Toxic Government by Democrats: Baltimore

The poorest cities in America have one thing in common: decades of monolithic control by the Left.

Editor’s note: The following is the second in a series of articles that will expose the misery of life in America’s poorest cities, all of which have one thing in common: they are controlled exclusively by Democrats. Each article presented by FrontPage will reveal how the production of mass urban poverty is much more than just a failure of leadership, but a means of political survival for the Left. To read the background pamphlet by David Horowitz and John Perazzo, “Government Versus The People,” click here.

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, which in the 1950s was an employment mecca for a number of thriving industries, has been governed exclusively by Democratic mayors and city councils since 1967. William Donald Schaefer, who served as Baltimore's mayor from 1971-87, helped set the stage for economic decline in his city by championing an ever-expanding public sector coupled with extensive government regulation of private business enterprises. Moreover, he relied heavily on federal grants and city bonds to finance a host of development projects throughout Baltimore. As the City Journal reports: “[W]hen those monies proved insufficient, [Schaefer] ... created his own city bank to seed development: the Loan and Guarantee Fund. The fund financed itself by selling city property and then leasing it back to itself, and by selling bonds that would stick future taxpayers with much of the bill.”

Rampant with corruption, Schaefer's administration virtually made an art form of cronyism. Once, for instance, the mayor's finance director, Charles Benton, successfully steered $5.6 million in public money to a repair project on an apartment building owned by a Schaefer political supporter. On another occasion, Benton directed more than $4 million in taxpayer funds to the refurbishing of a hotel owned by a longtime friend of the mayor. Every penny of that money was wasted, however, as the hotel went bankrupt shortly after Schaefer's mayoral tenure ended.

In 1986 the Brookings Institution reported that “only projects that had been endorsed by [Schaefer] were funded, and only the neighborhoods that were most loyal to City Hall got community grants.” In dozens of cases, Schaefer's administration took federal funds that had been earmarked for poor people and diverted them to other, more politically expedient, uses. As the Baltimore City Paper reveals: “Fifteen million dollars from a program to provide rent subsidies to low-income families was used to build housing for the elderly (a reliable voting bloc). Another $15 million earmarked for disadvantaged schoolchildren was spent on other items, including the salaries of [politically influential] school bureaucrats.”

In the 1970s, Schaefer's deputy public works director was incarcerated for rigging bids on city contracts. And in the '80s, the federal government shut down the city's Urban Development Action Grants program due to its many abuses.

In 1987 Schaefer was succeeded as mayor by Kurt Schmoke, who continued his predecessor's policy of extracting as much taxpayer money as possible from Annapolis and Washington, respectively. By 2001, such state and federal subsidies accounted for an incredible 40% of Baltimore's operating budget.

Thanks to Schmoke's close ties to Clinton administration officials, the federal gravy train, bearing large cargoes of cash to fund city programs, made frequent stops in Baltimore. One such program (bankrolled by a $100 million federal grant) was the establishment of an Empowerment Zone that failed miserably to achieve its stated goal of spurring job creation. That boondoggle, however, did not hurt Schmoke at all politically. Rather, the influx of (wasted) federal funds helped convince Baltimore voters to re-elect him in 1991, and again in 1995.

Like Schaefer before him, Mayor Schmoke was no stranger to corruption. In the mid-1990s, for instance, federal officials were alerted to the fact that Schmoke's housing authority had squandered—via no-bid contracts, massive cost overruns, and blatant cronyism—some $25.6 million in HUD funds that were intended for housing repairs.

Even as the nation flourished economically in the 1990s, Baltimore’s economy lost at least 58,000 jobs. The city's unemployment rate was twice that of the rest of Maryland. Part of the problem was the fact that Baltimore's property taxes were the highest in the state, causing many of the city’s leading private-sector firms to relocate in the more business-friendly suburbs.

While Baltimore's industry and finance were in steep decline, crime was on the rise—thanks, in large measure, to Schmoke's ineffective, soft-on-drugs policing strategy. By the end of the 1990s, the murder rate in Baltimore was six times higher than in New York (where a variety of proactive policing practices had reduced violent crime dramatically). Three-fourths of Baltimore's homicides were drug-related—symptoms of an ongoing, brutal drug-turf war that was engulfing many nonwhite neighborhoods. Police, meanwhile, were frustrated by the fact that the drug dealers whom they arrested were routinely released a short time later, free to resume their criminal activities on the streets.

Yet another Democrat, Martin O’Malley, won Baltimore's 1999 mayoral race by campaigning on a law-and-order platform, but ultimately he was unable to fulfill his crime-reduction pledges. In 2005, criminal-justice statistics for Baltimore indicated that 17.6 violent crimes were committed for every 1,000 residents—a figure almost 80% higher than America's big-city average. Baltimore's murder rate, meanwhile, was nearly three times higher than the big-city average—just as it had been when O'Malley first took office in 2000. Robberies and aggravated assaults (including shootings) had dropped slightly since 2000, but were still more than twice as prevalent as in other large American cities.

Baltimore's economy also lagged under O'Malley. Between 2001 and 2004, the city lost nearly 5% of all its jobs, including a quarter of its manufacturing jobs, 15% of its banking and finance jobs, and 5% of its retail jobs.

In 2007 O'Malley was succeeded as mayor by Sheila Dixon, who resigned three years later when convicted of embezzlement and perjury charges. Replacing Dixon was city council president Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. By the start of 2013, Baltimore's population stood at 619,000—a 35% dropoff from its peak of 950,000 six decades earlier, when it had been an economically and socially healthy city.

Baltimore's experience has played itself out in many U.S. cities: Democratic tax-and-spend policies, coupled with toothless and ineffective approaches to crime, destroy the quality of life and leave people no choice but to uproot themselves and move away.
Previous articles in the series:

Toxic Government by Democrats: Minneapolis.

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