Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh told the crowd gathered at Beth Tfiloh Congregation Wednesday night that she feels Park Heights “is part of our city that can be vibrant again.”
Addressing more than 350 supporters and donors at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s annual meeting — where it was announced that the annual campaign is expected to raise $31 million — Pugh said she hopes to accomplish this with capital improvements, public-private partnerships and philanthropic aid. She praised The Associated for serving a similar purpose in the Jewish community.
“I feel like, in many ways, I’m home, because I have been involved with and supported by The Associated and members of the Jewish community since I got elected,” said Pugh, who took office in December. “We do have a lot of work to do together in Baltimore. … You all know this city faces many challenges.”
Parts of the Park Heights area, for instance, have fallen victim to decades of depopulation, poverty, drug dealing, violence, neglect and high unemployment rates. The uncertain fate of the Preakness Stakes remaining at Pimlico Race Course and the 141 vacant houses on Park Heights Avenue has only added to the neighborhood’s struggle.
Pointing to Eager Park in East Baltimore and the University of Maryland BioPark in West Baltimore as projects of community action and institutional enhancements, Pugh said she sees no reason why Park Heights can’t do something similar.
“When I talk about Park Heights, I tell folks that it is so important that we continue to invest in our downtown communities,” Pugh said. “When you build an apartment building downtown, it’s almost filled before it’s done.”
Park Heights Renaissance, a nonprofit, government-funded corporation, is making ambitious efforts to demolish 600 vacant homes, buildings and lots on a 62-acre piece of land in the middle of Park Heights.
Though Pugh did not mention the program by name, she said her hope is that any redevelopment would reduce crime and, as a result, create more jobs and opportunities for youth. She tied the problems Park Heights has endured to those many other city neighborhoods face.
“If we don’t get a handle on this particular problem, then it only exacerbates itself in neighborhoods and communities,” Pugh said. “So what we’re doing is creating mobile units to go directly out to those neighborhoods and communities to offer opportunities for those people to work.”
Neighborhoods such as Park Heights have been allowed to suffer, Pugh said, while city officials sought tax breaks and other incentives to increase development around the city’s waterfront.
To improve city living, Pugh said she thinks the Jewish community will play a pivotal role and has already demonstrated that commitment at Sinai Hospital, the first Jewish health care establishment in Baltimore.
“The focus of this administration is to not only maintain a vibrant downtown, but to be supportive of development inside our neighborhoods and inside our communities, which indeed includes the Park Heights corridor,” Pugh said. “We as a city have an obligation to be connected to that work.”
Shortly before introducing Pugh, Linda A. Hurwitz, chair of the board of The Associated, said she looked forward to working with the mayor on solutions to address Park Heights, Pimlico and the imminent closure of Northwestern High School.
“We share the same priorities of growth and vitality for our city and neighborhoods, ensuring those vulnerable members have the resources to live their best lives,” Hurwitz said.
At the program’s beginning, John Shmerler, chair of the 2017 annual campaign of The Associated, announced the federation expects to raise $31 million for its annual campaign, which ends on June 30. Last year’s campaign raised $30.6 million.
Shmerler, CEO of Pikesville-based Radcliffe Jewelers, said he was encouraged by the giving spirit of the community to support the needs of Jews locally and aboard. The money raised, he added, will allow The Associated to continue providing financial resources to the 29 agencies and programs under the federation’s direction.
“Recognizing that The Associated plays a vital role in a larger Baltimore community, we engaged nontraditional partners in our fundraising efforts,” said Shmerler, whose one-year term as chair of the annual campaign ends on June 30.
Associated president Marc B. Terrill, who delivered the closing remarks, said the federation experienced a “banner year,” noting the community should take pride in the “top-tier services” offered to individuals and families.
“The Associated system is the only large-city federation in North America that has thoughtfully and rigorously maintained the essence of what it means to have a federated system,” Terrill said. “In plain English, what that means is that our agencies are mandated to work together in order to provide the highest level quality service, not duplicate, not have redundancy and work in collaboration.”
Terrill added: “I hope to stand her next year with the leadership assembled and say, ‘2018 was an even better year.’ Yasher koach [May your strength be firm] on everything that has been done for this community, and thank you for everything you do.”