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Politicsby Fern Shen10:00 amJul 30, 20190

Ex-state Democratic Party head and ex-Pugh image guru team to push back after Trump tweets

New website is reminiscent of the short-lived OneBaltimore campaign after the 2015 uprising that spent most of its budget on administrative costs

Above: A new website designed to counter President Trump’s remarks about Baltimore features an Inner Harbor sunset. (wearebaltimore.com)

America’s tweeter-in-chief has bashed Baltimore and now two veteran burnishers of the city’s image are coming to the rescue.

Michael E. Cryor, former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, and Gregory Tucker, a onetime $240-an hour media consultant for former mayor Catherine Pugh, have teamed up to create a website – wearebaltimore.com – to try to undo the reputational damage.

“BALTIMORE: We’re more than alright,” declares the text below the opening image of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on the “still-under-development” website, which lists a third partner, Todd Marks’ tech firm, Mindgrub.

As all the world by now knows, Republican President Donald J. Trump attacked Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings over the weekend, calling him “a bully” and declaring his 7th congressional district (which includes about half of Baltimore with the rest in Howard and Baltimore counties) a “dangerous,” “disgusting” and “rat and rodent-infested mess.”

A civic meltdown ensued.

The website vows to “serve as a definitive source for asserting and promoting Baltimore’s competitive assets in ways that inform, engage, and compel residents, visitors, current and prospective business interests, and regional and national news media.”

“Through video story-telling and authentic broad-based testimonials, WeAreBaltimore.com will showcase all that’s right with Baltimore,” it further promises.

Contacting The Brew after publication, Tucker said the website is “merely a landing page to indicate that this initiative is coming soon.”

Michael Cryor (center) with J.P. Grant and Mayor Catherine Pugh, at a Squeegee Corps Advisory Board Meeting in January. (@MayorPugh50)

Michael Cryor (center) with J.P. Grant and Mayor Catherine Pugh at a Squeegee Corps Advisory Board meeting at City Hall. (@MayorPugh50)

Repair, Rebrand after Freddie Gray

The organizers say their “We are Baltimore” campaign was underway for months – well before the Trump twitter-storm put Baltimore back in the harsh national spotlight in a way it hasn’t been since the 2015 in-custody of Freddie Gray.

After the protests and riot that followed Gray’s death, Cryor was tapped for a similar mission of civic repair by then-mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

He was placed in charge of a public-private entity called OneBaltimore, whose goal, Cryor said at the time, was to help Baltimore become “the No. 1 city in America per capita” in creating high-tech jobs.

The majority of OneBaltimore’s funds appear to have gone into administrative costs.

OneBaltimore folded a year-and-a-half later.

Cryor told the Baltimore Business Journal the project was hampered by inadequate funding, but otherwise insisted that it would be “a mistake to consider OneBaltimore a failure.”

The majority of the organization’s funds appear to have gone into administrative costs.

Of the $682,896 disbursed by Baltimore Community Foundation for OneBaltimore between June 2015 and March 21, 2016, the BBJ reported, $312,000 was spent on OneBaltimore-led programs, mainly youth summer employment.

On the other hand, $371,000 was spent covering administrative expenses. The remaining $115,488 was transferred to Strong City Baltimore when it took over as fiscal agent for OneBaltimore.

“Believe” in O’Malley

That wasn’t the first time Cryor was involved in image polishing for City Hall.

In 2002, he launched the “Believe” campaign for then-mayor Martin O’Malley, a $2.1 million privately-funded marketing blitz and hotline intended to rally the city to fight its crime and drug problems.

A decade later, O’Malley crowed in a newspaper op-ed that the campaign had succeeded beyond expectations, pointing to “the biggest overall reduction of crime in any major city in America,” record low homicides, reductions in overdoses and juvenile shootings and other stats.

“Baltimore embraced that stark, white-and-black call to ‘Believe.’ It took on a life of its own,” he asserted in the op-ed.

By that time, O’Malley was governor. After Believe, Cryor was rewarded with a stint (2007-2009) as Maryland’s Democratic Party chief.

Changing the Narrative

Tucker’s tour of duty as a city image booster came during the Catherine Pugh administration, when he got a $40,000 three-month no-bid contract in January 2018 to provide “strategic consultation and tactical services for communications and the media.”

As The Brew reported, Tucker began work for Pugh more than a week before the Board of Estimates approved the initial contract. This was followed in March 2018 by a second $150,000-a-year contract.

Mayor Pugh's communications consultant Gregory Tucker at City Hall.

Gregory Tucker, at far right, at City Hall earlier this year. (Mark Reutter)

Coming on board in the wake of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal (with federal prosecutors documenting how officers planted guns and stole from citizens) and unheated schools (with images going viral showing flooded classrooms and children huddled in winter coats at their desks), Tucker was charged with “changing the narrative.”

Tucker was at Pugh’s side for events and staff meetings, penning op-eds and steering messaging.

Yelling at a Squeegee Boy

The messaging campaign had mixed results. During the Tucker era, the mayor’s office produced “day in the life” videos, including the one that famously featured Pugh scolding a boy with squeegee.

Tucker first moved to the city in 1997 to be the head of communications for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Since then, he has found a place next to many of the city’s movers and shakers.

His LinkedIn page lists him as a member of the board of directors for the BSO and the Living Classrooms Foundation as well as a governor of the Center Club. Tucker said he left the BSO board last year.

As the former spokesman for Transamerica, he was a familiar voice to WYPR-FM radio listeners for his sponsored content segments that began “Glad to be back with you on Clear Path, your roadmap to health and wealth, brought to you by the Transamerica Institute.”

Tucker’s work for Pugh came to an end last spring shortly before she resigned amid the Healthy Holly scandal.

One of the last City Hall events Tucker coordinated was a bizarre press conference in which Pugh unveiled to reporters baby clothes that she said she had hoped to sell to promote healthy lifestyles.

Although Tucker was at Pugh’s final press conference, he asked for the record to show that he “had nothing to do with organizing” it.

“That,” he said via text, “was orchestrated by her attorney, which included featuring prototype baby clothes, against my better advice.” 

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