In the 1950s and early ’60s, Baltimore was booming. Known for its thriving industries—particularly manufacturing and shipping—these large enterprises created some three-fourths of all the jobs held by people in its metropolitan region. The city at that time had nearly a million residents, 23% of whom were black. The median family income was 7% higher than the national average; the percentage of Baltimore families earning middle-class wages was about one-fifth higher than in the U.S. as a whole; and the proportion of Baltimoreans living in poverty was roughly one-fifth lower than the corresponding national figure.
In 1967, however, this prosperity began to vanish when the city government was taken over by a string of Democratic mayors, persisting into the present day, who have made Baltimore into the grim and dangerous urban environment portrayed so chillingly in the television series The Wire. As in the case of other big cities around the country, while the Democratic Party machine was taking control of the ballot box, the people were voting with their feet by leaving the city. Today Baltimore’s population has declined to 622,000, 64% of it black.
William Donald Schaefer, Baltimore’s mayor from 1971-87, set the stage for economic decline in his city by championing an ever-expanding public sector as well as extensive government regulation of private business. Further, 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.”
Along with fiscal improvidence, Schaefer’s administration was replete with the corruption and cronyism that has become the hallmark of the Democrats’ big-city political machines over the last generation. For instance:
The mayor’s finance director, Charles Benton, once 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. The hotel went bankrupt shortly after Schaefer’s mayoral tenure ended.
In the 1970s, Schaefer’s deputy public works director was incarcerated for rigging bids on city contracts.
In the ’80s, the federal government shut down Baltimore’s Urban Development Action Grants program due to its many abuses.
In 1987, Schaefer was succeeded by Baltimore’s first elected black mayor, Kurt Schmoke, who, during his 12 years in office, continued his white predecessor’s policy of extracting as much taxpayer money as possible from Annapolis and Washington. By 2001, such state and federal subsidies accounted for 40% of Baltimore’s operating budget.
Schmoke was a close friend of President Bill Clinton and had connections to a number of Clinton administration officials—most notably the disgraced Henry Cisneros and Andrew Cuomo, both heads of the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)—ensuring that Baltimore’s city programs would continue to receive high levels of federal support. One such initiative—bankrolled by a ten-year, $100 million federal grant—was the establishment of an Empowerment Zone whose goal was to transform “distressed” areas of the city into “neighborhoods of choice” by implementing a host of job-training, workforce-development, home-construction, and drug-treatment pro-grams. All told, Baltimore’s Empowerment Zone (EZ) covered nearly 10% of the city’s total area.
The results of this endeavor, though, were largely disappointing. As the Baltimore Sun reported in 2002, “the areas that make up the city’s federally funded empowerment zone remain deeply troubled.” Some specifics:
The poverty rate within the EZ had dropped slightly (from 41.9% to 35.6%), but was still about 50% higher than the corresponding rate citywide.
Median household income had risen in slightly more than half of the EZ area, but had declined in the rest and was below the citywide median in 92% of the EZ area.
Homeownership rates in the EZ had increased modestly, from 30% to 35%—but not nearly as much as officials had predicted; moreover, homeownership in the EZ was still 15 percentage points lower than the citywide rate.
Unemployment in the EZ had increased from 14.9% to 16.5%, and was about 50% higher than Baltimore’s overall rate.
And perhaps most tellingly, the EZ region had lost population at more than double the rate of the city as a whole.
Like Schaefer’s, the Schmoke administration was scarred by corruption. In the mid-1990s, for instance, federal officials were alerted to the fact that the mayor’s Housing Authority had squandered—via no-bid contracts, massive cost overruns, and blatant cronyism—some $25.6 million in Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) funds that had been earmarked for housing repairs. Ultimately, the scandal resulted in federal convictions against 13 contractors.
For awhile it appeared that even Schmoke himself might find his political career in jeopardy when, in 1998, HUD’s inspector general announced a probe of the mayor’s handling of federal housing aid. However, both Schmoke and his housing chief, Dan Henson, were able to disarm investigators by playing the race card. At their instigation, West Baltimore black Congressman Elijah Cummings demanded that the White House launch a special investigation into the inspector general’s investigation. In the end, Schmoke escaped unscathed when HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo quashed the probe.
America as a whole may have flourished in the 1990s, but Baltimore’s economy foundered under Democrats’ stewardship. Contributing to this state of affairs was the fact that in the preceding decades, Baltimore’s property taxes, the highest in all of Maryland, had been repeatedly raised. Businesses, in turn, voted with their feet and many of the city’s leading private-sector firms, in search of a more business-friendly climate, relocated to the suburbs during the Nineties. Thus, between 1990 and 1999, Baltimore lost some 58,000 jobs. These included approximately 13,000 in the manufacturing sector; another 12,300 in the finance, insurance, and real-estate industries; and 23,400 in retail and wholesale businesses. During the worst of times on Mayor Schmoke’s watch, Baltimore’s overall work force shrank by an average of 722 people per month. The city’s unemployment rate during the ’90s was twice that of the rest of Maryland.
While Baltimore’s industry and finance were in steep decline, crime was on the rise—thanks, in large measure, to Schmoke’s decision to focus the city’s policing strategy on decriminalizing drugs rather than on tackling violent crime. As a result, 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 instituted by mayor Rudy Guiliani had dramatically reduced serious crime.) Throughout the Nineties, Baltimore was the scene of more than 300 murders every year, prompting locals to nickname their city—which had become the second-deadliest in the nation—“Bodymore, Murderland.” Approx-imately 75% of Baltimore’s killings were drug-related—symptoms of an ongoing, brutal drug-turf war that was allowed to engulf many black neighborhoods. Police, meanwhile, were frustrated by the fact that those drug dealers they arrested were routinely released a short time later, as a result of Schmoke’s “philosophy,” free to resume their criminal activities on the streets. One police sergeant lamented that under Schmoke’s leadership, Baltimore had become a city “in love with its own victimhood.”
