Now or Never Baltimore (Part 3)
The Schaefer Consensus
The governing consensus that emerged after William Donald Schaefer was elected mayor in 1971 was not designed to fulfill the 1960s promise of black and white integration. It was built instead upon a détente of separation and quiet suspicion. Black people and white people would not live together or send their kids to the same schools. The issue of race itself, of racial difference, and the obvious disparities between blacks and whites in Baltimore would be permanently taken off the table. The riots of ’68, having liquidated the enthusiasm for a city-wide integrationist agenda, would be buried forever under a combination of boosterism, downtown development, and urban renewal. These same things would also help cover over the shattering population decline, disappearance of jobs, regional isolation, and shrinking tax base that Schaefer’s four terms as mayor did little to slow.
The Schaefer Consensus would make it impossible to consider why the forces undermining the future of so many American cities — deindustrialization, globalization, etc. — posed such a special problem for Baltimore. Our city has always been different somehow, and since its population peak in 1950, and despite its once-firm position amongst the largest and greatest cities in the country, it has lived with a looming, almost permanent existential crisis. Where lesser cities, those that were a fraction of Baltimore’s size and relevance a hundred years ago, have charted a successful post-industrial course making use of all the assets Baltimore itself possesses, this city continues to be one whose potential seems to lie on an ever-receding horizon, even as it is so palpable to its residents.
What has always been special about Baltimore is black people, and the city’s response to having so many of them. The political consensus that would emerge during Schaefer’s time as mayor precluded consideration of the idea that what made Baltimore unique among similar cities was how it chose to address the fact that, by the mid-twentieth century, it had the highest proportion of blacks out of the country’s ten biggest cities. This population was treated not as a resource, or an opportunity, or as equals, but as a cancer. The efforts made to cut it out, the rounds of chemotherapy followed, and the resilience of the disease that was of course no disease at all is what makes Baltimore different than Boston. The city’s ever-present existential crisis has at its root the topic that the dominant political consensus made it impossible to discuss. That topic has been front-and-center since last April because that is when the Schaefer Consensus was destroyed.
After 1971 the city would bury, rather than face, the decades of choices that led to the ’68 riots, and the very success of the Schaefer Consensus in doing this is revealed in a new movement with an earnest, utterly common-sensical message — we matter. Locally, there is a deep irony to the Black Lives Matter movement, since after all, black life has not simply mattered to white people in Baltimore, it has been an abiding obsession since the days of Reconstruction. Where black people lived, where they worked, the pools they swam in, the places they socialized, where their children went to school. The obsession over all of it led to all the things we can’t stop talking about now but did not talk about at all before last April — racial zoning, redlining, racist policing, etc. We spent fifty years burying everything that was done in the name of that obsession, and now all of it has rushed to the surface. There was such desire to unearth these truths that an entire movement could take shape around nothing more than three words and a Twitter account (or so it sometimes seems). That desire was made all the more intense by the city’s continuing inability to acknowledge these truths even after Schaefer, when City Hall turned from white to black. City politics and policy had been de-racialized for so long that it was impossible to resurrect the true historical importance of race in Baltimore when Schaefer left the building. Last April’s revolt was against not just white racism but the political establishment that came after Schaefer that could do no better than he to make life better in a place like Sandtown-Winchester.
Race did matter to the Schaefer Consensus, although racial politics and racial justice did not. The post-1971 era was a vigorous restoration of the separation of the races characteristic of the pre-Civil Rights status quo, enforced by poverty and spatial isolation, not Jim Crow, and with an understood time-limit on white rule. Shifting demographics made black leadership of the city inevitable. Just before Schaefer was elected mayor in 1971, Baltimore elected the Westside’s Parren Mitchell in 1970 as Maryland’s first black Congressman. That same year the city also elected the first black State’s Attorney, Milton Allen. At the time, the Mitchell and Allen victories represented the final guarantee of black political participation in city politics, and confirmed the feeling, even before the city became majority black in 1974, that Schaefer’s successor would not be white.
What is remarkable about Schaefer’s political rule was just how long it held off the inevitability of black ascension to mayoral power, forestalling it far longer than any other city that turned majority black. In the absence of a truly charismatic, unifying figure, there was Schaefer, a man for a city scarred by the ’68 riots whose integrationist ambitions had been permanently humbled, to the extent they existed at all. Birthed from a personality that preternaturally eschewed the issue of race, Schaefer’s consensus would replace racial politics with neighborhood politics. Race in his Baltimore was merely a demographic fact, and as his three dominant re-elections would show, there was no room for racial politics pursued by black politicians, even if it was pursued to undo the racial politics of all the white mayors who had preceded Schaefer.
