Rioting and looting were spreading in Baltimore, and Gov. Larry Hogan was growing more distressed by the moment. He telephoned the aide he had dispatched as his liaison to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
“You have the mayor?” Hogan asked.
The aide was at an Emergency Operations Center near City Hall, where Rawlings-Blake had told him she was headed. But she had stopped at police headquarters for a briefing on the escalating violence and the logistics of imposing a curfew and calling in the National Guard.
Hogan’s aide, Keiffer J. Mitchell, couldn’t reach Rawlings-Blake for 90 minutes. He told the governor that he might have to unilaterally declare a state of emergency and summon the National Guard, a decision Hogan did not want to make without the mayor’s consent.
“You’re going to have to make the call,” Mitchell said.
As Baltimore was consumed with its worst outburst of unrest since 1968, Hogan, a white Republican, and Rawlings-Blake, a black Democrat, found themselves forced into an unlikely partnership.
With the city unraveling, frustration between the two leaders was building, according to interviews with advisers from both sides.
The governor felt the mayor was uncommunicative and slow to act. Rawlings-Blake bristled over Hogan’s gibes, which she saw as evidence of his inexperience as a recently elected governor.
The tension between them was exacerbated by their differing approaches: Hogan hoped to defer to the mayor, mindful of how it would appear if he swept into Baltimore without her invitation. But he also was concerned about widespread mayhem and eager to send in the National Guard — if that was the quickest way to quell it.
Rawlings-Blake, for her part, was trying to calculate the least incendiary way to restore order and ensure that her administration was prepared.
The day before the riots had been peaceful, and the mayor was concerned that calling in troops could “potentially amp things up.” Although city leaders expected high school students to protest that afternoon, she said, she did not think an “appropriate response” would have been “the National Guard with machine guns and riot gear waiting for the kids outside school.”
“It could have been a much different scene had that happened,” Rawlings-Blake said Friday. “And it wouldn’t have been pretty.”
At the same time, the capacity of the governor and the mayor to partner was undermined by apparent miscues. Mitchell thought he’d be alongside the mayor as the crisis unfolded, ensuring easy communication. Rawlings-Blake never told him that she was going to police headquarters before joining him.
And while the governor himself was able to reach Rawlings-Blake by phone at one point, he then left it to Mitchell to act as the conduit. But Mitchell said there was a long stretch during which the mayor did not answer his calls.
Had the governor directly called Rawlings-Blake, said her spokesman, Kevin Harris, the mayor would have answered. Yet the mayor knew that Mitchell was “a direct representative of the governor” whose role “was to ensure lines of communication were open,” said Doug Mayer, the governor’s spokesman.
Although a sense of alarm pervaded the city as rioting spread, many city leaders stuck to their schedules. Rawlings-Blake kept a planned meeting with a dozen youth leaders and their parents, even as she ducked out to confer with advisers about the crisis. The City Council held its regularly scheduled session.
Hogan was on his way to an appearance in Washington but turned back toward Annapolis once he heard that there might be disturbances at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore. From 3:30 p.m. into the evening, Hogan remained at the State House, consulting with Cabinet members and watching the unrest intensify on a bank of television monitors.
Rawlings-Blake moved between City Hall, police headquarters and a downtown Emergency Operations Center, remaining out of public view as afternoon turned into night. The mayor said her priority was conferring with police commanders about the growing unrest as well as aides and legal advisers about the mechanics of deploying the Guard and imposing a curfew.
Until she mastered those details, the mayor said, she was not prepared to issue a public statement, even as elected leaders and television news anchors were questioning why she was not visible.
“When you have a situation like this,” Rawlings-Blake said, “whether I talk to people at 3:05 or 7:05, I didn’t want to give incomplete information or take my attention off the work that was being done to bring calm and peace to the city.”
When she did hold a news conference, at 8 p.m., the first question Rawlings-Blake faced was about her having “waited five hours, all day, before your first announcement about what’s going on inside your city.”
“We’ve been managing the situation,” Rawlings-Blake replied.
That morning, the mayor had joined hundreds of mourners at the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man whose death after police arrested him triggered protests and days of tension in the city.
Gray’s family had issued a public plea for no demonstrations on that day. But Baltimore leaders, including Rawlings-Blake, became increasingly concerned about looming unrest.
