Anyone who has followed the news in Baltimore this year knows that we have been a city in turmoil. After the death of Freddie Gray, allegedly at the hands of several of our city’s police officers, Baltimore experienced terrible riots. Protesters and police faced off across barriers, automobiles were set aflame, stores looted, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reacted with a few unfortunate missteps before declaring a curfew, and the Maryland National Guard occupied our streets.
Now that one of the police officers involved in the incident is on trial, the city waits anxiously, not sure what will happen when the trial ends. What will the verdict be and how will the public react when it’s announced? While so many hope for a just outcome and a non-violent public reaction, there’s really no way for us to be sure.
In light of our city’s worries and wishes about the future, life goes on. We keep updated with trial news, go to our jobs, attend our schools, come home to moderately warm houses, eat dinner, and take comfort in the company of family and friends. Now that the holiday season has arrived, we are especially hopeful that the ideas of peace on earth, goodwill toward women and men will take hold and see us well into 2016.
For me, nothing serves better to symbolize Baltimore’s hopes for a brighter future than our annual holiday lighting of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place. Before this year’s lighting, the 44th, I had the pleasure of walking through the crowd of thousands. As I did, I couldn’t help but observe the shared hopefulness in people’s eyes and faces.
Although bundled tightly in winter jackets and sweaters, residents came out in force. They engaged vendors by purchasing pizza slices, fried Oreos, wine, beer, and coffee. They visited the Walters Art Gallery to drink hot chocolate and tap their feet to a jug and banjo band. They listened to the Morgan State University Choir as the choir sang holiday carols. And they waited in eager anticipation for the monument light switch to get flipped.
But here I must note one difference between this year’s lighting ceremony and those of years past. This year featured no bigtime celebrities—no Mariah Carey, no Dorothy Hamill, no Michael Phelps, no popular Oriole, and no low-flying Raven. Were they afraid to come out? More notably though was the absence of a high-profile public official. And when I say high profile, I am especially alluding to our Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who usually aids in the ceremonial task of flipping the switch.
When I noticed her absence, I was somewhat perplexed. I have been attending this event on and off for some fifteen years, and most mayors seem to jump at the chance to gain public exposure, feed off the good spirits of the crowd, and boost the citizenry’s sense of civic pride. Hearing a little something reassuring from the mayor this year would have been especially nice considering all that has happened. But then I reflected on how she was not running for another term, citing that she wanted to concentrate on the business of the city rather than that of a campaign.
And so I must ask, what city business is more important than the monument lighting? Were officials courting a corporation that would deliver us thousands of jobs? Were they bolstering defenses against terrorist attacks and passing laws to protect us from deranged gunmen? I hope so, but thus far, no such progress has been reported.
My thoughts then led me to the candidates running to take the place of Mayor Rawlings-Blake. Thus far, the frontrunner, former Mayor Sheila Dixon does not have me looking to the future with optimistic eyes. Before Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Mayor Dixon was ousted from office when she was found to be using gift cards that had been intended for the poor.
If our mayors aren’t going to conduct themselves honestly and competently, why do we need mayors at all?
So I ask myself, shouldn’t our mayor, current or future, be a person in whom we can trust, and in whom we can trust to make smart choices, especially during tough times? Furthermore, if our mayors aren’t going to conduct themselves honestly and competently, why do we need mayors at all?
It seems to me, what we really need is a stabilizing force, a pillar of strength, a figure beyond reproach. As I stood there looking up at the monument and the light switch got tripped, the column burst into bluish flame, and I began to ask myself, “Why shouldn’t we Baltimoreans elect this beacon of hope? Why couldn’t our beloved monument, lights ablaze, also be our mayor?”
With its noble stature and 17,000 LED bulbs, the monument already inspires the citizenry with two things that most candidates do not, stability and a guiding light—or vision. In terms of credentials, having been built in 1829, it has long experience in public life. It’s already given our city 186 years of distinguished service. Asking it to perform in a slightly different capacity for another four or eight would not appear to be requesting too much.
In addition, while its stature has always been impressive, it has never failed to maintain a quiet confidence, and when caught in a deluge, it doesn’t hesitate to take the high ground. As such, Baltimoreans can rest assured that when controversial issues arise, the monument won’t bungle statements and exacerbate existing problems.
As regards the bottom line, enlisting the Washington Monument as our next mayor would also be a smart financial move. Our citizens have already spent six million to have its structure restored, and with an investment like that, we should hope to squeeze more out of this most stout public servant than the ability to direct traffic and attract tourists.
I have heard tale that many political figures are excellent multitaskers, so I don’t see why the citizenry, in lean times and good, shouldn’t expect our monuments to take on a few added responsibilities. And not to cast too dark a shadow, but with so many civil servants wittingly or unwittingly giving their constituents the shaft, at least here is one that will make no bones about it.
My moment of insight during the Monument lighting points to a lesson that I seem to be learning repeatedly. As with most problems in life, when you are struggling to find a solution, you will often discover it in plain view. Considering Baltimore’s need to fill its top job, I say let’s search no further than Mount Vernon Place. Sure, we could enlist another monument, the Battle on Calvert Street or the National Katyn one on President, but none of these capture the imagination or impress like this well-proportioned phallus cut from a local quarry in Cockeysville.
It’s true that our city contains higher profile and more vibrantly lit architectural candidates, the Inner Harbor’s Science Center, one or other of the two pavilions, or the National Aquarium. But while these landmarks command our attention, they don’t embody the stature, sobriety, and symbolism of a great American General and President. During these difficult times, Baltimore can’t afford to go with a questionable or untested candidate. We should put all our support behind one that has already proven itself capable of weathering any storm.