Three practical factors allowed Schaefer to hold on to power for so long after Baltimore became black. First, the influx of massive sums of federal money that he could spend in a strategic, politicized way. Second, and very much connected to the first, the decline of the political club and the political boss, and the rise of the community association, through which the federal dollars could be mediated, and through which voters and elected officials could be bought. Third, the perennial split in the black political community between progressives who pursued a racialized agenda, and accommodationists who would not. Unlike Newark or D.C. or Cleveland, there never came a wave of unified black support to deliver a singular black candidate to office. When city the elected its first black mayor in the 1980s, he had to beat another black candidate who was himself a representative of Schaefer.
Before the Schaefer Consensus could materialize, however, William Donald Schaefer had to win an election, and this was hardly guaranteed in 1971 when Young Tommy D’Alesandro, having suffered through the aftermath of the riots, announced he would not seek re-election as mayor. Schaefer had to chart a careful course against two black candidates, and do so in a way that secured overwhelming white support without alienating — and thus energizing — black voters.
Once Schaefer did this, he needed to neutralize the issue that helped to ruin D’Alesandro’s tenure — schools. He had to bring to a close the whole problem of school desegregation, and stop the school system from being the last forum in which the city’s racial disparities could play out.
The 1971 Election
These days any time two black candidates are in a race for political office people say it’s a “split election,” but that term used to refer to something more specific, witnessed in 1971 — a split between a moderate black candidate and a militant one. Arguably, the city hasn’t seen one since.
Four years earlier in 1967, Cleveland, Newark, and Gary, Indiana elected black mayors, and with a 46% black population by 1970 Baltimore felt on the verge of doing the same. The man that Mayor D’Alesandro had appointed as the first black City Solicitor was well-positioned to be that candidate. Though D’Alesandro would not formally announce he was stepping away from office, and politics, until April 1971, George Russell hosted a 3000-person fundraiser at the Civic Center in December 1970, at fifty dollars a person. Russell was unabashedly running as a moderate, a consensus candidate seeking to be not a black mayor but “a mayor for all the city” who would bring it together. He was not a voice of the Civil Rights Era at all, and his decision that a militant campaign could not succeed was not merely an electoral calculation but a reflection of his beliefs and personality. He surrounded himself with white advisors, including construction magnates like Francis Knott, Louis Grasmick and Jerome Cardin. George Mahoney was also involved in the campaign, he who had run for governor not long before that on a segregationist platform. Russell strategically distanced his campaign from the issue of school desegregation, favoring generic improvements to all schools to end inequality, and stayed away from the issue of housing discrimination.
In his bid to accommodate white voters Russell moved too far, both with his strategy and with his choice of James Lacy to run on his ticket for City Council President. There was hardly a guarantee that the relatively unknown Lacy, a member of the Fire Board, despite ties in Northeast Baltimore’s white Third District, could help Russell erode Schaefer’s white base in the Third, First, and Sixth. Had Russell chosen Second District councilman and white liberal Walter Orlinsky, at least this could have solidified Russell’s black support, as well as support from other white liberals. That choice could have also smoothed over tensions that arose in the city’s northwest in 1970, when Parren Mitchell ran and won his tough campaign for Congress against a Jewish incumbent.
Russell’s entire strategy ended up de-motivating black activists who had worked so hard to get Congressman Mitchell and State’s Attorney Allen elected in 1970, as well as Judge Joseph Howard elected in 1968. Mitchell himself would step into the breach that strategy created. After Russell and Schaefer announced their mayoral campaigns in April ’71, Mitchell announced he too would run for mayor that May. In response to Russell’s strategically inoffensive platform, Mitchell called Baltimore’s important decision makers “colonizers.” While both Schaefer and Russell were against busing as a method to desegregate the schools, Mitchell was in favor of it.
Schaefer needed only to avoid offending blacks, let Mitchell distract Russell, and bank on overwhelming white support. As the Evening Sun put it in August 1971, Schaefer was succeeding by “sidetracking other white aspirants” to the mayor’s office — including Housing Commissioner Bob Embry and Councilman Peter Angelos — while remaining “unmoved toward any positive gesture to enlist black confidence.” The election results bore this strategy out. Schaefer was able to consolidate white support and unify competing political clubs, more or less sidelining white liberals who might have rallied for an Embry or an Orlinsky. (Orlinsky would end up winning the Council President seat in the race on no ticket at all.) Those liberals also failed to rally for Russell, who was deserted by the whites who voted for Mitchell and Allen in 1970. And Russell’s message and strategy helped assure low black voter turnout, dooming his chances and helping Schaefer. Mitchell was essentially non-viable and was in no position to reverse that dynamic. Neither black candidate was endorsed by the influential black ministers of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.
Even though the almost half-black city was virtually split along racial lines — black precincts went 10–1 for Russell, and white precincts went 10–1 for Schaefer — it was not a close race.
