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Politicsby Fern Shen12:42 pmJan 8, 20190

Baltimore political class already lining up for New Orleans’ Michael Harrison

One day after Joel Fitzgerald drops out, Mayor Pugh announces her next choice for police commissioner

Above: New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, Mayor Pugh’s choice to lead the Baltimore Police Department. (NOLA.com)

He’s been a New Orleans police officer for 27 years and led the NOPD as its superintendent since 2014. Will Michael S. Harrison add another entry to his CV as Baltimore’s long-sought-after police commissioner?

Mayor Catherine Pugh and some Council members already appear to be ordering the name plate for the door.

Just one day after Pugh’s designee, Fort Worth Chief Joel Fitzgerald, withdrew his name from consideration, Pugh announced she has chosen the 49-year-old Harrison to lead the Baltimore Police.

While Harrison will start on an acting basis within a few weeks, according to Pugh’s office, he’s already won fans among Baltimore’s political establishment.

“A little over a month ago, I visited New Orleans and met with Chief Harrison of NOPD,” Sen. Bill Ferguson said today on his Facebook page.

“Within minutes, it was clear that this was the leader Baltimore needs and Baltimore deserves for Commissioner of our police department.”

“I applaud Mayor Pugh for putting forward an individual who is both clearly qualified and wants to be the next Baltimore Police Commissioner,” said Councilman Eric Costello in a statement today. “It is imperative that we move forward with an extreme sense of urgency.”

What Changed his Mind?

The mayor’s announcement was lengthy, lauding Harrison for “clear, compelling and consistent results in reducing violent crime [and] implementing a federally-mandated consent decree” and included Harrison’s detailed resume.

One thing Pugh didn’t address:

Why Harrison’s answer to her was “yes” after, initially, it was “no.”

Harrison reportedly had been the top choice of her behind-the-scenes panel of expert advisors. But Pugh ultimately decided to go with Fitzgerald.

Why was Harrison’s answer to Pugh “yes” after, initially, it was “no?”

Although Harrison hadn’t applied for the job, he told the Times-Picayune he discussed the Baltimore commissioner position with city officials and ultimately decided to stay put “because of my commitment to achieving our goals at NOPD.”

Now he says he will retire from the department where he worked most of his adult life.

Resume Review Redux

The lightning-fast, one-day turnaround to announce Harrison stands in contrast to the six months it took Pugh to name Fitzgerald in the wake of the federal tax charges that doomed her last pick, Darryl De Sousa.

For Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Harrison’s nomination means launching into another round of document-gathering and hearing-scheduling to review the designee ahead of a Council confirmation vote.

Vetting – or the lack of it – was an issue that hovered like a dark cloud over the Fitzgerald nomination.

News reports published last Friday said that on documents submitted to Baltimore officials, Fitzgerald had exaggerated his accomplishments in Texas and at his previous position as Allentown Pa. police chief.

Before that, Fitzgerald angered members of the Council and citizens alike by initially refusing to release his resume.

Fait Accompli?

Other aspects of the Fitzgerald nomination drew criticism, in particular the lack of transparency and public participation in the selection process. (The speedy confirmation of De Sousa was similarly denounced.)

Critics have called on Pugh to emulate cities that have made the names of finalists for the police chief position public early on and involved citizens in meetings and forums so that selection could be a community-wide consensus.

That can’t happen, now that Pugh has again named a single person as her choice.

It remains to be seen whether the public will be satisfied with whatever process, at this point, City Hall lays out.

Details of community engagement and a City Council approval process regarding Harrison’s nomination, according to the mayor’s office, will be communicated to the public in the future.

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