The casual attitude on the part of Baltimore’s leadership toward drug crimes may have pleased the city’s liberal elites, but it devastated the minority community, whose champion it otherwise pretended to be. As of 2000, only 23 detectives in the entire city were actively investigating narcotics cases—even while epidemics of heroin and cocaine abuse, particularly among black males, reached levels unmatched in virtually any other American city. Further, just four officers in all of Baltimore were tasked with tracking down the suspects who had been named in some 54,000 open arrest warrants—250 of them for murder or attempted murder.
Baltimore’s widespread political corruption, failing economy, high taxes, and escalating crime rates, caused its population to fall by more than 120,000 during the 1990s, making the city blacker and poorer. Tens of thousands of homes were simply abandoned by residents desperate to leave town.
In 1999, Democratic city councilman Martin O’Malley won Baltimore’s mayoral race by campaigning on a law-and-order platform, but in part because of the legacy he inherited, he was ultimately unable to fulfill his crime-reduction pledges. In 2005, when his tenure was nearing its end, 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 nonfatal shootings) had dropped slightly since 2000, but were still more than twice as prevalent as in other large American cities.
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s anemic economy lagged even further under O’Malley’s stewardship. Between 2001 and 2004, the city lost nearly 5% of all its remaining jobs, including a quarter of its manufacturing jobs, 15% of its banking and finance jobs, and 5% of its retail jobs. From 2000 to 2007, private-sector employment in Baltimore shrank by 10.4%—a loss of approximately 33,600 jobs. During that same seven-year period, employment in the areas immediately outside of Baltimore grew by 13.9%—after having grown by 25.1% during the 1990s.
In 2007, O’Malley was succeeded as mayor by fellow Democrat Sheila Dixon, who was forced to resign three years later when convicted of embezzlement and perjury. Replacing Dixon was another black Democrat, city council president Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Today, Baltimore’s residents have a median household income of $38,721 (about 45% below Maryland’s state average) and a poverty rate of 25.1% (about 1.7 times the national average). Among America’s 100 most populous cities, Baltimore ranks 87th in median household income.
The violent crime rate in Baltimore is currently 3.7 times higher than the national average. This figure includes astronomical rates of murder (6.6 times the national average), rape (twice the national average), robbery (4.8 times the national average), and assault (3.2 times the national average).
Once Baltimore’s public schools were racially balanced; today 84% of the students are black and another 6% are Hispanic. Baltimore’s Democratic leaders claim to be looking out for the welfare of the city’s minorities, yet find its minority students easy to ignore.
Funding is not a problem. The Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) spend, on average, $15,483 for each K-12 student in their jurisdiction—almost 50% more than the national average. But achievement is paltry. Baltimore’s students perform near the bottom on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a standardized test that measures the academic abilities of children in elementary and junior high school. In 2013, for example, NAEP results indicated that only 14% of Baltimore’s fourth-graders, and 16% of its eighth-graders, were able to read proficiently. In math, the corresponding proficiency figures for fourth- and eighth-graders were 19% and 13%.
Notwithstanding this abysmal track record, the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU), which is a reliable bulwark for Democratic Party causes and candidates in the city, has successfully opposed any calls for a voucher program that would enable low-income parents to take their children out of the city’s failing public schools and send them instead—for a fraction of the cost—to a private or parochial school. And of course Baltimore Democrats, knowing that a substantial portion of BTU union dues are funneled directly into their party’s coffers, likewise abjure voucher proposals—just as Democrats have done in city after city across the United States. Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, once explained candidly: “[P]oliticians—especially Democratic politicians—generally do what the unions want. And the unions, in turn, are very clear about what that is. They want, first, happy members, so that those who run the unions get reelected; and, second, more members, so their power, money, and influence grow.”
This educational train wreck is largely funded by Baltimore’s stratospheric property taxes, twice as high as those of any other jurisdiction in Maryland or the District of Columbia. The city’s residents have become accustomed not only to high taxation, but to the use of taxes as a weapon in a war of divide-and-conquer. As economists Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University and Stephen Walters of Loyola University write: “In modern Baltimore, the [political] machine has exploited class divisions, not ethnic ones. Officials raised property taxes 21 times between 1950 and 1985 … causing many homeowners and entrepreneurs—disproportionately Republicans—to flee.”
But just as high taxes have failed to buy a decent education for Baltimore’s schoolchildren, so have they failed to cover the costs of runaway government spending under a long succession of fiscally irresponsible Democrats in high office. By December 2012, the unfunded pension liabilities that Baltimore owed to its retired police and firefighters had reached an unprecedented $765 million.
As a result of Baltimore’s multiple social, economic, and educational problems, some 47,000 abandoned houses and 16,000 vacant buildings now stand like pulled teeth in Baltimore’s once vibrant but now depleted and depressed neighborhoods.
http://www.ubalt.edu/jfi/jfi/reports/EBMCJobCreation0905.pdf; http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-2240408.html; http://carnegie.org/about-us/board-of-directors/kurt-l-schmoke/; http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2002-11-05/news/0211050405_1_empowermen...