From Club Politics to Community Associations
Schaefer was able to consolidate power once in office and secure far more support from the black establishment than the black electorate. He kept his opponent George Russell on as his City Solicitor, and got critical support on the City Council from key black members — Clarence “Du” Burns from Eastside’s Second District; Victorine Adams and Henry Parks from the Westside’s Fourth. The Fourth’s reps were themselves backed by power broker “Little Willie” Adams (Victorine’s husband), who funneled black representation onto various boards and commissions for Schaefer.
The glue that held this coalition together for Schaefer was not a political vision or even machine politics. It was federal cash. Schaefer would be the one to benefit from Mayor D’Alesandro’s efforts to secure help from President Johnson’s Great Society. Thanks to Housing Commissioner Robert Embry (whom Schaefer would get to inherit), money would begin to tumble in while Schaefer was campaigning to take D’Alesandro’s place: $18.6 million for the Upton neighborhood; another $5 million for Rosemont; $10.6 million for Oldtown urban renewal; $7.3 million for a senior citizen high rise on the footprint of the old North Avenue Market.
All this federal money would drastically restructure both the city budget and city politics. Schaefer and his team would chase federal grants and turn that funding from 4% of the city’s budget in 1967 to 39% in 1976, and 46% in 1978. Schaefer targeted three-quarters of this federal money to neighborhoods that were “poor,” which for the man who would not discuss race was a euphemism for neighborhoods that were black. And by doing this he solidified his relationships with black politicians, particularly Robert Douglass and “Du” Burns and their Eastside Democratic Organization, who among other largess would receive a $3.3 million grant to develop low-income housing.
All of this spending upended the very idea of boss-driven machine politics that is so much part of city political folklore, and not just in Baltimore. New York’s Tammany Hall is only the most famous of the machines that arose to connect masses of disenfranchised voters to jobs and patronage — usually new immigrants who could be told how make use of their newly acquired right to vote. Tammany provided political access to Irish Catholic immigrants, as did Boston’s Mayor Curley. Tom Pendergast in Kansas City and Boss Hague in Jersey City also got their start connecting immigrants to power. Baltimore itself had Sonny Mahan before it had Jack Pollack.
The original bosses were succeeded by men whose powers were limited by the growing size and power of government. The old-style boss could succeed in a world with no rules — little tax oversight, no campaign finance rules, no voter protection, no civil service regulations that might limit the handing out of government jobs to chums. The old boss could also be the friend of the neighborhood, delivering wealth and goods before there was such a thing as welfare or social services. When Jack Pollack emerged in Baltimore to connect another disenfranchised group to power — the Jews of the Northwest, starting in the late 1930s — government had already begun to take the shape of the regulatory welfare state we now know. The game of being boss now had rules, making Pollack a relative technocrat compared to his predecessors. His Trenton Democratic Club acquired power by knowing and gaming government regulations (zoning, licensing, etc.) and those who administered them. After Pollack, black bosses — Willie Adams in particular — emerged to do for black Baltimore what Pollack had done for the Jews. Men like Adams, Pollack, and Adam’s contemporary and partner Irv Kovens would all take on the intrigue of the old-style boss, the back-room Robin Hood, but each operated in a regulated universe and in the shadow of an increasingly powerful government bureaucracy. And each would have legal troubles to show for it.
Baltimore became one of the major beneficiaries of the exponential growth of the federal government and federal spending during Johnson’s War on Poverty, and Schaefer would use this to take the evolution of the political boss to the next logical step. From underworld boss, to club boss, to extinction. Schaefer and his team in the Department of Housing and Community Development had the machine of government itself to grow and use local neighborhood associations and establish an unmediated connection to neighborhoods and voters. In fact, it was federal antipoverty dollars such as those from Johnson’ Model Cities Program that helps finance the creation of such organizations. These groups would receive and manage small renewal projects, and on the larger projects, would have a say over which buildings were demolished and which were preserved.
The rise of the neighborhood association as the fundamental unit of governance was a natural fit for a parochial politician like Schaefer. The import of the millions in federal dollars the city would receive was that it get spent, somewhere, now, with sufficient buy-in from the relevant neighborhoods — not that it happen connected to any larger strategy. That someone with the neighborhood group have responsibility for knitting curtains for the local recreation center was far more important — because it was far more attainable — than having a plan to improve schools, save jobs, or build transit. The federal government wasn’t paying for these things anyway, at least not as much as they were willing to pay for urban renewal and highways.
