On Thursday, October 9, 2019, exactly six months to the day after being sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Baltimore City on Thursday, May 9, 2019, Bernard C. “Jack” Young took a brief trip back down memory lane.
“I grew up in East Baltimore,” said Mayor Young. “We made our own fun. We played skelly, and made our own tops by filling them with wax. We played hopscotch, jump rope, and played basketball. I also sold worms to a lady on Broadway Street, who gave me a quarter for each can of worms. I collected soda bottles and got two cents for each bottle. I also shined shoes and sold newspapers. All of those things taught me how to save.”
He added with a laugh, “I got my first job working as a bagger at a food market and would also take people their groceries. I got paid a quarter. I was doing food delivery long before Uber came along.”
Little did the “Young-ster” know at the time that these work experiences along with the others that followed, were all grooming him to one day become the Mayor of Baltimore City.
“I also worked as a stock boy and a meat cutter,” said Young. “I eventually went to work for the City of Baltimore as a trash man in 1973, and did that for a year.”
From working on a trash truck to overseeing the entire Baltimore City Department of Public Works, which is responsible for residential trash collection, Mayor Young’s ascension from East Baltimore to the city’s top elected seat, reads like a storybook. He became mayor after former mayor Catherine Pugh resigned from the position amid corruption allegations.
“Serving as mayor has been a real journey for me,” said Mayor Young. “I came into the position inheriting a budget that was not mine. On top of that, everything that could happen after I became mayor happened. I’ve had water main breaks, and the city’s network infected with ransomware. I have put together a great team. We have weathered the storm and gotten a lot done.
“What I like best about this job is that it allows me to do all the things I have always wanted to do to make things better in this city. It’s a great position to be in if you want to change the lives of people.”
Mayor Young talked about one of his biggest “giants”— crime. He believes that like David in The Old Testament defeated Goliath, crime can be brought down.
“We are looking at the total family, and the barriers in those families,” said Young. “We are looking at why kids aren’t going to school, and getting parents who are using drugs into treatment. Drug use affects the whole family. We need to connect the dots between social services, the school system, and job training, to ultimately try to figure out how do we heal our families. If we do that, we can drive crime down in our city.
“We also are working with the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks to look at opening rec centers on Saturday and Sunday. It will give our young people an opportunity to do something different. I am also working with Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who has put together a strategic plan that had led to a reduction in shootings. If those numbers continue to go down, we will see our murder rate go down.”
Mayor Young also discussed Baltimore’s ‘squeegee kids,’ youngsters who wash windshields at busy intersections for money.
“I am working with Commissioner Harrison to devise an alternative squeegee plan,” said Mayor Young. “It’s dangerous for those youngsters to be in the streets. I am afraid they will get hurt weaving in and out of traffic. I’m also concerned some are doing it when they should be in school. We need to connect with the parents to find out why their children are squeegee kids, and what that parent needs.
“We also have panhandlers all over the city darting in and out of traffic for money. It’s also a safety issue for them. We’ve got a lot of work to do. As Mayor, my goal is to do all I can to ensure children and family success.”
Mayor Young served from 2010 to 2019 as the President of the Baltimore City Council, and for 14 years prior to that as a District Councilman.
“We want to drive development into neighborhoods that haven’t seen it,” he said. “We are doing major development across the city, including mixed income and affordable unit developments. I don’t believe in tearing everything down, because we tear down our history in Black neighborhoods. Development in our neighborhoods creates job and rebuilds our communities.
“We are also looking at how we can attract more grocery stores. But we can’t ignore the fact that they look at the prospect of people stealing. Stealing drives their profits down to zero. Merchants will not go into neighborhoods where they can’t meet their bottom line. Attracting and retaining neighborhood businesses is very important to the city.”
Just days after this interview, Mayor Young lost his longtime friend U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings. Cummings, 68, died on Thursday, October 17, 2019, from complications stemming from longstanding health challenges.
“With the passing of U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the City of Baltimore, our country, and people throughout the world have lost a powerful voice and one of the strongest and most gifted crusaders for social justice,” said Mayor Young, who reportedly plans to name the Courthouse East building in downtown Baltimore after Cummings. “Rep. Cummings, the son of sharecroppers whose ancestors were slaves, wasn’t afraid to use his considerable intellect, booming voice, and poetic oratory to speak out against brutal dictators bent on oppression, unscrupulous business executives who took advantage of unsuspecting customers, or even a U.S. President.
“He was, put simply, a man of God who never forgot his duty to fight for the rights and dignity of the marginalized and often forgotten. As we enter this period of mourning, let us remember his long legacy of justice as an example to us all of a life well lived.”
Part II of the series concludes next week.
One on One with Jack Young