“I often said,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told thousands of people this afternoon, “that we cannot look at our students in the face and tell them that education is important and think they are going to believe us when they can’t see out of the windows.”
“We knew,” she continued, her voice rising as applause echoed through the auditorium, “we had to do better for Baltimore’s young people.”
Today the mayor stood at the podium in Minneapolis promoting her success in securing funds to rebuild the worst of city schools in Baltimore.
Her venue was the annual convention of the American Federation of Teachers, where she was introduced by longtime friend and former Baltimore Teachers Union honcho Lorretta Johnson as “young and vigorous” and an advocate of “citizens most in need.”
The trip, which took the mayor away from this morning’s meeting of the Board of Estimates, won’t be her last for the month.
Next Sunday she will be in Philadelphia, attending the Democratic National Convention for much of the week, according to her press office.
Frequent Flyer Mode
In the waning days of her administration (her last day is December 2), Rawlings-Blake has embarked on a busy travel schedule.
Since late March, she has been in Qatar and Cuba, Miami Beach and Las Vegas, California and Indiana. Before that, she was in Paris, New Orleans and New York City, among other places.
Except for the Las Vegas pilgrimage, where the mayor said she promoted the city at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention and attended the lavish Maryland Party at the Wynn Resort and Casino, she has not traveled on behalf of the city. (She did say that she picked up some good urban planning tips while touring skyscraper-lined Doha.)
And except for some incidental expenses approved by the Board of Estimates, her travels have been paid for by third parties rather than by the city.
Many of the trips came as a result of her role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She accepted that position in San Francisco two months after the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray and relinquished it in Indianapolis last month.
The trip to Paris, for example, was to represent the mayors group at one of the venues of the United Nation’s climate change conference. Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S., Mohammed Jaham Al Kuwari, arranged the trip to Doha, which was paid for by that government.
The sojourn to Havana was sponsored by the Cuban government and the mayors group, and included a session where Rawlings-Blake discussed the challenges faced by emerging democracies.
Still another source of mayoral movement stems from being secretary of the Democratic National Committee.
Since 2013, Rawlings-Blake has assiduously beat the bushes for Democrat candidates and Democratic causes from Texas to Florida, with frequent trips to DNC functions in Washington.
“The Value of Listening”
Today’s speech was part of a session on the “collective voice,” a buzzword about the importance of elected officials to listen to those in communities and in schools (read teachers) championed by AFT president Randi Weingarten.
Rawlings-Blake’s 11-minute talk featured obligatory bows to the collective-voice paradigm combined with a bit of horn-tooting.
Samples: “New and renovated schools will help my city achieve the goal I set of adding 10,000 families to our population. . . Progress will only be achieved through intentional, strategic and collaborative efforts. . . As an elected official, I know the value of listening.”
Who runs the government when the mayor is away is an open secret at City Hall.
It’s chief of staff Kaliope Parthemos, a childhood friend who was Rawlings-Blake’s manager during her first run for office (winning the City Council’s old 5th District in 1995) and who has been at her side since she became mayor in February 2010.
The “young and vigorous” politician, age 46, has been tight-lipped about her future. This includes whether she wants to stay in government and whether she harbors ambitions for elective office.
Where her travels take her may hold a clue to her next act.