Nothing demonstrates the degree to which it was not neighborhoods, but federal funding, that drove local policy, better than the catastrophe known as “The Highway to Nowhere.” By the time ground broke on this 1.4 mile-long highway in 1975, the 22-mile network of highways of which it was to be a part was already in trouble because of federal environmental regulations and organized opposition in Canton and Fells Point. Years before, in 1966, the City Council had approved an ordinance condemning the Westside’s Franklin-Mulberry corridor between Myrtle and Pulaski Streets. Years before that, the neighborhood had been targeted by the city’s 1944 highway plan, developed by the infamous New York planner Robert Moses. From that point on the neighborhood existed under an ever-present threat of destruction-by-road. That pre-history, and the weakened and destabilized neighborhood it created, made it a little easier to carry out the $8 million worth of land acquisition and demolition of 971 homes and 62 businesses after the 1966 condemnation ordinance. It also made it cheaper, since the fair market value the city offered for the structures in the corridor was depressed by the looming highway plans, and depressed further because the city had ceased issuing construction and repair permits to homeowners in the footprint who wanted to make improvements of their homes.
The Highway to Nowhere would get built even though the reason for doing so was its connection to the larger highway network that was thrown into doubt by litigation in 1972, although unfortunately by that point the neighborhood around the Franklin-Mulberry corridor was a haunted village devoid of all but a handful of holdouts. That corridor was supposed to connect to the city’s western border with the highway continuing straight through Leakin Park. A federal court would eventually put a stop to that on environmental grounds. But before that, despite the unclear future of the network itself, the same federal court held in June 1973 that the environmental review of the Franklin-Mulberry segment had been sufficient, and could proceed. Schaefer sent bulldozers to work immediately. (The day after the ruling Councilwoman Barbara Mikulski hosted a 12-hour hearing on a raft of bills meant to stop the highway plans, but only 4 of the Council’s 18 members would vote with her.) Schaefer’s urgent push forward was about money. If construction on the Franklin-Mulberry corridor did not begin by July 1973, the city would lose $7 million in promised federal funding, meant to cover 90% of the cost of demolishing the homes and businesses in the corridor. And the city had already received the first five million dollars of that money.
The promise of 90% funding from the federal government for highway construction — which would, like all other types of federal funding, slowly dry up over the course of Schaefer’s mayoralty — proved so irresistible that Schaefer would continue to pursue the madness that was the rest of this network for almost another decade. The city under Schaefer never built the snarl of highways, not because they would have obliterated the very harbor neighborhoods that Schaefer is credited for having renewed with the Harborplace development, but because the federal government would no longer pay for it. The irrationality of pursuing the highways across a waterfront that city-sponsored downtown development was trying to rejuvenate didn’t prevent these plans from being part of the city’s capital program well into the 1980s. It wasn’t strategy, it was money, and the city’s willingness to build or demolish anything provided there were federal or other outside funds to do it.
The mayor of neighborhoods didn’t put an end to the proposed Interstate across Fells Point and Canton until that money dried up, and not before other neighborhoods were destroyed — not just in the Franklin-Mulberry corridor, but also the historically black Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood where the I-395 connection to I-95 was built.
In the absence of a countervailing political power, a machine boss or influential elected official other than Schaefer himself, what was left to contend with multi-million dollar, federally funded highway and urban renewal plans were far weaker community groups and improvement associations, groups that were designed as much to organize around that spending as they were to object to it on the grounds of some alternative vision, and who could be easily managed (or steamrolled) by a powerful mayor with money.
The Last Obstacle: Schools
Schaefer had control of city government, and of the City Council via proxies like Councilman Burns, and he had that federal money to spend throughout the city. But what he had no control over, at least during the early years of his administration, was the schools, and these were the site of intense racial conflict thanks to battles over school desegregation, once lead by Mayor D’Alesandro and left spinning out of control since he left office. The school system was an open sore that threatened the prospects of a new, post-Civil Rights consensus. While the 1975 election would turn out to be Schaefer’s coronation, it was preceded by a chaotic 1974, when the teachers went on strike, the school board’s white members tried to fire the black superintendent, and the schools were threatened with the loss of millions in federal funding because of the failure to desegregate.
From Brown v Board until Schaefer’s election in 1971 the once-staid city school system had been slowing heating to a boil. The city takes great pride in having complied with the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling immediately, at least in principle, by ceasing to take race into account in student enrollment. But bureaucratic race-blindness did not do much to overcome the high walls built over decades of intentional separation of the races. In 1954 all students in the city were given the right to choose their school, but practically speaking this gave white kids the right to choose a black school in horrible condition, far away from where they lived, and black kids the right to choose a well-resourced white school, which was already fully-subscribed and likely not too interested in welcoming them.
