Weekly Letter: Two Stories

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Saving and Changing Lives
Last month I wrote in a weekly letter titled “Some Good Seeds” about me and my staff going all in to support a thing called the Youth Gun Violence Prevention Weekend. Well, it happened on Saturday and Sunday, and I wish you had been there, whoever you are.

Why? Because Black and Brown teenagers who live in communities with the highest rates of gun violence are isolated - isolated from employers, isolated from government, isolated from wealth and all its pleasures. They are isolated and need connection from all of us. When hundreds filled the gym at the new Severn Center on Saturday, they connected. 

Rappers-turned-marketing dynamos Wallo and Gillie from Philly shared their life stories - the good, bad, the ugly - and they weren’t alone. Speaker after speaker told the story of human resilience, of self-respect, and love overcoming the trauma of poverty and violence. 

Kids came from local high schools: Meade, Arundel, Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Northeast, and Old Mill. I noticed before the first speaker Saturday morning that every one of them was staring at a phone, and I wondered if that would continue all day. An hour into the first session, I turned around from the front row, and all eyes that I saw were locked onto the speaker at the front of the room. Later in the day, when a panel of teenagers was weighing in on the roots of gun violence, the moderator, Shaleece Williams of the Tree House Project, called out the adults for looking at phones. Sweet moment for the kids.

Day two was fun-day, in a packed gym at Old Mill High School. It was celebrity basketball, with a half-time presentation that reminded people why we were there. Kyle Williams - the mastermind and organizer of the event, CEO of Tunnel Vision apparel company, and director of Chase Your Dreams Initiative - somehow managed to shift the energy of 1000 attendees from raucous and silly competition on the court to total silence. We honored the lives of family, friends, and neighbors whose lives were cut short by bullets - together.

Please click on this link to see the list of sponsors, organizers, and participants who made this extraordinary weekend happen, a weekend that will change and save lives.

Being Direct, Raw, and Unconventional
Debates about how best to address the state of Maryland’s fiscal challenges are all over the news this week. I’ve weighed in on the side of tax fairness, but not on timing. 

I actually agree with Governor Moore and Senate President Ferguson that this doesn’t have to be the year to fix the structural - or projected - deficits, and I very much appreciate Speaker Jones’ pressure on all parties to get serious about a plan. 

There are a lot of remedies being proposed, and allowing time for the public to digest them and weigh in makes a lot of sense. Asking Marylanders to pay more without a robust conversation about the problems we need to solve is not good government, even if the taxes only apply to folks who can afford them. The Governor and our state leadership want those conversations to take place. They want to hear from constituents. And I want to help make that happen.

It’s no secret that I personally lean toward tax structures that protect families at the low end of the economic scale, and prefer to go where the money has accumulated in recent years - corporations that have benefitted from loopholes and individuals whose wealth has grown beyond what’s needed to live comfortably. 

Former Capital Gazette editor and current Baltimore Banner columnist Rick Hutzell called me out in this story about my Weekly Letters, noting that I tend to be, “Direct, raw, and unconventional.” 

Well, being that way got me in some hot water last week. As I was speaking at the Fair Funding Coalition press conference, I noted how hard it is to close loopholes and tax wealth when the interests lobbying on the other side contribute so generously to political campaigns.

A reporter covering the event quoted me in his article, and then quoted Senate President Bill Ferguson on his reluctance to raise taxes this year. It looked like I was accusing the Senate President and maybe even the whole Maryland General Assembly of being paid off. That’s ironic, because Bill Ferguson is as honest and principled as anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t agree with him on everything, but he’s one of my political role models.

President Ferguson struck back the next morning on the Senate floor, not calling me out by name, but referencing the article and defending the honor of his institution. We’ve since been in direct communication, and I’ve apologized to him for the failure of my political radar to predict the connections that could be made to him and his senators.

It’s a fine line we walk, both in politics and in advocacy, when we criticize the system and how it works. I will always remain direct, raw, and unconventional, and I’ll call out injustice when I see it, but I must remember to give credit to the truly good people who do this work, and who are trying hard every day to get it right. We all should.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive