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Politicsby Fern Shen11:50 amJan 7, 20190

Back to square one for Pugh, as Fitzgerald withdraws

Now that the mayor’s second attempt at finding a permanent Baltimore police commissioner has fizzled, what is next?

Above: Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald was Mayor Pugh’s choice to lead the Baltimore Police Department. His son’s medical problems caused him today to withdraw from consideration, she said. (YouTube)

The story broke in Baltimore with a tweet at 9:17 a.m. from the Fort Worth Police Department:

Chief Joel Fitzgerald “has withdrawn his name” for Baltimore Police Commissioner, @fortworthpd said.

The announcement comes seven weeks after Mayor Catherine Pugh made her preference for the 47-year-old Fitzgerald official, lauding him in a Baltimore Sun op-ed.

“The best person at this time and in this place to lead our police department forward,” Pugh wrote in November, describing Fitzgerald as “a reformer and a disrupter of the status quo.”

Today Pugh attributed Fitzgerald’s decision to his son’s medical condition, disclosed by her office last week.

“After a lengthy discussion with Chief Joel Fitzgerald, I respect his decision to withdraw his candidacy  for Baltimore Police Commissioner in order to to devote his full attention to his son who is now facing a second brain surgery tomorrow  to remove a mass that was discovered late last week,” the mayor said.

“In the meantime, Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle is on the job and very ably managing the day to day affairs” of the BPD,” Pugh said in a brief statement her office released.

What about the continued lack of a permanent commissioner?

Here was a key vacancy that Pugh has struggled to fill for the last eight months amid continuing high homicides rates, BPD misconduct and corruption disclosures, spiraling overtime spending and other problems?

“I will of course be communicating further on the process to select Baltimore’s permanent commissioner,” the statement concluded.

Troubled from the Get-Go

The decision came as no surprise in Baltimore. The final days of the Fitzgerald nomination were marked by trouble and controversy.

According to the mayor, Fitzgerald was forced to cancel his planned trip to Baltimore last Friday because his son was seriously ill.

Breaking the same day were two published reports describing Fitzgerald as having exaggerated parts of his resume.

Hearings in the community that Fitzgerald was to attend were canceled, but one hearing that did go forward – in which citizens addressed members of the City Council – was devastating.

“Utterly ridiculous!” said one of 48 speakers who lined up to criticize Fitzgerald as an untested outsider with a poor record on reining in police misconduct.

Scathing testimony was aimed not only at Fitzgerald, but at the mayor and City Council as well.

Only three speakers described the nomination in positive or neutral terms, with the most laudatory of these from a former colleague from the Philadelphia police department who drove down from Delaware.

Pressing Restart, Again

The collapse of the Fitzgerald nomination means a continued police leadership vacuum.

A year ago when Pugh fired Kevin Davis, the commissioner she inherited from Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor turned to insider Darryl De Sousa.

De Sousa lasted just four months before resigning in May amid federal tax charges.

What followed was a process to replace him that Pugh vowed would be transparent and involve the community.

Instead it was conducted behind closed doors and dragged on for months. After his name was made public, Fitzgerald’s initial refusal to release his resume to Council members soured many towards Pugh’s designee.

Pugh’s next move remains unclear. But one thing seems guaranteed – more BPD leadership drift.

Even if the Fitzgerald nomination had followed the timetable that officials laid out, it would have meant a nearly nine-month gap without a permanent commissioner.

As the process starts anew, Gary Tuggle’s tenure as Interim Commissioner appears likely to extend out to 11 months, or even a year, before a permanent replacement is nailed down with City Council approval.

That adds up to a heartache for crime-weary citizens and a headache for City Hall officials working to ensure transparency in the confirmation process for whoever the mayor selects.

“I may never see my husband again,” tweeted Tanika Davis, the wife of Lester Davis, aide to City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, as today’s news broke.

She followed with another.

“See previous tweet, also known as “I’m a City Hall Police Commish Search widow.”

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