A Man in Charge
He strode into the press conference reeking of a mixture of confidence and control, exactly the characteristics that had been missing from previous media opportunities. Following a night of rioting, looting, arson and angry confrontations between protesters and law enforcement, the Governor of Maryland simply and clearly described his objectives.
Larry Hogan, three months into his term as governor, and just weeks after concluding his first tense legislative session, explained to Baltimoreans that he was there to make their city safe for them, and that he would not allow a repeat of the tragic outcomes of the last weekend of April.
So, what is it about this guy, this unassuming, humble and quiet real estate professional, that allowed him to step into one of the most dangerous and volatile public sector crises and instantly deescalate the situation?
1.) He doesn’t look, act or talk like a career politician. Larry Hogan, while a student of politics and an occasional hobbyist-practitioner of the dark arts of politics, studied at the feet of another quiet and confident public servant, his father. Larry Hogan, Sr., who served as the Prince George’s County executive and a congressman from Prince George’s. All you have to do is look at how Representative Hogan conducted himself in office, from his stewardship of the county to his brave vote to forward Articles of Impeachment against President Richard Nixon in spite of Republican Party pressure not to.
2.) He believes. Gov. Larry Hogan believes in the power of people, the power of pride and the power of economic empowerment. Governor Hogan knows that a job is much more valuable than a handout. He knows that each and every person aspires to their own definition of success, and that under normal conditions, those success visions are not achieved through social programs. He seems to understand that by spending his own time walking the streets and talking to Baltimore’s inner city residents, he’ll gain a better understanding of what has to happen to improve their lives and living conditions.
3.) Governor Hogan knows that actions speak louder than words. While there are undoubtedly serious questions about how law enforcement is perceived by those they serve and protect, Larry Hogan understands that those answers cannot be found through the haze of burning buildings and pepper spray. The first actions are to make streets safe for families. Once that’s in place, we can all concentrate on the dialogue we’re going to have to have with one another.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was dealt some serious challenges. She did her best to handle them, but seemed confused, conflicted and slightly out-of-touch. Her convoluted explanations regarding rioters having room to destroy left most rational commentators scratching their heads. In a situation where law enforcement officers shift from responding to calls to lining up in riot gear on city streets, the chief elected official also has to transform.
They need to become the very picture of self-control, demonstrating a firm grip on the situation and an unquestioned confidence in their own judgment and the advice of their experts. Mayor Rawlings-Blake just didn’t get there initially. One of the biggest knocks on her was her seeming invisibility early on, as she was sheltered away in the City Emergency Operations Center.
On one hand, that’s where she needs to spend a good deal of her time. She has to have a sense of the deployment strategies in order to understand how the incident can be brought under control. On the other hand, she is the face of the City of Baltimore, never more important than during a breakdown in the civil structure.
Into the height of the drama strode the short, slightly pudgy and mild-mannered new governor. In some eyes, he seemed like Marvel Comic’s latest superhero, WASP Man. What he lacks in physical structure he more than makes up for in confidence, his deep voice calmly describing the steps he’d take to bring about order and basic safety.
Deploying his resources like a chess grandmaster studying the board, he elevated names like Clay Stamp (Maryland Emergency Management Agency director), Col. Bill Pollazzi (Maryland State Police Superintendent), and Gen. Linda Singh (Commanding General, Maryland National Guard) to almost mythical status as hands-on problem solvers.
Most notable is a subtle yet important member of Governor Hogan’s inner circle during this difficult time. By his side in almost every single photograph is former State Delegate and former Baltimore City Councilman Keifer Mitchell. After losing his last election, Keifer went to work for Governor Hogan as his special advisor on charter schools and education. A progressive Democrat in a high-profile role in a Republican administration, it raised some eyebrows back in January.
Now it seems like a brilliant strategic move, as Mr. Mitchell lends some street cred to the new governor, not that he really seems to need much. From shooting hoops on a basketball court to holding hands with an elderly African-American shop owner amidst the rubble of a night of free “shopping,” Governor Larry Hogan creates his own version of street credibility.
This governor probably has more surprises up his sleeve. He might just be the perfect guy at the right time to help this city, long drowning in poverty, despair, drugs and gangs to find its heartbeat again. This once-great bastion of Italian, African, Polish, Irish, German and Oriental heritage may well benefit from this confident, but unassuming, powerhouse of a public servant.
What a legacy to start a term with! A reasonably successful first General Assembly session, a highly-respected team of agency leaders, and now the ability to wade into a rioting city and bring calm, peace and – hopefully – long-overdue justice and opportunity.