The News: Hogan’s Disappearing Messages, CSX Coal Explosion in Curtis Bay, COVID Continues to Surge

Previous Story
Article Image

The Show Must Go On: The Baltimore School for the [...]

Next Story
Article Image

The Shortest Year: Moments from the Ephemeral 2021

This week’s Baltimore news includes: Larry Hogan’s use of Wickr, City students’ long commutes, Maryland’s energy marketplace, and more reporting from Baltimore Brew, The Washington Post, Maryland Matters, and other local and independent news sources.



Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) holds a news conference in Annapolis on Dec. 1. Records obtained by The Washington Post show the governor has communicated to state employees inside a “COVID-19" chatroom that destroys messages in 24 hours. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Md. Gov. Larry Hogan’s messages to state employees self-destruct in 24 hours
by Steve Thompson
Published December 30 in The Washington Post

Excerpt: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has long used electronic chat rooms that destroy messages in 24 hours to communicate with state employees, records show, allowing his inner circle to keep communications beyond the reach of the public, state archivists and history.

The app the governor and his staffers have been using, called Wickr, markets itself to government agencies and others seeking security from foreign and domestic cyberthreats. The platform in practice has provided Hogan — a moderate Republican with national ambitions — a forum to complain about media reports, direct pandemic response and coordinate with top staffers.

Many states, including Maryland, have yet to reckon with technology that transparency advocates say allows officials to violate at least the spirit of open-records laws. That’s in part because of the difficulty of proving that officials are using the apps and the greater difficulty of seeing what’s being communicated.

Hogan, who has projected himself as a leader who prizes transparency, is not unique in his use of technology to erase communications about public matters. Government officials elsewhere have occasionally acknowledged their use of disappearing-messages apps, or had it exposed. After Missouri’s previous governor, Eric Greitens (R), was shown to be using the disappearing-message app Confide, that state’s attorney general’s office launched an inquiry. It found no evidence of lawbreaking, but investigators were unable to recover any of the messages. Greitens’s successor has since banned the app’s use.



An explosion at the CSX coal plant sends clouds of smoke over Curtis Bay. @BCFDL734

Long before today’s explosion, Curtis Bay residents complained about black grit from the CSX coal terminal
by Fern Shen
Published December 30 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: For Curtis Bay residents like Janet Clark, today’s thunderous explosion at the CSX Coal Terminal was terrifying – and only the latest reason to fear and resent the gritty landmark.

Surrounded by mountains of black coal, the tall metal silo routinely emits acrid odors and leaves a coating of particulates on windows, cars and lawn furniture, say residents of this far South Baltimore neighborhood.

For years, the soot and smells emanating from the terminal’s activities at 1910 Benhill Avenue have left them wondering just what harmful substances they inhale on a daily basis.

“You wipe things down and an hour later, that black soot’s all over them again,” said Clark, who lives about 200 yards from the coal pier.

“We had a blow-up kids pool out back, and every morning it was black again, with the black stuff lapping in the water.”



In November, Rogerio Avila, with his wife, Perida Avila, receives his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown. (Daniel Zawodny)

As Covid surges again, some lessons from the Baltimore Latino community’s vaccination success
by Daniel Zawodny
Published December 29 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Back in the spring of 2020, the line of people waiting to get tested for Covid-19 in the parking lot of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on any given day could be hundreds deep.

The pandemic was taking a huge toll on the church’s heavily Hispanic congregation, then-pastor Bruce Lewandowski realized.

“On a number of occasions, people collapsed in line. Or we had to call ambulances,” said Lewandowski. “And some of those people didn’t make it. It was really frightening.”
After he sounded the alarm, city officials, healthcare leaders and area nonprofits helped him morph Sacred Heart of Jesus into a Covid vaccination hub.

Now, Baltimore residents of Hispanic/Latino origin – 67.1% of them fully vaccinated – have the second-highest vaccination rate in the city, trailing only Asians, according to data from the health department.

See also:

COVID-19 Hospitalizations in Maryland Hit Record High, Along with Cases
by Elizabeth Janney
Published December 29 in Maryland Matters/Patch



Two people wait at an unsheltered bus stop on North Avenue. City education advocates say that long MTA commutes are a barrier for Baltimore students.

