In Charm City, Plutocratic Pimpin’ is Easy

In Charm City, Plutocratic Pimpin’ is Easy

  Councilman Bill Henry (left) presides over the panel moments after Carl Stokes abandoned his chairman’s seat when Ed Reisinger (right) called for approval of the tax financing subsidy. Warren Branch (center) voted with Reisinger.  Photo by: Mark Reutter. Source: Baltimore Brew.
Councilman Bill Henry (left) presides over the panel moments after Carl Stokes abandoned his chairman’s seat when Ed Reisinger (right) called for approval of the tax financing subsidy. Warren Branch (center) voted with Reisinger. Photo by: Mark Reutter. Source: Baltimore Brew.

Recently, the $107 million Harbor Point TIF was debated before the city council’s Taxation, Finance, and Economic Committee. Activists, downtown business leaders, local residents, and community associations all raised points regarding how the dastardly Harbor Point TIF pushed by developer Michael Beatty would negatively impact city life. Citizens raised points ranging from the lack of a labor agreement, the need for a traffic impact study, and the potential deleterious environmental impact the project could have due to chromium exposure at the remediated toxic site.

Despite the marches and testimony, truth-telling and protesting, declining support for the project, and rising scrutiny, the $107 million Harbor Point TIF was swiftly and surprisingly passed by the committee on August 7.

In the aftermath of this action (the city council is likely to approve the TIF on August 12), it is imperative that the progressive community takes stock of where we stand. Is the Harbor Point TIF approval a blow to our movement? Yes, it most certainly is. But there are critical lessons to be learned as we move forward to build a movement that will be sustained and cannot be denied.

The first lesson is that we have learned is that in spite of defeat, we have earned a victory of sorts. We are learning who the players are in the game and what position they occupy. In addition, we are learning a great deal about what we ourselves are made of. The informed and impassioned opposition we displayed on August 7 is a testament to the work we have done to bring rising awareness to the choices we have regarding TIFs and PILOTs.

Because of this rising awareness, advocates for inclusionary housing are joining with advocates for fair wages; and advocates for fairness in school funding are joining forces with environmental activists. We are learning that city choices regarding development affect us all in broad ways that cut across our specific provincial issues. Hence, we are gaining the consciousness that our work must cut across issue boundaries and tie together to address the issues that affect us all.

The second lesson is even more critical. We face an entrenched plutocratic cabal that is absolutely hellbent on pimping[1] we the people. In Charm City right now, this pimping is way too easy and even a groundswell of opposing business interests were unable to sway the outcome. The vote on August 7 was a naked display of corporate greed at the public’s expense.

But just how is the plutocratic pimp game being run on us? The plutocratic pimping is taking place on two fronts. On one hand, we have pimping that is taking place when developers (primarily white) finance the campaigns for politicians (primarily black) that will do their bidding.  Together they form the multiracial plutocratic cabal I discussed in my previous Indyreader article.

On the other hand, we have a class of clergy (aka Sadducee-Pharisees) and nonprofit interests that have aligned themselves with the power interests of the plutocratic cabal.  They attempted to get a false community benefits agreement (CBA) from Michael Beatty, but their perverted CBA was actually a PBA (Pimpin' Benefits Agreement) where their interests could financially benefit instead of the people who had been literally used by Beatty (the residents of Perkins Homes) in order to quality for the Enterprise Zone tax break.

The clergy made a mockery of legitimate attempts by the residents of Perkins Homes to gain some benefit from the Beatty development. Residents who are displaced by development or who are abused by developers have the right to approach an interloping developer for a community benefits agreement. A real community benefits agreement is based on the principle of restorative justice and grassroots community empowerment, not the enrichment of people and organizations that are already well-to-do and claim to be helping the residents.

Altogether then, we now know that there is a sophisticated game that is played by Charm City power players. At the very top, we have the plutocratic cabal composed of wealthy developers who have purchased politicians to do their bidding at the expense of the greater good. At the next level below them, we have what the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle have aptly termed the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” While not all nonprofits in Baltimore are players in the plutocratic pimp game, many are including:

  • Baltimore Development Corporation—the agency responsible for connecting business interests with public financing via TIFs and PILOTs

  • East Baltimore Development Incorporated (EBDI)—the agency responsible for displacing over 700 African American families from the Middle East neighborhood in the mid-2000s

  • Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (which has sponsored mass displacement in the 1950’s Broadway project and 2000’s EBDI project)

  • The aforementioned crooked clergy

In the final analysis, we should now realize that everyone who voted in favor of the Harbor Point TIF in committee or supports the bill when the council votes on it MUST GO. Until we support politicians who are advocates for the people and replace the politicians who are in the pockets of corporate developers, we will have no real power when it comes to fairly allocating our resources and making Baltimore a sustainable city for all.

If Baltimoreans don’t rise up to challenge the plutocratic cabal—and its sycophantic Non-Profit Industrial Complex—that runs our government and influences the allocation of resources, if we don’t out-organize and out-vote the political surrogates that are pimping city residents, then we will continue to receive the same results that we have always received: naked handouts for greedy corporate capitalist and cutbacks for hard-working everyday people.


[1] I define pimping as the act of using or exploiting others for your own material gain or financial benefit.  Inherent in this action is a tremendous power differential between those who are exploiting and those who are being exploited.

Lawrence Brown

Lawrence Brown is a political activist, public health consultant, and history aficionado. He has partnered with community groups in East Baltimore to devise strategies to assist residents who were displaced from their community by EBDI and Johns Hopkins University. Lawrence has collaborated with the labor advocacy group Community Churches United and testified at Baltimore council hearings regarding displacement, development, and local hiring practices. He is also an assistant professor of public health at Morgan State University.