a haunted doll? Or a birthday cake (any condition)? In Baltimore, there’s an anonymous buyer.
by Marcus Dieterle
Published October 18 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Whether you’re looking to purge your home of possessed toys or no longer have a need for a protective amulet to ward off said demonic presence, signs popping up around Baltimore are offering to take them off your hands.

The signs appear to be parodying the “We Buy Houses” or “We Buy Cars” signs that litter telephone poles and streetlights.

Among some of the signs spotted so far are offers to buy “haunted dolls,” “apotropaic talismans” (“apotropaic” meaning to be able to protect against evil or misfortune), “birthday cake — any condition,” “sad songs,” and “horses.”

 

 

BONUS:

A Secretive Hedge Fund is Gutting Newsrooms: Inside Alden Global Capital
by McKay Coppins
Published October 14 in The Atlantic

Excerpt: The tribune tower rises above the streets of downtown Chicago in a majestic snarl of Gothic spires and flying buttresses that were designed to exude power and prestige. When plans for the building were announced in 1922, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime owner of the Chicago Tribune, said he wanted to erect “the world’s most beautiful office building” for his beloved newspaper. The best architects of the era were invited to submit designs; lofty quotes about the Fourth Estate were selected to adorn the lobby. Prior to the building’s completion, McCormick directed his foreign correspondents to collect “fragments” of various historical sites—a brick from the Great Wall of China, an emblem from St. Peter’s Basilica—and send them back to be embedded in the tower’s facade. The final product, completed in 1925, was an architectural spectacle unlike anything the city had seen before—“romance in stone and steel,” as one writer described it. A century later, the Tribune Tower has retained its grandeur. It has not, however, retained the Chicago Tribune.

 

 

Header image: @DigitalHeron on Twitter, via Baltimore Facebook

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