The suggestion that the city schools desegregated easily with a race-neutral policy change understates the quiet cataclysm it wrought. In 1954, the system was 60 percent white and 40 percent black. A short six years later, in 1960, the district was mostly black. White flight from the system was the direct result of black people taking seriously the system’s voluntary approach to desegregation through “open enrollment.” In 1954, the first year they had the chance, over fifteen hundred black students chose different schools, while only 6 white students did. In 1961, almost thirty-two thousand black students chose a different school, compared to 86 whites. The composition of many schools changed radically as a result. Clifton Park Junior High School had 2,023 whites and 34 blacks just after desegregation; 10 years later it had 2,037 blacks and 12 whites. In the same period, Garrison Junior High School in Northwest Baltimore went from 2,504 whites and 12 blacks to 297 whites and 1,263 blacks.
Compared to the previous decades of leadership continuity, the 60s were littered with short-time superintendents and plans to meaningfully desegregate that did not succeed. Three out-of-town reformists — George Brain from Washington State, Lawrence Paquin from Connecticut, and Thomas Sheldon from Long Island, N.Y., who would be the city’s last white superintendent — were unable to modernize the system or successfully navigate the period of racial polarization and upheaval. Paquin served while integrationist Ted McKeldin was mayor, whose Task Force for Equal Rights called for busing and “pairing” of white and black schools to undo segregation, as well as magnet schools and regional educational parks along the city boundaries to foster regional integration. But Paquin died before any of this got off the ground. The Supreme Court then effectively invalidated the school system’s voluntary approach to desegregation as unconstitutional, because race neutral open enrollment did not actually lead to integrated schools. When George Russell — Mayor D’Alesandro’s City Solicitor before he was Schaefer’s opponent in ’71 — issued an opinion declaring that the school system’s current desegregation plan was unconstitutional, it was ignored or avoided by the mayor, the school board and the Superintendent at the time, Sheldon. Council President Schaefer rejected the opinion altogether.
Most of the 1960s were tame compared to what would come after 1968, and compared to what Schaefer would be left with — in particular, the system’s first black Superintendent, whom Schaefer could not abide. A virtual stalemate had taken hold on the issue of desegregation after the riots, and before the 1971 mayoral election, amidst divisions between white and black school board members over how to best desegregate, Superintendent Thomas Sheldon resigned. Mayor D’Alesandro then appointed Roland Patterson, the first black person to hold the job, who would soon enough find himself beset on all sides — by an unfriendly new Mayor Schaefer who was unwilling to add funds to the schools and with whom he would repeatedly clash, a contentious school board, and mandates from federal bureaucrats to desegregate an increasingly black school system.
Schaefer’s problem with Patterson, in addition to his eventually becoming most popular among the city’s black poor, and in addition to his willingness to meet with ‘militant’ black leaders, was Patterson’s assertion of control over the schools. His goal was to decentralize power within the school system and diversify its leadership. Not only did his elevation of black administrators antagonize white executives, Patterson’s assertion of control over the school bureaucracy and attempts to disperse it threatened Schaefer’s ability to use it as previous mayors had — as a place for patronage appointments. Schaefer ally “Du” Burns, for example, the Second District Councilmember who would go on to become the city’s first black mayor, started out as a locker room attendant at Dunbar High School thanks to City Hall connections. Patterson, another out-of-towner superintendent who believed he was brought in to integrate and reform the schools, underestimated how politics would undermine those goals.
Patterson had made no progress past the stalemate he inherited in 1971, and in 1973 the federal government finally told Baltimore that it was not doing enough to integrate its schools. Patterson’s response reveals that he was in no position to carry out a plan of meaningful integration, and his fear that attempts to do so would accelerate white flight. He explained that the city seemed “to be moving toward an almost totally black system” and that school board and school staff “have grave feelings that mandatory movements of pupils will hasten the progress of the flight of whites from the city, thereby increasing the socio-economic problems that now beset the city.” Patterson sought to pursue a program that “will halt the relentless pattern of population change from white to black,” and as proof of those changes, pointed out that City College was all-white in 1953, and 97% black in 1972.
Federal authorities had leverage over the city schools, and its first black administrator, that it had lacked while desegregation efforts languished in the 60s — and that leverage was money. City schools were strapped for cash, and federal aid to schools that began in the 60s became a larger and larger share of school funding, totaling 11% of the budget by the ’71-’72 school year. The federal government — through the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) — would demand that Patterson pursue desegregation further, and the Superintendent had little choice but to do so. The schools could comply with HEW’s demand to desegregate or lose millions of dollars.
Exacerbating the crisis was a teacher strike at the beginning of 1974, precipitated by inadequate pay and deplorable working conditions, and adding a new dimension to the system’s racial conflict. Schaefer did not want to give in to pay increase demands for fear that these could only be paid for with a property tax increase, which would push more of the middle class to the surrounding counties. But Schaefer’s refusal to deal with the teachers, whose strike won little despite effectively closing the schools for two months, made it appear as though he was choosing the white middle class over a school system that had long become mostly black. And ultimately the strike, coupled with the desegregation fight, lead thousands of whites to flee the system anyway in 1974 and 1975.
