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Baltimore City

Screenshot via Brandon For Baltimore Facebook page

Baltimore’s three Democratic nominees for citywide office came together Tuesday morning to urge voters to elect their party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, in a show of unity that was lacking in 2016 when then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to be on the way to victory. 

“This election is about the fabric of democracy and whether our country can come back from the last four years of embarrassment to elect people who can help us,” City Council President Brandon Scott said at a news conference.

 

AP PHOTO/MARY ALTAFFER


  Gov. Larry Hogan will allow restaurants to expand indoor dining capacities to 75%  at 5:00 p.m. Monday. The Republican is encouraging residents to partake in Maryland’s first statewide Restaurant Week, despite concerns over COVID-19 spread throughout the state.

“To celebrate the first-ever Maryland Restaurant Week, I encourage Marylanders to support their favorite local businesses, whether you do so through delivery, curbside pickup, or by dining indoors or outside,” Hogan said Friday in a news release. 

Emily Sullivan/WYPR


  A new bill before the Baltimore City Council aims to require hospitality businesses to bring back the same employees who were laid off at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic as they reopen; hospitality employment is down 50% from last year, compared to 12% for all jobs across the city.

The council’s Labor Committee recessed without voting on the bill after city lawyers said they needed more time to consider a set of amendments during a hearing Thursday. The committee did pass another bill that would require new owners of businesses to retain the same employees for at least 90 days.

Emily Sullivan/WYPR


Baltimore City Department of Public Works officials told city council members Tuesday that more than a third of their trash and recycling crews didn’t work in August because of the coronavirus pandemic, allowing some neighborhoods to go weeks without pick-ups.

“We have been hit on all sides by COVID,” John Chalmers, Head of DPW’s Bureau of Solid Waste, said in a hearing before the Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. 

Baltimore Heritage/Flickr


  The Maryland Board of Elections approved Baltimore City’s early voting and Election Day voting centers during a Friday meeting.  

Early voters can cast a ballot at eight early voting centers, which will open Oct. 26 through Nov 2. Those casting a ballot on Election Day will have 24 election day voting centers to choose from; early voting centers will also host voters on Election Day. 

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, non-essential businesses like bars and retail outlets are slowly re-opening. But concert venues like the Ottobar in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood face a particular challenge: they were the first to close and they’ll be the last to fully reopen.  

In the before times, a typical Friday night at the alternative music venue involved dancing, drinking and “absolute madness,” said Tecla Tesnau, the Ottobar’s owner. 

Emily Sullivan/WYPR


  Loosened pandemic restrictions in Baltimore’s phase 2 reopening will go into effect at 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, including increased capacity at indoor restaurants.

Mayor Jack Young issued an executive order that allows restaurants, religious facilities, retail establishments and malls, indoor recreation establishments and casinos to increase operations from 25% to 50% of their capacity.

Capacity at indoor restaurants, religious facilities, retail establishments and malls, indoor recreation establishments and casinos may increase from 25% to 50%, per an executive order from Mayor Jack Young. 

CHARM TV

The coronavirus is not taking time off for Labor Day, Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young said, and residents should remain cautious as they enter the long holiday weekend known for cookouts, parties and one last summer hurrah.

“Now is still not the time to be planning large parties, cookouts, celebrations or religious events,” the Democrat said during a Friday morning news conference. “We're still in a pandemic, one that's built to spread rapidly in large groups. I know people are not looking to catch COVID, but COVID is looking for you.”

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Just a day after Maryland courts began new eviction hearings for failure to pay rent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a moratorium on evictions through the end of this year. The order came on Sept. 1 and aims to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

As garbage piles up throughout Baltimore due to delayed trash pick-ups, Mayor Jack Young’s neighbors have been knocking on his door, wanting to know when their overflowing trash and recycling bins will be emptied.

 

“I'm frustrated, too, because my trash doesn’t always get picked up on time either,” the Democrat said at a news conference Wednesday. “But I understand why we are where we are.” 

Robert Geiger/flickr creative commons

Maryland’s Congressional Democrats sharply criticized Monday recent changes to the postal service by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy they say could interfere with the November election.

They were joined by postal union representatives in a press conference near the site of the postal service’s Baltimore processing and distribution center.

Screenshot via Facebook

Maryland lawmakers slammed the Trump administration’s service changes to the U.S. Postal Service on Monday, categorizing those changes as attacks on democracy.

