Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday sought to take command of the simmering aftermath of Baltimore’s riots, planting himself in the city and vowing that National Guard troops and police would not tolerate any more chaos.
Yet the governor’s capacity to control a freewheeling crisis remained tenuous, as people threw rocks and bottles and police in riot gear braced for confrontations past a 10 p.m. emergency curfew.
The hostility directed at both the police and the state’s political establishment also ensnared Martin O’Malley, the former governor and potential presidential contender. As he toured the city, O’Malley (D) was heckled over the zero-tolerance police strategy he imposed when he was Baltimore’s mayor.
Facing his first high-profile test as governor, Hogan, a white Republican, found himself navigating complex political terrain with Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, an African American Democrat presiding over a majority-black city.
The crisis underscored the tension between their diverging responses to the chaos, a difference that first flared Monday and continued Tuesday. While the governor expressed eagerness to send in troops, he needed consent from the mayor, who sought a “balanced response.”
Both leaders also appeared to understand the need to join forces and keep their conflict from undermining their response to the riots. Hogan at first raised questions Monday about the mayor’s approach, then played down their differences by praising her. But on Tuesday, he reverted to shifting responsibility to Rawlings-Blake when reporters asked why he did not summon National Guard troops sooner and why police did not respond more quickly to Monday’s looting.
“We deferred to the mayor and the police chief,” Hogan said as he toured the damage to Mondawmin Mall, among the places looters had stormed.
Later, he said: “We did quite a bit. But we waited until the mayor asked us to come in. We didn’t think it was appropriate to come in and take over the city without the request.”
At another point, the governor invoked Rawlings-Blake when reporters asked whether there had been concern that calling in the National Guard would prompt the type of clashes that flared between police and demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo.
“Those are questions you should probably discuss with the mayor,” Hogan said. “I didn’t have discussions with her about Ferguson or why she was holding back.”
Rawlings-Blake was forced to play multiple roles overseeing the city’s police force while showing empathy for residents infuriated by the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured while in police custody.
On Tuesday, the mayor repeated her defense of her administration’s handling of the rioting. “We responded quickly to a very difficult situation,” the mayor said. “There is a delicate balancing act to respond but not over-respond.”
After touring riot-scarred pockets that volunteers had helped clean up, the mayor suggested that the city was on the mend. “We saw people coming to reclaim our city,” she said. “This can be our defining moment and not the darkest days that we saw yesterday.”
At Bethel AME Church in West Baltimore, where the mayor met with members of the clergy, a participant took issue with her having referred to the rioters as “thugs” on Monday.
“There are no thugs in Baltimore,” the mayor said. “Sometimes my own little anger translator gets the best of me. . . . They’re going to regret what they’ve done, but it’s not too late.”
The mayor became tearful as she recounted struggling to answer a young girl who asked why her neighborhood had been destroyed. “It breaks my heart,” the mayor said, adding, “We will recover.”
As Hogan and Rawlings-Blake answered questions about their response to the crisis, Baltimore police commanders said their plan had been to confine and disperse rioters, even as it appeared that officers were allowing them free rein.
“They’re old enough to be accountable, but they’re still kids,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said of many of the rioters. “And so we had to take that into account while we’re out there.”
The day’s raw emotions touched O’Malley, the former mayor, who interrupted a trip to Ireland to return to Baltimore because of the riots. At dusk, O’Malley traveled to a West Baltimore intersection where looting had occurred, talking to residents and posing for photos before a stranger cursed at him.
“This is his fault!” said Wayne Grady, 47, who described himself as a developer, referring to the aggressive police policies O’Malley imposed as mayor that resulted in tens of thousands of arrests, many for minor offenses.
“He had his chance to fix this,” Grady said. “He’s part of the frustrations that are built up in these black young men.”
O’Malley, pausing to address reporters, declined to defend his police strategy at length. But he said that mayors everywhere seek “the right balance, to save as many lives as we possibly can.”
“We’re a safer city than we were,” he said, “but we still have a lot of work to do, you know?”
A moment of outsize crisis is a time-honored way for politicians to define themselves in the public realm. After rioters tore up parts of Baltimore following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew, a Republican, summoned the National Guard. Agnew accused black leaders of doing too little to discourage the violence, drawing notice from Richard M. Nixon, who asked him to join his presidential ticket.
In New York during 1991, then-Mayor David N. Dinkins (D) faced accusations that the police force allowed rioters to rampage in Crown Heights, a charge he denied but which contributed to his failure to win reelection. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani won worldwide praise for his stoic management of the aftermath.
Hogan, according to a senior aide, had been preparing to declare a state of emergency since late last week. Once he did, he announced that he was relocating his office to Baltimore.
Hogan’s initial remarks sounded critical of Rawlings-Blake. Later, as they stood side by side on CNN, she thanked the governor for his help — and he declared that she had “done a terrific job.”
The rioting began at 3:30 p.m. Monday, but it was not until 8 p.m. that Rawlings-Blake made her first public statement on the issue. By then, the state’s political establishment was questioning whether she had waited too long to communicate with the city. Her public silence seemed to parallel what millions of Americans had been seeing on television for most of the afternoon — looters ransacking shops without an adequate response from police.
The mayor “wasn’t acting like we were in an emergency,” said Baltimore City Council member Carl Stokes. “They hold press conferences and don’t say anything, and the people get angrier and angrier.”
Rawlings-Blake, a rising star in the Democratic Party who has been mayor since 2010, has strained for more than a week to manage a crisis triggered by Gray’s death. Six police officers have been suspended with pay pending an investigation into how Gray died.
On Monday, Rawlings-Blake attended Gray’s funeral, after which she returned to City Hall to hold meetings before heading to a civic association in West Baltimore.
The mayor spent part of the day trying to clarify remarks she had made over the weekend, in which she appeared to signal that police had intentionally allowed demonstrators to become violent Saturday.
“While we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well,” she said Saturday.
On Monday, the mayor tweeted that her remarks had been “taken out of context.”
“I did not instruct police to give space to protesters seeking to create violence,” she wrote. “In giving peaceful demonstrators room to share their message, unfortunately, those who [were] seeking to incite violence also had space to operate.”
By around 3:30 p.m. Monday, when the disturbances began, the mayor headed to an emergency command center. For the next 4
Del. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore) said city residents needed to hear from their leaders soon after the disturbances began, “to make people think it was under control.”
Instead, Carter said, people were asking, “ ‘Where’s the mayor?’ It fosters a sense of no confidence, and that’s no good.”