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The News: Biden Comes to Baltimore, Pratt Library Advances Digital Equity, Redistricting ‘Concepts’

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Rash Field redux, the National African American Quilt Guild comes to Maryland, Baltimore’s IG goes national, and more reporting from Baltimore Fishbowl, Technical.ly Baltimore, The AFRO, and other local and independent news sources.

 

 

Containers waiting to be offloaded at the Port of Baltimore on Sept. 23. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Biden Heads to Bustling Port of Baltimore, as White House Focuses on Easing Supply Chain Problems
by Bruce DePuyt and Jacob Fisher
Published November 10 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: When President Biden visits the Port of Baltimore to promote the just-passed infrastructure bill on Wednesday, he will get an up-close view of one of the largest ports in the nation — one that is expanding rapidly as it races to compete with other East Coast facilities.

The president’s afternoon visit to Maryland — his second in three weeks — follows congressional approval of a top administration priority, a $1.2 trillion measure that officials say will modernize the country’s roads, bridges, rail, airports, ports and other infrastructure.

Even before supply-chain issues slowed global commerce, many ports were facing bridge and depth limitations and other challenges, the White House said.

“The [American Society of Civil Engineers] warns that ports face extensive challenges modernizing infrastructure and maintaining essential facilities under threat from sea level rise and other climate challenges,” the administration noted in a fact sheet on Tuesday.

“[T]he surge of cargo coming off larger vessels can also strain outdated land-side infrastructure. As a result, more container traffic flows through a smaller number of U.S. ports with the offshore and onshore capacity to handle the largest vessels and their cargo.”

 

 

Enoch Pratt's Central Library.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library wants to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to advance digital equity
by Donte Kirby
Published November 3 in Technical.ly Baltimore

Excerpt: With a $6.3 million proposal to the City of Baltimore for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is laying out a plan for a host of initatives designed to best position libraries as anchors of digital equity in communities.

Among the many COVID-19 relief bills passed over the last two years, this year’s American Rescue Plan Act allocated $1.9 trillion, including $65.1 billion allocated for cities. This provided Baltimore City with $641 million. After laying out a priority list that included broadband and small businesses,Mayor Brandon Scott has started to announce the City’s first investments with that money.

Per publicly available info, the City has allocated $181 million in funding so far. The big investments so far have included $80 million over four years to the Baltimore City Health Department, $50 million over the next three years to the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and $51 million used to close a budget shortfall.

With its proposal for about 1% of the city’s ARPA funds, the library system hopes to turn a ten-year plan of revamps, centered around providing internet connectivity, digital literacy and addressing the city’s digital divide, into a two-year plan.

 

 

image courtesy of The AFRO

National African American Quilt Guild Convention: Honoring the art and history of quilt-making
by Jannette J. Witmyer
Published November 7 in The AFRO

Excerpt: Art and history will converge in Cambridge, MD, when the National African American Quilt Guild (NAAQG) launches its inaugural national convention at the Dorchester Center for the Arts (321 High Street), November 12-13. As if beckoned by the outstretched hand of Harriett Tubman depicted in the mural located at the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center (424 Race Street), additional convention-related events and exhibits will also be presented at that location, effectively reinforcing the role played by quilts in mapping the way for those traversing the perils of the Underground Railroad in their quest for freedom.

Co-founded by Texans Rhonda Masters, Sharon Mooney and Laura Casmore, NAAQG was created to preserve and promote the history and legacy of African- American quilting and quilters, while embracing a mission of celebration, education, and service to honor and elevate the legacy. Longtime members of a private Facebook group, “African American Sampler Quilt (Sew-Along),” of which Masters is an administrator, the trio of avid quilters decided to form the non-profit organization, after recognizing a pattern of issues that plagued members, nationally, while working on various quilting projects.

“We saw the need for representation of African-American quilting in the national space because we could see that quilters across the country were experiencing many of the same challenges.” Masters explains. “That was part of the impetus to unite and lift our voices together and celebrate ourselves and celebrate our art.”

