Mary Stout, a lifelong Baltimorean, feels her city has lost its shine.

A former sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department, Stout no longer feels safe walking around her Remington neighborhood, where she has lived for nearly 60 years. Her former agency, she says, has “gone down the tubes.” The Department of Public Works still isn’t picking up recycling from her home on a weekly basis, despite a priority by Mayor Brandon Scott to get the routine service back on track.

“Nothing works in Baltimore. Nothing at all,” said Stout, 81. “This area here was never a pretty neighborhood. But it was always a neighborhood,” she added of Remington, which she feels has also gone downhill. “It’s not a neighborhood anymore.”

And yet, Stout believes Baltimore could turn its entrenched problems around if it could just get the right people into leadership. Though she has never liked Mayor Brandon Scott — she pointed to a deal he struck earlier this year with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over the city’s underground conduit, which she thought looked shady — she believes his challenger, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, could help turn the city around.

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“A new broom always sweeps clean,” she said.

These twin feelings by Stout — that Baltimore is headed in the wrong direction, but also that its future is bright — are shared by a majority of city respondents, a new survey from Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner shows.

According to the poll, 63% of those surveyed feel Baltimore is on the wrong track, while just 21% said they believe the city is headed in the right direction. At the same time, more than half of respondents said they are optimistic or very optimistic about the future of Baltimore, compared to just over one-third who expressed some degree of pessimism.

The Goucher-Banner poll surveyed 711 registered Baltimore voters by phone, both landline and mobile, between Sept. 19 and Sept. 23, with a 3.7 percentage point margin of error.

The result suggests the collective mindset of the city hasn’t shifted substantially over a turbulent year for Baltimore. The Banner and Goucher conducted a similar poll in June of 2022, finding that 67% of respondents at the time felt the city was on the wrong track. Nonetheless, 54% of the respondents to that poll were optimistic about the city’s future.

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Stout’s frustrations with the services she gets from the city were also common among this year’s poll respondents.

Asked to grade Baltimore services, 34% of respondents gave the city a failing grade, while 25% said the city deserves a “D” and another 26% said “C.” Nearly half of respondents said they believe there is more crime in their neighborhoods today than just a year ago, while another 40% said the levels of crime seems to be about the same.

Few of the city’s leaders are popular among their constituents. Fifty-one percent of respondents disapprove of Scott — an increase from the 2022 poll — 60% disapprove of City Council President Nick Mosby and just over half disapprove of Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises. In a city where an overwhelming majority of respondents see crime as a major issue and most worry about growing dangers for young people, the most popular politician is the new, tough-on-crime State’s Attorney Ivan Bates.

Despite the scattered rain showers, people came out in droves to  Artscape on September 24, 2023.
Despite the scattered rain showers, people came out in droves to Artscape on Sept. 24, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Troy Mouzon, a 35-year-old resident of Cherry Hill, feels good about the future of Baltimore, though he is among a smaller share of respondents who believes the city is already on the right track. A bartender at the new Topgolf near M&T Bank Stadium, Mouzon wants to teach one day. He’s currently pursuing a certificate in software programming, a decision he made in hopes of capitalizing on Baltimore’s buzzy tech scene.

Though Mouzon has lived most of his life in Baltimore, he attended Morehouse College, the historically Black school in Atlanta, and has seen how investment and an influx of young professionals has transformed other places. He feels he’s seeing early signs of that kind of economic revival in Baltimore and just hopes the city can find ways to ease transformation to prevent displacement of longtime residents and retain its distinctive character.

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This may not be Atlanta, but Black families can do very well in Baltimore, Mouzon said. And though the city is grappling with many of the same issues that have plagued it for decades, Mouzon feels its issues are fixable.

“I guess it’s just my general optimism because I’ve gone through bad parts of my life,” he said. “We just need officials that are willing to work through the problems.”

To Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College, the poll results are encouraging. The more important question is not whether residents think the city is on the right track, Kromer said, but whether or not they have hope for the future. It’s not a contradiction to feel the city is headed downhill while also retaining hope that things can get better, said Kromer, who conducted the Goucher-Banner poll.

This may sound like a sentimental take, she admitted, but the combination of frustration and optimism is a marker of how much Baltimoreans care about their city.

“I would be far more concerned if people lost their sense of hope and optimism,” she said. “Because I don’t know where you go from there.”

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While the last year in Baltimore has had its bright spots — among them a drop in the homicide rate, the (somewhat damp) return of Artscape after a pandemic hiatus and a feel-good Orioles team with a shot at winning a World Series for the first time in 40 years — it has also had its shares of both frustration and tragedy.

About a year ago, an E. coli scare in the water system left much of West Baltimore and the surrounding area under a boil-water advisory for days, exacerbating many residents’ frustrations with the Department of Public Works. In July, 30 people were shot, two fatally, at a neighborhood block party at the Brooklyn Homes housing development, an incident the Police Department has admitted it mishandled and said it might have been able to prevent. Just last week residents across the city were shaken while police searched for the suspect in the sudden killing of a young tech CEO and a brutal attack on two people in West Baltimore.

Family members of Aaliyah Gonzalez, who was killed in the Brooklyn Homes shooting in July, plant a tree in her memory at the Brooklyn Healing Day event on Saturday
Family members of Aaliyah Gonzalez, who was killed in the Brooklyn Homes shooting in July, plant a tree in her memory at the Brooklyn Healing Day event. (J.M. Giordano/for the Baltimore Banner)

“Crime and grime” are in ample supply in Baltimore, said Stout, the Remington resident and former Baltimore Police sergeant. In addition to her time as a department supervisor, Stout spent close to seven years of her policing career as a community relations officer in the Southern District, which includes Brooklyn. The mass shooting there this summer served as a reminder to her of how the department’s relationships with the community have broken down since her time in the force.

“We would have known about it ahead of time,” she insisted of the annual neighborhood Brooklyn Day party. “In fact, we probably would have had a booth that day with them.”

Sixty percent of poll respondents said they disapprove of the Baltimore Police Department, compared to 31% who approve. The jury is still out for many on new Police Commissioner Richard Worley: Respondents were split almost into thirds between residents who approve of him, disapprove or say they don’t know.

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Kimberly Orellana, who lives near O’Donnell Heights in Southeast Baltimore with her two children, is concerned about crime in the city and its effects for young people, but she feels officials like the mayor and Police Department get unfair blame for the city’s problems. A lot could change if parents better disciplined their kids, Orellana feels, and if communities came together more often to highlight positive developments.

She pointed to how people rallied together last month after the shooting of a 14-year-old girl, a friend of her two teenagers. The church community helped fundraise for the girl, Orellana said, and managed to make some good out of the bad situation. People banded together as a community, she said, “because that’s what we need.”

Mary Ashworth, a Starbucks manager and real estate agent in Hampden, said Baltimore’s challenges with crime have roots in the city’s poverty and issues such as access to food and affordable housing. Too often, she said, Baltimore officials funnel money into the Police Department without taking adequate steps to address economic drivers that cause people to resort to crime.

She doesn’t feel personally endangered here, but she also knows from her real estate work that some people don’t want to move to Baltimore because of its “stigma” around crime and public safety.

For all of Baltimore’s problems, Ashworth’s love for the city isn’t shaken.

“No matter where I am, I want to be in Baltimore,” she said. This city has withstood plenty of bad politicians, plenty of bad police chiefs and plenty of other issues that those leaders haven’t been able to solve, Ashworth said. “It’s still standing. It puts up a fight. My optimism comes from the people of Baltimore to be able to keep going and keep trying to turn it around.”

adam.willis@thebaltimorebanner.com