The agency has warned that it cannot guarantee that all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive at election offices with enough time to be counted. 

Emily Sullivan

 

Low income Baltimoreans did not receive a promised water bill discount due to go into effect last month after Mayor Jack Young delayed the implementation of the Water Accountability and Affordability Act, citing the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the Department of Public Works’ inability to meet the law’s deadline.

Courtesy of the Office of the Inspector General

The Coronavirus has slowed down or shuttered businesses large and small, but one city department has been as busy as ever rooting out malfeasance by Baltimore elected officials and employees. 

Baltimoreans, sadly, know public corruption all too well. In the past decade, two of our mayors, Sheila Dixon and Catherine Pugh, have resigned amid corruption scandals. 

Tom's guest is the city’s top crusader against corruption. Isabel Mercedes Cumming is Baltimore’s inspector general. Before taking on that role 18 months ago, she served as Assistant Inspector General of Investigations for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, where she oversaw 200 investigations in six years.

She is the first woman to serve as the city’s top watchdog. Inspector General Cumming joins us from City Hall via Zoom.

The Baltimore City Council unanimously overrode Mayor Jack Young’s veto of a charter amendment that would create a city administrator position to oversee day-to-day operations during a special session Thursday night.

That means the amendment and six others will be on city voters’ ballots in November.

 

AP PHOTO/MARY ALTAFFER


Mayor Jack Young announced on Thursday that Baltimore City restaurants may open, this time at 25% capacity, beginning at 5:00 p.m. Friday. The Democrat also announced tightened pandemic restrictions, some of which are stricter than Maryland guidelines.

The announcement comes about two weeks after Young suspended indoor dining services amid a large spike in COVID-19 cases; new case numbers continue to surpass those of April and May. 

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Tropical Storm Isaias struck the Mid Atlantic this morning, bringing inland freshwater flooding and strong gusts of winds to Baltimore City. 

While heavy rainfall subsided early this afternoon, James Wallace, Acting Director of the City’s Emergency Management Office, says residents should be vigilant for storm-related hazards. 

“While the ground remains saturated, high winds are always a concern because they'll start to bring down trees and bring down power lines,” he said. 

Patrick Semansky/AP PHOTO

More than halfway through the year of the 2020 Census, barely half of Baltimore residents have responded to the decennial survey, well below the rates for Maryland and the nation.

Fernando Armstrong, a regional Census Bureau director, says only 52.5% of Baltimoreans have responded, compared to Maryland’s rate of 66.6% and the national response rate of nearly 63%.

Armstrong says it’s not unusual for census response rates in larger cities to trail behind national rates. 

Baltimore City Health Department handout

Baltimore city officials are urging residents to stay home and obey face masks requirements after an “alarming” increase in the rate of COVID-19 infections in Baltimore.

“The vast majority of you are heeding our pleas to continue to practice social distancing and wear your face coverings,” City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said at a news conference alongside Mayor Jack Young on Thursday. “But the case data indicates that not enough of us are.”

 

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

 

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young issued executive orders Wednesday that suspend indoor dining services and require residents to wear masks whenever they leave their homes and cannot engage in social distancing. They take effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

Since Baltimore entered its phase 2 of reopening just over a month ago, the city has seen a near-double increase in new coronavirus cases, a dramatic rise of cases in people under the age of 40 and a disproportionately high positivity rate in southeast neighborhoods like Canton and Patterson Park. 

Courtesy of the Abell Foundation

And now, a conversation about housing in Baltimore City.  A new report commissioned by the Abell Foundation examined why the rate of homeownership in Baltimore has fallen over the last decade, and the barriers for homeownership, particularly in communities of color.  That report was authored by Sally Scott, a researcher at UMBC and Seema Iyer of the University of Baltimore.  Sally Scott joins us now on Zoom.

Another Abell report looks at who is leaving Baltimore, and who’s moving-in, and it examines perceptions around the thorny issue of gentrification.  Alan Mallach did that study.  He is a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress in Washington DC.  He also joins us via Zoom.

Jody Landers joins us as well.  He served on the Baltimore City Council from 1983-1991, and as the Executive Officer of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors for 14 years.  He was commissioned by a network of neighborhood organizations called Healthy Neighborhoods to do a market survey of home sales in so called “middle neighborhoods.”  He joins us via Zoom too.