After the strike had fizzled, and in response to HEW’s demands, Patterson created a task force to develop a plan nobody wanted or would defend, under which elementary and middle school children would attend nearby schools, but the schools themselves would be paired or clustered so that attendance across the grouped schools could be racially mixed. This plan, and each subsequent revision, caused an uproar, and faced particularly fierce resistance in southeast Baltimore, with protests lead by City Councilwoman Barbara Mikulski. The federal government said the plan did not go far enough. Mayor Schaefer attacked the plan as going too far, and openly supported protestors in Canton who unilaterally sent their children to the same local schools they always had, in violation of the plan (but to which the system would eventually acquiesce).
By August of the same tumultuous 1974, the schools weren’t ready to open for the new school year and the five white members of the school board arranged to vote Superintendent Patterson out. But they made the mistake of mentioning the plan to several black board members. Hundreds of Patterson’s supporters turned up for the meeting at which he was to be fired. One of the more vocal black members of the board went nose-to-nose at the meeting with board president John Walton, and Congressman Mitchell, present that night to defend Patterson, said “never have I seen the racist scum come through as tonight.” The meeting ended with no one certain whether a vote to ouster Patterson had even taken place.
He survived the coup attempt but the end of Patterson’s run as Superintendent, and of Baltimore’s failed effort to desegregate its schools, was in sight. During late 1974 and early 1975, desegregation plans would be rolled out to further outrage, then watered down. None was ever implemented. Schaefer engineered the resignation of Patterson in the summer of 1975 by appointing a majority of school board members who were accountable to him, and who were black. The board would appoint, with Schaefer’s blessing, John Crew as Patterson’s successor, an African American and long-time system insider. Schaefer then sponsored a lawsuit against HEW to enjoin further civil rights enforcement against the city, in 1976. These moves, the leadership change and the lawsuit, effectively brought to an end of the desegregation of city schools via a court sponsored stalemate between the city and the federal government.
But Schaefer had done more than just end desegregation, he bought peace with a political deal that allowed blacks to consolidate control of the school system. He would stay away from the system so long as school leadership understood that its expenses had to be controlled for the sake of controlling the property tax, and was assured a continued source of patronage appointments for his black supporters, who would win jobs as administrators, principals, secretaries, aides and janitors. This deal helped anchor Schaefer’s consensus, and ended racial conflict not through mediation between both sides, but with one side being given the keys to the decrepit kingdom while the other was allowed to evacuate to the County, or to the private or parochial schools. Whatever hope of a multiracial school system still existing by 1975 was extinguished, and the systemic wrongs done to black people in the context of city schools would have to be addressed with the limited fiscal and political support that Schaefer’s political consensus would be willing to provide.
If there were murmurs of opposition to Schaefer heard as Roland Patterson was being shown the door that summer, these would soon be proved impotent by the end of election season ’75. Schaefer had effectively saved the whites who still sent their kids to public schools from the specter of desegregation and busing, and black leadership was deeply divided between those willing to play ball with Schaefer to secure their piece of the pie and the increasingly hopeless voice of a specifically black agenda.
Black pride was the explicit motivation for Congressman Parren Mitchell’s entrance into the race for mayor again in May 1975, but it was hardly a rallying cry. He said a black city — and Baltimore was majority-black by this point — needed black leadership. Schaefer was “ignoring blacks,” and he engineered the firing of Patterson as the head of schools “simply because he’s black.” But the appeal fell on largely deaf ears. It wasn’t simply that fellow black pols like the Eastside’s Councilman “Du” Burns, or the Westside’s Willie Adams and his Councilwoman wife Victorine, declined join him in this charge. (Adam’s main competition, Verna Welcome and her Fourth District Organization, wouldn’t either.) Burns in particular hoped Mitchell would split the black electorate, and expected the demand for black self-determination to play “right into our hands,” with Schaefer forced to further solidify his alliance with Burns’ Eastside Democratic Organization. Burns ended up getting what he wanted in the form of the patronage that Schaefer would always deny was what it seemed. Burns and his colleague Councilman Nathan Irby secured for their Second District half of the city’s federally funded Youth Corps summer jobs in July 1975, and were able to funnel 500 such jobs to their local community groups. An unnamed Second District representative would double down on this parochialism after the that year’s election, saying that if blacks in other districts want representation, “let them demonstrate it by getting out and voting. I’m not going to stick my neck out for them.”
