Anyone with a moral center is rightly outraged by recent tweets from President Donald Trump, where he referred to the Baltimore-area district of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Let’s not forget, though, that there are other poilticians who affirmatively make it harder for Baltimore to rise out of its current problems.
Trump has been notable not only for his racist views but how he “says the quiet part loud.” As CNN anchor Victor Blackwell (who grew up in Cummings’ district) eloquently pointed out, the only times Trump uses the word “infested” is in relation to communities of black and brown people, like the “squad” of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, four women of color, or African nations, or immigrants.
Like most of America, Cummings’ Baltimore-area district includes some well-off neighborhoods and some that are struggling. Homeless encampments with terrible conditions exist, as do affluent urban and suburban communities as well. The same goes for districts represented by white people as well as black, by Republicans as well as Democrats:
The city of Baltimore indeed faces many challenges. One ranking put it as the third “most dangerous” city in the US by violent crime. That certainly does not make it worse than the inhumane border conditions Trump was defending nor worthy of his scorn in general.
But Baltimore has not been aided by the neglect it has received from Maryland leaders, most notably the current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, but also some Democrats who benefit from Hogan’s racially-biased policies or themselves failed to act to help Baltimore in the past.
Hogan choked Baltimore to move money to everyone else
The moment Hogan took office in 2015, he made a few changes regarding infrastructure. He cut tolls across the Chesapeake, which helped Eastern Shore tourism business and the Marylanders (and DC and Virginia and Pennsylvania and other residents) who vacation there. That also starved the state of transportation funding.
He announced a big $2 billion rash of road spending, but primarily in the rural outer parts of the state, like Garrett County in the far west. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties got some projects. Baltimore City got nothing. Zero. Baltimore County got less than 1% of the funds.
Most of all, Hogan canceled the Red Line, a proposed light rail line connecting office parks west of Baltimore, the West Baltimore neighborhood and MARC station, the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, and east to Bayview. This line would have connected predominantly black and white neighborhoods, impoverished and wealthy areas, helped residents without cars access jobs, and stimulated economic growth for Baltimore.
Hogan, right after taking office, said the line was too expensive. He almost canceled the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, but was persuaded not to, and perhaps in so doing ensured that some of the most affluent areas of Maryland would not be too upset by his policies.
Three civil rights groups filed a complaint wiith the US Department of Transportation, alleging the governor violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The agency’s civil rights office said it would pursue the matter at the tail end of the Obama administration, but the Trump administratin quickly ended the probe.
It’s not just transportation — the Baltimore Sun argued in an editorial that Hogan “balanced his  budget on Baltimore’s back” by cutting school, library, and other aid that had been offered the prior year.
While Trump tweets about stopping people from entering this country legally and said “send them back” about American citizens, many born here, who happen to be people of color, Hogan instead has pushed budgets and infrastructure plans that allocate more and more of the state’s resources to white areas, particularly the rural ones, and much less to black ones, especially Baltimore. He doesn’t call them “infested,” but he and Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn instead call any infrastructure built in those areas “not cost-effective.”
People including Democrats around the state look the other way
While Trump is enormously unpopular among Marylanders and elected Democrats constantly criticize him, they didn’t do the same for Hogan. Indeed, his practice of taking funding from Baltimore and Baltimore projects to give more to everyone else was, not surprisingly, quite popular among everyone else who benefited. All they had to do was look the other way about what was really going on.
One January poll found Hogan enjoying 77% approval among Maryland voters, and even 70% of Democrats approved. Meanwhile, Trump’s approval in the same survey was only 34%.
But Trump and Hogan are simply following strategies appropriate to the populations that elect them. For Trump, it’s stoking overt racial resentment among his base; for Hogan, in a blue state, it’s about striving to keep race out of the picture while simply diverting the state’s resources toward his more “cost-effective” white base.
That’s earned him plaudits from some commentators and elected officials, both black and white, like the Washington Post’s endorsement of his re-election which credited him with “a pragmatic, centrist approach to leadership and says he “steered a steady course on budgetary and fiscal matters” while not mentioning Baltimore except in the context of its 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray and other efforts to lower the city’s murder rate.
While most of the state’s Democrats endorsed Ben Jealous, Hogan’s 2018 general election opponent, a larger-than-usual number supported Hogan, while others stayed neutral. In our region, that included Ike Leggett, the then-outgoing three-term Montgomery County executive. The Baltimore Sun reported, “Spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Leggett is concerned that some of Jealous’ tax and spending policies would hurt wealthy Montgomery, the county with the most residents and one where Jealous needs to run up the score to win.”