BruceEmmerling/Needpix

More than 5,500 households have begun or completed applications for Baltimore City’s $13 million rental assistance program, according to Tammy Hawley, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Housing.

Applications for the program, which aims to prevent mass evictions by paying April, May and June rent for renters who have lost income due to COVID-19, were due at 7 p.m. Sunday. The payments go directly to landlords. 

The department sought to help at least 6,000 households and may have leftover funds. 

And now, a conversation about the state of local journalism with C. Fraser Smith, a veteran scribe who spent more than 50 years as an award-winning reporter and columnist. 

Over the last decade, 2,000 newspapers have shut down.  About 30,000 reporting jobs have vanished, leaving communities across the country with little or no local news coverage.  The number of reporters in The Baltimore Sun newsroom these days is exponentially smaller than it was before the internet became the preferred drug of advertisers.

The Sun News Guild has joined local philanthropists and others in an effort to purchase the Sun from its parent company, which is controlled by a New York hedge fund. 

Fraser Smith spent a good chunk of his career at The Baltimore Sun, as well as right here at WYPR, where he was our senior news analyst and the host of Inside Maryland Politics.  He’s also written several books, including a biography of William Donald Schaefer, a book about the history of civil rights in Maryland and an exploration of the death of college basketball star Len Bias.  His latest book is a memoir called The Daily Miracle: A Memoir of Newspapering. 

Today on Midday, perspectives on the climate for economic development in Baltimore as businesses deal with the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.

What are business owners saying they need to weather this storm, and to face the challenges of the future? 

Tom’s guests today are Shelonda Stokes and Colin Tarbert.

Shelonda Stokes was elected as the chair of the board of directors of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore last fall, and in March, just in time for a global pandemic, she was asked to serve as its interim President and CEO when Kirby Fowler left the organization to run the MD Zoo.  Last month, Stokes was asked to drop the “interim” from her title, when the board appointed her as the Partnership’s fourth president. 

Colin Tarbert is the President and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation, the agency that handles economic development for Baltimore City.  He has held that position since June of last year.  He joins us via Zoom as well.  Here are links to more updates about small business, reopening Baltimore and local makers and manufacturers.  

Bruce Fingerhood/flickr creative commons

Parking meter enforcement will resume in Baltimore on Monday, months after the city suspended nonessential activities as the coronavirus pandemic first arrived in Maryland.

“As people continue to move around and be outside, it is important as we continue through Phase Two that we return many of our services to help our economy recover,” Mayor Jack Young said in a statement.

AP/PATRICK SEMANSKY

Renters in Baltimore City who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic can receive financial assistance under a $13 million renter relief program launched Wednesday.

Baltimore has a moratorium on evictions scheduled to expire on July 25. The program aims to prevent a wave of evictions by getting residents up to date on rent from April, May and June by sending rental payments directly to landlords. 

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

  


  Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is due to report to an Alabama prison on Friday, four months after she was sentenced to three years in federal prison for conspiracy and tax evasion in the Health Holly scandal.

Pugh was originally scheduled to report for her sentence in mid-April, but the Democrat received a delay as the coronavirus pandemic escalated and prison officials throughout the country scrambled to adjust to the highly contagious virus.

Emily Sullivan/WYPR


  The Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ top official said Tuesday that stalled trash pickup services will soon improve as 112 employees return to work, after the agency suspended operations at a facility with cases of COVID-19 earlier this month.

“We understand and share residents’ frustrations,” Acting Director Martthew Garbark said during a news conference. “We did the right thing by quarantining workers to protect their families, their coworkers and everyone else.”

Mary Rose Madden / WYPR

It’s been almost two weeks since Baltimore’s Department of Public Works shut down its curbside recycling program and limited trash collection because of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Eastern Sanitation Yard on Bowleys Lane.

In the meantime, some Baltimoreans have been taking trash into their own hands. 

Charm City TV

Mayor Jack Young announced today that Baltimore City will enter Phase 2 of re-opening from coronavirus shutdown at 5 p.m. Friday. Religious facilities could re-open for indoor services at 50 percent of capacity, he said, as well as restaurants, bars, gyms and retail stores.

Childcare facilities and camps are allowed to operate with up to 15 individuals per classroom.

His announcement comes a week after Gov. Larry Hogan announced similar changes.

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