City students face long public transit commutes to school
by Emily Sullivan
Published December 30 in WYPR

Excerpt: When Roslyn Johnson says goodbye to her fifteen-year-old granddaughter as she leaves for school at 6:30 every morning, she worries about the hour-plus commute that awaits her.

“It’s pitch dark. So it’s scary and you’re on pins and needles because so much goes on today and you can’t take anything for granted,” Johnson said. “So I’m just afraid until she gets home. We all are.”

Her granddaughter Lemia is just one of the 32,000 city students that rely on MTA transportation services to get to school, according to data from the transit agency. Education advocates say that poor bus service translates to long commutes that have a negative impact on students and their families, often along lines of race and class.

Only some city schools students are eligible for yellow bus service, such as students with disabilities and elementary students who live more than a mile away from their zoned schools. Middle and high schoolers have school choice – there’s no connection between where they live and where they learn. About three-quarters of them receive reusable, laminated MTA passes from their school to use between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays.



What is life without whimsy and imagination? No oppressed people should live without imagination, or the thought of what life could be like if it was not what it currently is, Columnist Alanah Davis writes. Photo illustration by Alanah Davis.

Blackness, the Importance of Imagination, and Space for Something Holy | Commentary
by Alanah Davis
Published December 23 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Last week I treated myself to a box orchestra seat to see Leslie Odom Jr. at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

I struggled to find parking for a little while and spun around Mt. Vernon for at least 20 minutes before remembering that I paid for a parking space over at a church nearby on the Maryland Institute College of Art campus in relation to my role as assistant director of community arts.

It was only about a mile away from the symphony so I decided I would just walk.

It was dark and my imagination was welcoming thoughts about safety, and I even stretched before I started walking as if I would have to face some sort of two-hand combat on my way — thoughts most women think when walking alone, thoughts most Black women think when breathing.



Lighting of the Washington Monument in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon Square. Photo via Getty Images

Battleground Baltimore: 2021, The Year in Review
by Brandon Soderberg
Published December 30 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Bloated police budgets, a tangle of conflicts of interest, and people power—a roundup of the year in Baltimore news.

On Dec. 22, a few days before Christmas, Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry showed up to the (virtual) Board Of Estimates hearing dressed as Santa Claus. There, Henry and the rest of the voting members proceeded to give one last present to the police this year: With little to no discussion, they approved $41 million for the Baltimore Police Department to get new helicopters and police cars.

Meanwhile, the omicron variant of COVID-19 spread, including to many people who have been vaccinated—and some who received a booster. For the people of Baltimore, the only advice from on high was to get tested (which was incredibly difficult) or get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Mayor Brandon Scott announced the city was looking to develop a “vaccine passport” and, during a maddening Dec. 29 virtual event, Scott also noted a new testing center will open up; beyond that, though, the city is waiting on the state for instructions on further actions. Schools will not be going back to virtual learning. The CDC’s latest recommendations, which are the result of government caving to the demands of commerce, will be followed.



The death of Anton Black in police custody prompted support for a new law opening access to police disciplinary files, and won support of his parents, Antone Black and Jenal Black, shown at a September rally. But more than two months after Anton's Law went into affect, compliance has been spotty. (Gail Burton/AP)

Anton’s Law promised to make Maryland police disciplinary records public, but in reality transparency has been slow or non-existent
by Justin Fenton and Lilly Price
Published December 30 in The Baltimore Sun

Excerpt: When the Maryland General Assembly passed the landmark Anton’s Law, it meant to provide transparency to police discipline and bring the state in line with the majority of the country.

But more than two months after it went into effect, some police departments have been refusing to provide information while others claim they must charge high fees to comply.

Baltimore Police, for example, say they intend to provide records but are swamped with requests, and have sent one requester a bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In Anne Arundel, the police department’s attorney said she would not release names or badge numbers of officers. Christine Ryder said that the disclosure of officers’ names would have a “chilling effect” in investigations and be contrary to the public interest.

“An Officer’s ability to carry out their sworn duties in our communities and courts of law would be greatly diminished should public trust be similarly lost, particularly in cases where wrongdoing was found to be false or unfounded,” Ryder wrote in response to a request by The Capital Gazette, which is part of Baltimore Sun Media.



Some customers who get their energy from a third-party supplier have expressed frustration with energy choice as it currently stands in Maryland. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

Energy supplier choice aimed to lower Marylanders’ bills, but some customers are left feeling powerless
by Marcus Dieterle
Published December 28 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: More than 20 years after Maryland opened its energy marketplace to competition, about one in six customers is getting electricity from a company other than their default provider.

