Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Tuesday touted a summer of safe high-profile events in the downtown area — part of a strategy, aides said, to rebut those who have characterized the Inner Harbor as unsafe.
The mayor's remarks were intended to highlight the city's safety record as the summer draws to a close, but elicited some criticism following weeks of violence in city neighborhoods, including the fatal shooting of a scientist Monday.
"The people on the ground, the working people of Baltimore, completely disagree with [the mayor's] statement," said the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, local leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Crime and violence are still very much alive and well."
A Rawlings-Blake spokesman told reporters Tuesday morning that the mayor planned to trumpet a run of peaceful major events in an effort to refute comments made by state legislators earlier this year that the city was overrun by dangerous mobs of youth.
Speaking to a crowd assembled at Center Stage to launch the city's fall book festival, Rawlings-Blake ticked off a series of big events — Sailabration, Artscape, the Grand Prix — that were not marred by violence. The mayor has repeatedly made this point throughout the summer, adding new events as they occur.
"For those who wrongly bash Baltimore, these events showcase the truth about Baltimore," Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday.
But to some, Rawlings-Blake's remarks sounded tone deaf. The mayor spoke just blocks from the Mid-Town bed and breakfast where a photographer was fatally shot and a neighborhood leader was gravely wounded last month.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 153 people had been murdered in the city this year, compared with 148 last year. Sixteen people were shot over Labor Day weekend, including a young mother who was killed as she cleaned up from a family party.
Lester Spence, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor, likened Rawlings-Blake's comments to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's dismissal of nearly half of Americans who are "dependent on government."
The residents of the city's crime-troubled neighborhoods are "the Baltimore version of Mitt Romney's 47 percent," said Spence, referring to comments that became public this week, months after Romney made them at a fundraiser.
The mayor's remarks came hours before the head of a coalition of city business leaders sent out an online newsletter warning, "City leaders must be careful not to let encouraging statistics distort, in any way, the sense of urgency and the specific nature of the public safety challenge that remains."
"While it's accurate to say most neighborhoods in Baltimore City are eminently safe places to live and work, there are at least five neighborhoods where homicide is the third leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease," wrote Greater Baltimore Committee president Donald Fry in an essay detailing the challenges the city's newly appointed police commissioner will face.
Fry did not respond to a request for comment.
Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor remains concerned about violent crime in Baltimore, but felt the need to highlight the safety of major events. The mayor believes the killing of the scientist was a "tragedy and a reminder that gun violence is still a problem," he said.
Peter Marvit, a 51-year-old scientist and father, was killed Monday in Northeast Baltimore as he returned home from choral practice.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he supported Rawlings-Blake's efforts to boost downtown tourism, but noted that acts of violence are commonplace in many neighborhoods, including his own.
Young said he heard gunshots just this past Sunday while watching the Ravens game in the living room of his East Baltimore rowhouse. Three people have been killed within three blocks of his home in the past three weeks, Young said.
"If you go into my neighborhood, people will probably say it's unsafe," Young said. "If you go into other neighborhoods, people will probably say it's safe."
City Councilman Brandon Scott said the success of events at the Inner Harbor had little effect on the lives of residents of his Northeast Baltimore district, where community leaders have worked diligently with police to bring down crime in recent months.
"Ultimately, we have to take care of the people who are going to live here forever," said Scott, a first-term council member. "They might move here because of the big fancy things that are going here, but they're not going to stay if their car is constantly getting broken into."
Councilman William H. Cole IV, who represents the downtown area, said it was important for the mayor to counteract messages put forward by state legislators such as Del. Patrick McDonough.
After a spate of downtown attacks, including the mugging and beating of a Virginia man on St. Patrick's Day, McDonough and Democratic state Sen. Jim Brochin said they believed state police were needed to help with violence in Baltimore.
"I think it's fair to point out that we've had a number of huge events in downtown Baltimore throughout the summer without incident," Cole said. "We should talk about what we're doing right. It's not only damaging to the city's reputation, but it's damaging to our self-confidence."
McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, declared victory Tuesday, saying he had convinced the city's Democratic leaders to his line of thinking.
"Finally, she implemented the Pat McDonough martial-law plan," he said.
Brennan said McDonough had inaccurately characterized security for Sailabration.
Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of politics science at St. Mary's College, says both Rawlings-Blake and McDonough benefit with their bases from their feud.
"She's in a tough position," Eberly said of Rawlings-Blake. "Random acts of violence are going to happen and it may fall right when you're planning to have a media moment."