 

 

A view of the Maryland State House from Maryland Avenue. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission Releases Four ‘Concept’ Congressional Maps for Public Comment
by Bennett Leckrone
Published November 9 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission released four draft concept congressional maps Tuesday evening.

The redistricting panel, convened by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) is tasked with drawing up congressional and legislative maps for the General Assembly to consider. Lawmakers are set to return to Annapolis on Dec. 6 for a special session to handle congressional redistricting.

The four conceptual congressional maps are available online alongside information about the population and racial makeup of each district — but not the partisan political breakdown. Some of the configurations are vast departures from current maps, including two draft maps of a 1st District that crosses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include portions of Anne Arundel County alongside the Eastern Shore.

Commission Chair Karl Aro, a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services, said in a statement that the conceptual maps are a baseline for public comment and based on testimony the commission has received in their public hearings so far.

“The approach that this commission has taken is to create a set of four Congressional map concepts for public comment,” Aro said. “It is our belief that Marylanders should see and comment on more than just a single map. Each of these four concepts represent a starting point for an approach that was grounded in testimony the commission heard.”

 

 

Janiya Brown, a senior at Baltimore City College and who serves on the Baltimore City Dept. of Recreation and Parks Youth Council, cuts the vine to mark the opening of Rash Field Park in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Photo by Elizabeth Shwe.

With the opening of a refurbished Rash Field Park, Mayor Brandon Scott promises to continue investing in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor
by Ed Gunts
Published November 5 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: With skateboard in hand, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott was one of the first to try out Jake’s Skate Park, one of the highlights of Rash Field Park, which will officially reopen tomorrow after a $16.8 million makeover.

More than 200 people gathered today to mark completion of the 2.5-acre first-phase of a two-phase refurbishment of the 7.5-acre public park on the south shore of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, between the Maryland Science Center and the Rusty Scupper Restaurant.

The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, which led the revitalization effort along with the city’s parks department, has planned a two days of activities this weekend to celebrate the reopening, including sunrise and afternoon yoga, music, biking, a garden discovery, a skate party and a demo with pro skater Joey Jett.

But the park was full of activity today even before kids from the Solo Gibbs Recreation Center in South Baltimore joined with Scott and other civic leaders to cut a green vine to celebrate the opening.

“This is a nature park, so we have a vine to cut, not a red ribbon,” explained Laurie Schwartz, president and chief executive of the Waterfront Partnership. The park makeover is one of the most significant capital projects Schwartz has spearheaded in a public service career that has spanned four decades.

See also:

New Park in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Opens This Weekend
by Elizabeth Shwe
Published November 5 in Maryland Matters

 

 

Emily Sullivan/WYPR / Baltimore City Hall. On Tuesday, budget officials projected a nearly $60 million surplus after some revenue streams exceeded expectations.

While uncertainty remains, Baltimore finance officials predict $60 million budget surplus
by Emily Sullivan
Published November 9 in WYPR

Excerpt: Though some of the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic remains, Baltimore finance officials project a nearly $60 million budget surplus for fiscal year 2022.

“The question was, ‘What will the recovery look like, if anything, from COVID?’” Baltimore Budget Director Bob Cenname told the Ways and Means Committee at a hearing Tuesday. “We’re happy to report that the recovery seems to be going more quickly than we had anticipated.”

The projection stands in stark contrast to fiscal year 2021, in which general fund revenues plunged nearly $100 million as people stayed at home and netted the city less money in parking, travel and tourism fees.

Cenname and other finance officials arrived at the surplus projection after examining data from FY 2022’s first quarter financial data, which began in July. The period saw unexpected boosts in several revenue streams: income tax, recordation and transfer taxes, speed camera tickets and hotel tax.

 

 

Abbreviated police “Do Not Call” list released by Marilyn Mosby raises ethical issues
by Roya Hanna
Published November 8 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: To those who have been paying attention to police misconduct in Baltimore, the long-awaited “Do Not Call” list released by the State’s Attorney’s Office was a head scratcher.