But the savings that policymakers hoped for when they adopted a deregulation plan have not materialized. In fact, studies show that Marylanders who switched paid about $621 million more to turn on lights, run microwave ovens and charge their cell phones between 2014 and 2021 than those who stayed with Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and Potomac Electric Power (Pepco).

And many of those who switched providers did so because of deceptive marketing practices, consumer advocates say, which have targeted poor and minority neighborhoods.

See also:
Have questions or concerns about energy supply? Here’s what you should know.
by Marcus Dieterle
Published December 28 in Baltimore Fishbowl



Old Town Mall today: Absolute desolation (Photo: Philipsen)

Old Town Baltimore – an unkind mirror of Baltimore’s planning history
by Klaus Philipsen
Published December 27 in Community Architect Daily

Excerpt: It is hard to imagine a place where desolation, abandonment and plain waste of space is more in your face than at Baltimore’s Old Town, a place that has seen nothing but handwringing for the last 30 years or so with few plausible explanations why things are as bad as they are.

While we will investigate the trouble (see also my 2016 blog article), inserted quotes from recent decades show how protracted the problems are.

“On a typical day, there’s nobody inside Bernie Delay’s little tailor shop on Old Town Mall. No patrons. No tailor. Sprawled on a folding chair outside, waiting for business and hoping for a breeze, he comes up empty. “There’s nothing doing,” he says with an old man’s sigh.

Old Town – a walking mall lined with weedy lots, careworn stores, Civil War-era architecture and disco-era renovations – stands frozen. Caught between Baltimore’s best efforts at urban renewal, long waves of municipal neglect and the mirage of redevelopment proposals that loom just out of reach, it is a place where business owners and neighbors wait for change and wonder why. Why does the nation’s first inner-city neighborhood mall – which placed Baltimore on the map for urban planners in 1975 – stands a near-ghost town today?” (Baltimore Sun, July 21, 2003)



Divine, the drag persona of actor Harris Glenn Milstead, performs in John Waters’ film Pink Flamingos. The Library of Congress announced last week that it has added the movie into the National Film Registry. Image by New Line Cinema.

John Waters reflects on Pink Flamingos as it approaches 50 and joins the National Film Registry
by Ed Gunts
Published December 23 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: When Pink Flamingos was released in 1972, the John Waters movie was censored in Maryland and banned in several countries. Made for $12,000, featuring the tagline “an exercise in bad taste,” it found an underground audience at midnight showings around the country.

This month, just 12 weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of its release, Pink Flamingos has gained new recognition. The U. S. Library of Congress announced last week that it has added Waters’ transgressive black comedy to the National Film Registry, a list of movies that the U. S. government deems “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

Let that sink in: A division of the federal government is calling attention to the film that Interview magazine called “the sickest movie ever made,” and others have called filthy, hideous, disgusting, outrageous and obscene. A movie that depicts murder, bestiality, rape, dismemberment and the ingestion of feces. A movie whose central character is a drag queen who wants to be known as “The Filthiest Person Alive.”

According to the Library, Pink Flamingos is one of 25 movies that were selected this year to join the registry, along with more mainstream fare such as Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.



Header image: A member of the dialysis team prepares to treat a patient with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Leonardtown on May 1, 2020.

Related Stories
A Design-Based Campaign Makes Brazil’s Current Environmental Crisis Visible and Poignant

The best weekly art openings, events, and calls for entry happening in Baltimore and surrounding areas.

Baltimore art news updates from independent & regional media

Cecilia McCormick named MICA President, Profiles of Natalie Wynn and Lane Harlan, SNF Parkway's new plan, Bri Mobley and BLK Ass Flea Market, the BMA's Preoccupied exhibition, Jenenne Whitfield's new position, mourning the loss of Qayum Karzai and Carol Baish, and more...

The best weekly art openings, events, and calls for entry happening in Baltimore and surrounding areas.

This Week: 4th International Placemaking Week, TRANSMISSION group exhibition opening at School 33 Art Center, Artists Sustaining Artists opening reception at Transformer DC, Gallery Blue Door's PRIDE opening reception at Emmanuel, Nicholas Wisniewski exhibition, and more!