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Baltimore's MLK Day Parade to go on, mayor says after uproar

Baltimore's MLK Day Parade to go on, mayor says after uproar
Baltimore's MLK Day Parade to go on, mayor says after uproar 02:00

BALTIMORE -- Drumlines and cheering will return next week after a two-year covid hiatus for Baltimore City's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, last week, canceled this year's parade, calling instead for a day of service.

The past two years – 2021 and 2022- were canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

But "COVID is no longer an excuse not to do things, especially outdoor activities," Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello said.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has announced that his office will be organizing the parade on short notice without BOPA.

"My office is going to put on the MLK Day Parade because BOPA is not doing it," Scott said.

Scott said on Monday there's no reason not to celebrate Dr. King with both a parade and service projects.

"Leadership of BOPA is not aligned with those values," Scott said on WYPR Radio.

BOPA has come under fire for event cancellations and scheduling mishaps, moving Artscape, for instance, from the summer to September, conflicting with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Scott and city council members say they will pull funding from the independent agency if its CEO Donna Drew Sawyer doesn't step down or isn't removed.

He said in a letter to Brian Lyles, the president of the board of directors, that he had lost confidence in Sawyer. 

"I will not fund BOPA in the upcoming fiscal year and I will not renew BOPA's contract when the current one expires if Ms. Sawyer is not removed by January 15, 2023," Scott said in the letter. "If the Board fails to act swiftly, I am prepared to transition the organization's responsibilities to other City agencies who will be able to uplift Baltimore's arts community while maintaining our traditions."

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello told WJZ that canceling the parade honoring the civil rights leader was "shameful."

Baltimore councilman holds organizers accountable after MLK parade canceled again 02:32

He told WJZ that the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts is in violation of its contractual obligation with the Baltimore City of Baltimore.

Part of that agreement includes setting up the MLK Jr. Parade.

"This parade is a long-standing tradition in our city," Costello said. "It's incredibly important to our residents and to our visitors and I think it's shameful what BOPA is doing."

BOPA has recently been in hot water with the Ways and Means Committee, which Costello chairs. 

Last summer, the councilman said the committee stripped $196,000 from the organization's $2.6 million budget after BOPA did not host Artscape for two years. 

"They're an independent organization, but they're also heavily subsidized by the City of Baltimore with a $2.6 million annual appropriation," Costello added.    

The mayor says anti-violence will be a main message at this year's parade as it has been in previous years.

"My focus on the parade will be very simple!" Scott said. "#wemuststopkillingeachother" 

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