Many suspected that Mitchell declared for mayor simply to force Schaefer to put a black candidate on his city-wide ticket, perhaps James Griffin for Council President, or the east side’s John W. Douglass for Comptroller. But this totally backfired. Not only did Schaefer refuse to entertain a discussion about who he might put on his ticket, Mitchell’s star-power kept anyone else with the hubris to run against Schaefer out of the race. Mitchell dropped out by July of ’75, having gotten no concessions regarding Schaefer’s ticket. In fact, the shambled state of black politics in 1975 was presaged in the 1974 race for State’s Attorney, when none other than Jack Pollack, by that point a relic from another age, sponsored the run of white conservative William Swisher against the first black State’s Attorney, Milton Allen, and won.
The variety of other forces that might have coalesced against Schaefer — for example, east-siders lead by Barbara Mikulski against the highway planned for Fells Point, the municipal labor unions whose strike in 1974 was effectively beaten in court by Schaefer — all came to support him as, in the words of the Sun editorial board, a “dogged laborer” on behalf of the city. Upon winning Schaefer declared, “the City is alive. Baltimore is getting better every day.”
In 1979, Schaefer’s control was so thorough that no candidate sought to challenge the neutered Council President Orlinsky or Comptroller Pressman, and there were few challengers to City Council incumbents, whose reelection Schaefer supported with $1.8 million in spending in their districts. Schaefer himself faced only the completely unknown that year. Jack Pollack’s son would observe about turnout that year, “I’ve never seen it this low.” Upon winning, Schaefer would continue with his small-ball approach, framing the key question of his administration as, “would you like to live here?” If the answer in any neighborhood was a no, it meant more effort would be required. But this meant things like better rodent control.
The Sun, opining delicately like a king’s courtier, wrote that Schaefer “made us feel good about the city” but they hoped he might express more concern for the poor and other victims of “national economic trends.” They noted that the Council President “has been isolated and rendered impotent. Comptroller Pressman has been reduced to a waning shadow of his once-assertive independence. The City Council has relinquished any semblance of being the balancing arm of city government. The once-acclaimed creative partnership between City Hall and the Greater Baltimore Partnership has sadly deteriorated.” The editors gently suggested that the mayor could be petulant and defensive without coming anywhere near saying such words, and finally stated that the city “cannot sustain itself on one man’s will.”
The once-influential coalition of black pastors, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, was left to endorse unemployed community organizer Clarence Davis as a kind of protest candidate, against not just Schaefer — who “has not met the needs and hurts of the community” — but against the major black political organizations. The IMA refused to endorse the Second District candidates sponsored by Burns or the Fourth District candidates sponsored by Adams, and its leader Reverend Wendell Phillips declared that year to be a showdown between the churches and the clubs over who controlled the black community. There was little doubt about the answer after the ’79 elections — neither. What was unthinkable after the historic elections of 1968 and 1970, the absence of a single black person in city-wide office, seemed inevitable by 1979. And most of city government’s boards and commissions had white majorities. The black establishment had very little in the way of control outside of the school system, although those who played ball with Schaefer could exchange control for patronage. It was no surprise that 9 of the city’s 14 mid-rise and high-rise developments for senior citizens were in Councilmen Burns’ and Irby’s Second District.
The 1979 election did produce new black leadership, not from Willie Adams organization, whose main progeny was Frank Conaway, Sr., but from Verna Welcome’s Fourth District Organization, which birthed two future giants, Kwesi Mfume and Howard “Pete” Rawlings.
But even 1983 could not produce a viable black mayoral candidate. Lawyer and judge Billy Murphy, whose family ran the Afro-American, ran a doomed campaign against Schaefer that year. Parren Mitchell chaired his campaign but Murphy could not rally substantial numbers of black voters, and the black establishment did not coalesce around him. In fact George Mitchell, Schaefer’s challenger in 1971 and the first black City Solicitor appointed in 1967, organized a group of black professionals against Murphy and on behalf of Schaefer.
From the 1983 election did emerge one Kurt Schmoke. Shortly thereafter the transition to a black mayor would begin, although it remained to be seen whether it would be the new State’s Attorney.
After pleading against the critics in the 1983 race that “we’ve got a great city . . . It’s not rotted at its core, it’s strong. It’s a good city,” Schaefer would begrudgingly acknowledge that he could no longer be the man to lead it. There finally seemed to be a black leader on the horizon who could become mayor. Kurt Schmoke, at the same time Schaefer was beating Billy Murphy for mayor, won his own race for State’s Attorney with overwhelming support, becoming only the second political candidate in the city to ever win over 100,000 votes.
