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Baltimore City Council Closes Out Its Term, As City Inaugurations Near

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Emily Sullivan/WYPR
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The Baltimore City Council on Monday evening closed out a term defined by an en masse political re-shuffling following ex-mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation and a subsequent passage of city charter amendments intended to restructure power and bolster transparency.

The meeting included the first override of a mayoral vetos since voters approved in November a charter amendment that reduced the number of council votes needed from 12 to 10. The council overrode Mayor Jack Young’s vetoes of two bills to bolster protections for hospitality workers as their businesses reopen amid the pandemic; one requires employers to call back employees in order of seniority and the other requires employers to maintain the same staff for at least 90 days should business owners change hands.

An effort to overturn the veto of a prominent bill introduced by Ryan Dorsey to rename the Columbus Obelisk to honor victims of police brutality failed by one vote. Sharon Green Middleton, Robert Stokes, Eric Costello, Ed Reisinger, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Leon Pinkett voted against the override.

The term saw significant legislation to bolster housing rights, including a bill to give renters access to attorneys during eviction cases and to prevent vulnerable residents’ homes from being sold in the annual city tax sale, introduced by Scott and Danielle McCray respectively.

The council also spent years on the Water Accountability and Equity Act, which creates a tiered water bill discount system for low income households. Mayor Young, who introduced the bill, signed portions of it into law Monday before the meeting.

Six members will not return to the council after the term.

Council President Scott and Councilman Bill Henry won elections for mayor and comptroller, respectively. They will be sworn in on Tuesday. Shannon Sneed and Leon Pinkett, who both lost bids for the City Council President in the Democratic primary, also will not return.

The council is losing two of its most experienced members: Mary Pat Clarke and Edward Reisigner will retire.

Clarke’s retirement comes after 32 years, on and off and in various offices, in City Hall. The 79-year-old was first elected to the council in 1975, and was only one of three female councilwomen at the time alongside Victorine Q. Adams and future Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Some in City Hall pejoratively called them “council girls.” 

“I didn't like that term. A girl? I was the mother of four children who had just won an election to represent the 2nd District and the city of Baltimore!” Clarke remembered in an interview with WYPR.

Clarke later made history by becoming the first female City Council President in 1987, and lost a bid for mayor in 1995. Afterwards, she rejoined the council by becoming its inaugural 14th district representative after the lines were redrawn in 2003, representing North Baltimore.

“It's just such a privilege and an honor and such a surprise that my life has been so generous as to let me be part of all this,” Clarke said. “I still don't believe I ever got elected to begin with.”

She characterized the term as the council’s most progressive yet.

“You will always be known as a trailblazer,” Scott told her at the meeting. “You cannot go anywhere, a farmer’s market, a store, if you stop to pump your gas… without finding someone deeply affected by your service.” 

“She has been the councilman for this generation, and for the generation before,” Henry said.

Reisinger was first elected to represent South Baltimore in 1995. He chaired the Land Use Committee through the city’s first zoning reform since 1971 from 2012 through 2016.

“It has been a long journey,” Reisinger said. “And it’s been an honor and a privilege. As I sit and reflect, I appreciate and will miss the relationships I’ve established in and outside City Hall. I will really miss the people.”

Mayor-elect Brandon Scott and Comptroller-elect Bill Henry will be sworn in Tuesday afternoon. City Council President-elect Nick Mosby and the rest of the incoming council will be sworn in Thursday.

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