At 2:30 p.m., Drew Vetter, director of legislative affairs for the Baltimore police, e-mailed members of the City Council and state legislators representing the city about a “credible gang threat against officers” and “possible violent activity” at Mondawmin Mall and downtown.
After 3 p.m., Gregory E. Thornton, Baltimore’s schools chief, headed for the mall, only to be turned back by police who were blocking the streets. Thornton went to City Hall and told the mayor what he had seen.
Rawlings-Blake was receiving a number of calls about Mondawmin, including one from her adviser, Gus Augustus Jr., who was at the mall. He told her of escalating violence and police officers being injured. At one point, Augustus became alarmed that police in paramilitary uniforms had arrived with what appeared to be rifles, said Larry Young, a Baltimore radio host and a former member of the Maryland Senate, who was with him. Augustus was afraid that the police “would fire at the kids,” Young said. “They showed up with those guns, and Gus said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ And he started trying to reach City Hall.”
By then, Mitchell had arrived at City Hall, having been ordered by Hogan to “be where the mayor is.” A former Baltimore City Council member who lives a mile from Mondawmin, Mitchell has known Rawlings-Blake since middle school. His uncle, as a state senator, had shown then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew around Baltimore after the riots that followed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. That was the last time the National Guard had been called in.
“The governor asked me to be down here, and anything you need, I’m here at your disposal,” Mitchell told Rawlings-Blake. He promised to be “wherever you need me to be.”
“Great,” Rawlings-Blake replied. Then one of her advisers suggested that Mitchell meet the mayor at the Emergency Operations Center, which was to open at 5 p.m. a few blocks from City Hall.
About that time, the governor instructed an aide to call the mayor, who answered. Hogan asked for a crisis update, an aide recalled, and told her: “We are ready to go — give us the word.”
The mayor, according to one of her advisers, said she’d be in touch.
Hogan’s team had already drafted two executive orders, both of which would have allowed him to dispatch the National Guard. One draft stated that the command was executed at the request of the mayor.
The other draft made no mention of the mayor, in case she didn’t agree.
Just after 5 p.m., Hogan called Mitchell at the Emergency Operations Center, asking whether he was with the mayor.
“She’s meeting me here,” Mitchell replied. “As soon as she gets here, I’ll put her on.”
Mitchell dialed Rawlings-Blake, hoping to tell her that the governor was looking for her. She did not answer.
Hogan called Mitchell again.
“Is she there yet?” he asked.
Mitchell said no, and the governor soon called a third time, his concern evident in his voice.
Mitchell told Hogan that he might have to declare a state of emergency without Rawlings-Blake’s cooperation.
At City Hall, Council President Bernard “Jack” Young was winding down a council meeting, during which he pleaded for an end to the violence, invoking the 1968 riots that tore up the city. “The whole world is watching Baltimore,” Young said from the council rostrum, “and it’s a crying shame.”
At 5:45 p.m., Young texted the mayor: “What’s the plan for stopping the looting and destruction?”
“I can update you after the next briefing,” the mayor replied. She was at the police department’s command center with eight advisers, including Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
It was around that time, her spokesman later said, that the mayor concluded that the police department could no longer manage the violence and looting, which had spread beyond Mondawmin to other sites across the city, including the historic Lexington Market.
At 6:30 p.m., Rawlings-Blake called the governor. Now was the time to declare a state of emergency. Moments after they hung up, Hogan signed the order, and the National Guard was on its way.
About 6:45 p.m., the mayor traveled from police headquarters to the Emergency Operations Center, where her cabinet was waiting, as were Mitchell and several City Council members.
Even though the troops had been activated, the mayor waited an additional 75 minutes to inform the public. The best way to make residents feel secure, she believed, was to appear with a plan already in place that would ensure no more violence.
At 8 p.m., she stood before a line of television cameras, announcing the curfew and the impending arrival of the Guard.
A short time later, the governor held his own news conference, during which he said his team had been “trying to get in touch with the mayor for quite some time.”
“She finally made that call, and we immediately took action,” he said.
The mayor, when told of Hogan’s remarks, “was pissed off, because she viewed it as the governor politicizing this,” said Harris, her spokesman, adding that the two leaders had talked more than once that afternoon.
“She thought it was a rookie move. And you can quote me on that.”
A few hours later, as the clock ticked toward midnight, the mayor and governor stood side by side, assuring the country in a televised interview that Baltimore was under control.
John Wagner contributed to this report.