Schaefer knew that demographics, and Schmoke’s predicted ability to consolidate black political support, likely made it impossible for the four-term mayor to win re-election again, but Schaefer would still leave his indelible mark behind, and the Schaefer Consensus itself would remain in place. The mayor ran for and won the governor’s office in 1986, and his long-time Eastside ally, Clarence “Du” Burns, automatically ascended to mayor as the sitting City Council President. It would be Burns who would challenge Schmoke in ’87. Baltimore would get its black mayor, but not because the shared hopes of black people, together with liberal whites, were able to crowd out regressive competitors and deliver a unifying political figure to office. Schmoke, in fact, would almost lose the 1987 race, and probably would have lost the election had it lasted one week longer. The dreams that the Schmoke campaign embodied were held in check by Burns’ Eastside machine, the Schaefer imprimatur, and the overwhelming support of whites who were more comfortable with an accommodationist and a known quantity than they were with a young Rhodes scholar who was from Baltimore but didn’t quite feel like he was from the neighborhood.
Before the Schmoke-Burns race even started, the preparation would begin for the transition from white leadership to black. Just as Schaefer had done with the school system years earlier, the remainder of city government would also be handed-off to the black establishment that had finally arrived. This would continue the city’s racial separation, and the Schaefer Consensus. Whites would slowly leave city government the way they had left the school system, and some of those that did not leave the city itself would occupy new positions of influence as boosters, advisors, and funders of a black-run city government. Over time the Schaefer Consensus without Schaefer would evolve into the sophisticated balance of power familiar to us today. It is an ecosystem — although it is almost crass to say so, however obvious the facts are — in which blacks have the government bureaucracies and the churches, and whites have the business community and the foundations.
The key artifact of the transition to a post-Schaefer city and the continuation of the Schaefer Consensus was “Baltimore 2000,” a report funded by the Goldseker Foundation intended to establish a framework for governance for the new mayor before one had been chosen. It was not an idle reflection on the state of the city, but a description the situation the new black mayor would inherit, and an unambiguous offer of assistance from the business and foundation community that hoped to forge “an agreement on a sharply limited set of fundamental goals for the city, and then on the concrete measures most likely to achieve those goals.” A shared agenda was essential, as it simply would not do to have “a private economic development agenda pursued by the business community while the black community committed itself to a competing program of greatly enlarged public services.”
This was the critical thing: “A black mayor must be embraced by the business community. That means the main lines of an agenda have to be worked out beforehand.”
“There is rot beneath the glitter” of downtown development, the report warned, and the new black mayor would inherit an urgent need for a new civic agenda. The report reiterates that familiar feeling that Baltimore is uniquely imperiled by forces affecting every older eastern city — “few had been so sharply affected” — with challenges more akin to existential threats , such as “a breakdown in relations between business and government, the failure or out-migration of several major employers, serious racial strife.”
The report leaves the impression that many of the people of influence quoted in it had been sidelined by Schaefer, and that they expected to have more influence from the sidelines after the black establishment took over City Hall. It also confirms the sense that a certain parochialism and petulance of Schaefer’s tenure left no room for private sector resources and good will to play any part battling back disturbing trends. One does wonder what everyone was up to for the “twenty five years” preceding the report, during which “Baltimore has lost a fifth of its population, more than half its white population, and a hard to enumerate but very large proportion of its middle class, white and black. It has lost more than ten percent of its jobs since 1970, and those that remain are increasingly held by commuters. By 1985, the city’s median household income was just over half that of the surrounding counties, and the needs of its poor for services were far more than the city’s eroded tax base could support.” Some 150,000 people, most of them white and middle class, left the city during Schaefer’s time in office; in Schaefer’s last six years as mayor, the city suffered a net loss of 7,700 jobs.
Black leadership would finally get City Hall, but with it they would get a school system in serious crisis, a jurisdiction whose taxable wealth compared to every county in the region had plummeted between 1970 and 1980, and the evaporation of the federal cash that bankrolled Schaefer’s dominance and shored up the erosion of the tax base over which he presided. In 1960, local tax revenues were able to pay for three-quarters of government operations. By 1980, it was less than half. Then federal funding was slashed during the Reagan era, and by 1985 federal support to the city had dropped over 60%.
The sad irony of the Baltimore 2000 report is that prepared for the ascension of a black mayor to preside over a majority black city where the hopes of black success, twenty years of white leadership after the ‘68 riots, were increasingly in doubt. And, when the resources to change the city’s course were disappearing.
The report could easily see how the city’s strengths could be built upon, but had no sure answers for its deeper challenges. It was easy to imagine then, as now, how a combination of philanthropic support of cultural institutions, strong higher education, and relatively low cost of living could make Baltimore attractive “for middle- and upper-income persons to live.” But if nothing changed regarding the city’s direction, “The center would contain a business, cultural and entertainment center that remained strong because it served the whole metropolitan area, and attractive housing for the well-to-do. The center would be ringed by the decaying and much more populous neighborhoods of the poor and dependent, very largely black. These, in turn, would be surrounded by middle and upper income suburbs, very largely white.”
Much would be expected of the new black mayor. Too much.
To be continued…