Indeed, Hogan’s approach was quite good for wealthy Montgomery to stay wealthy, just as if someone campaigned for Montgomery executive on a platform of cutting services to the east county, increasing them elsewhere, and cutting taxes, it would indeed benefit tony Potomac, Bethesda, and Chevy Chase. Nobody could say so openly, but if they simply called every project slated for the White Oak and Burtonsville areas “not cost-effective”? Who knows.
Maryland twitter rn pic.twitter.com/JxYO7wpFdk— Fankoosh (@Fankoosh) July 28, 2019
This didn’t start with Hogan
To be clear, the state of Maryland wasn’t doing a good job by its largest city before Hogan took office, either. Baltimore County and the other suburban counties of the region have most of the Baltimore metro area’s wealth, lower taxes, more highly performing schools, and whiter populations while not being obligated to share tax revenue with the city, even when residents commute into the city to work.
The Maryland MTA created the “MARC Growth and Investment Plan” in 2007, the first year of Democrat Martin O’Malley’s two terms in office. It would have tripled the capacity of the state’s commuter rail system; allowed for trains every 15 minutes during rush hours on the Penn Line and 20 minutes on Camden and Brunswick, the other two lines; allowed more off-peak frequencies on all lines; added express and limited-stop service, and service late at night and on weekends; and made trains more reliable.
It called for $83 million in investment by 2010 and $990 million by 2015, reaching a total of about $4 billion by 2035. Meanwhile, Hogan’s highway widening plan at last report is likely to carry a price tag of about $11 billion. For that amount, MARC could grow from moving 27,000 people a day to 103,000; handouts for the highway plan show an anticipated increase in traffic of 70,000 people on 495 and 270 (who would drive anyway, with the purpose of the project being only to speed up their trips).
In addition to the MARC plan’s cost is the B&P tunnel, the old tunnel carrying Amtrak beneath Baltimore and which is desperately in need of replacement, not just to grow MARC but keep Northeast Corridor passenger and freight trains moving.
Maryland did add weekend MARC service on the Penn Line and some track improvements on the Brunswick Line, but there’s much more in the plan not implemented. The MARC train remains Maryland’s most bafflingly under-utilized asset, with three train lines into DC of which two connect DC and Baltimore, and tracks right to Crystal City where large numbers of new jobs are coming.
Frequent, two-way, all-day service on both lines with some trains continuing to Virginia could better connect Baltimore and DC, letting Baltimore benefit more from the Washington region’s economic growth and house some of the workers who can’t afford DC or its adjacent counties. It could help Marylanders access jobs in Virginia, including Baltimore residents. That could strengthen Baltimore’s workforce and lead to more jobs in the city directly.
Instead, multiple governors keep neglecting this opportunity, adding highways, letting the state’s growth eat up farmland and cause ever-longer commutes, and allowing Baltimore to continue to be ignored. Because that is popular. Many Marylanders of all parties would find it easier to ignore Baltimore and blame its problems on its residents.
Baltimore’s leaders also bear some responsibility
To be sure, there have been problems with nobody to blame but Baltimore officials, like former mayor Catherine Pugh, who received $500,000 in payments for a children’s book she wrote from the University of Maryland Medical System, on whose board she sat; it was not clear the books even reached children. It’s probably not the state’s fault that hackers took over the city government’s computers and held them hostage, demanding payment.
When the city’s government is corrupt, it makes it easier for state leaders to justify racist policies, because they can tell themselves that giving Baltimore more resources would just lead to more grift, not a better city. It’s worth remembering, however, that sometimes this can also be an excuse, that most Baltimoreans are not criminals and don’t condone what Pugh did. When affluent, white communities see corruption (as they sometimes do) we seek law enforcement action but don’t take away resources and drive them into a spiral of disinvestment.
The state does bear responsibility for the Baltimore light rail being “indefinitely” shut down due to a massive sinkhole. That’s a good metaphor for the way suburban and rural voters and many elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, have let the city decay while enjoying their lack of responsibility.
Donald Trump may be the one to use offensive language to talk about Baltimore, but as we saw in the last election, many people in Maryland, including some county executives and newspaper editorial board members, object to racist rhetoric but get mighty uncomfortable when a gubernatorial candidate says he’ll change the state’s racist policies of the past. Better to have a popular, “bipartisan” governor who will quietly, politely, genteelly, drain the city instead.