First: Why was the list – a compendium of officer assaults, sex offenses, perjury, planting of evidence, child pornography, theft, heroin distribution and other bad behavior – so short?

Going back nearly two years, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has said her office keeps a list of police officers who should not be called to testify in criminal trials – claiming at one point that there were 305 officers whose integrity had been called into question.

But after being sued over its refusal to disclose the names – and losing in the Court of Special Appeals – Mosby’s office has released the names of 91 officers who lacked the credibility, thanks to their own criminal conduct, to testify in court.

Most of those named are retired or have left the force, but 26 remain on active duty, police say.

So where are the other officers that Mosby had cited?

 

 

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has seen his district morph into a GOP vote sink that combines the Eastern Shore with the most Republican parts of Northeast Maryland. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Dems weigh a GOP shutout in Maryland redistricting
by Ally Mutnick
Published November 9 in Politico

Excerpt: Maryland Democrats are on the brink of deciding whether to wield their redistricting axe on the state’s only Republican member of Congress.

Legislators in Annapolis are expected to unveil drafts of a new congressional map this week, offering potential blueprints for the state’s eight House seats for the next decade. And while there are certainly enough Democratic voters in the state to make all of them blue, it’s not clear how aggressive mapmakers will ultimately be in targeting GOP Rep. Andy Harris.

Democrats have total power over the redistricting process in just a handful of states, including Maryland, making each one crucial to maintaining their narrow majority in the face of punishing headwinds. But a myriad of factors go into the calculus ranging from the geographic preferences of individual members, to the possibility of political backlash, to the risk of making any Democratic-held district vulnerable for a GOP takeover in a bad Democratic year.

“We’re looking at the numbers and whether it’s going to make sense politically, and whether we can hold the seven seats that we have,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said in an interview last week. “Because, remember, this is for 10 years.”

 

 

Mural at 321 North Carrollton Ave. in Baltimore's Poppleton neighborhood. Photo by Organize Poppleton

Battleground Baltimore: Poppleton Residents Declare ‘Black Neighborhoods Matter’
by Jaisal Noor and Brandon Soderberg
Published November 5 in The Real News

Excerpt: Another act of defiance from the last residents of Poppleton, West Baltimore’s historic, Black neighborhood, who are fighting to preserve their homes. On Nov. 1, a local artist, who asked to remain anonymous, and activists with Organize Poppleton helped residents paint a 20-foot mural that reads “SAVE OUR BLOCK. Black Neighborhoods Matter. Losing my home is like a death to me. Eminent Domain law is violent.”

The quote is from Sonia Eaddy, a third-generation Poppleton resident whose family has lived in the same house since the 1940s. Eaddy has waged a years-long campaign to preserve this Poppleton community, which dates back to the 1860s.

 

 

Isabel Mercedes Cumming with AIG First Vice President Will Fletcher, IG for Chicago Public Schools, and AIG President Stephen Street in Atlanta last week. (Association of Inspectors General)

Baltimore’s corruption watchdog elected to a top office in national organization
by Mark Reutter
Published November 9 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Under attack locally by Marilyn Mosby supporters, Baltimore’s inspector general, Isabel Mercedes Cumming, has been elected second vice president of the national organization of inspectors general.

“We’re looking forward to working with Isabel on issues of great concern to our organization,” Stephen B. Street Jr., president of the Association of Inspectors General and Louisiana’s Inspector General, said in a phone interview last night.

The AIG represents more than 2,000 state, federal and local inspectors general in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, charged with investigating and rooting out corruption and waste within government.

Starting in January, Baltimore’s watchdog will serve as the unpaid chair responsible for integrity, independence and ethics issues for the association.

Cumming is currently a member of the group’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. Her office was praised by the association for establishing an internship program with Coppin State University.

 

 

Header image: Emily Sullivan/WYPR, President Joe Biden speaks at the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday.

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