When Baltimore’s new mayor, Catherine Pugh, took office this year she promised some changes. Much of her agenda has been essentially buried by the record setting murder rate they’ve been battling, but she’s still gamely attempted to get some of her other priorities put in place. One of them clearly struck a sour note with the voters, however, and that was a plan to cancel the city’s annual Martin Luther King Day parade and replace it with a “Day of Service” in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

Once that decision was announced the blowback was immediate. It grew in volume until Pugh finally had to back down this week and carry on with the traditional parade. (Baltimore Sun)

After fielding complaints from community members, Mayor Catherine Pugh said Tuesday she was reversing a plan to replace next month’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade with a day of service.

“We heard from people. We’ll do the parade and the day of service,” she said. “People want to do both.”

Pugh had previously said she was planning to cancel the long-running parade to replace it with a day of service, which she felt better honored King’s legacy.

But the announcement was quickly criticized by some who saw the mayor taking away a beloved tradition. Nearly 1,400 people signed an online petition Tuesday asking for the parade to be restored.

Pugh seemed to be walking a tightrope between the practical and the politics here. Parades can be expensive affairs with very little return on investment in material terms. They’re also increasingly being looked at as possible targets in terror attacks. Considering that the parade was held to honor a man who dedicated his life to public service, a “Day of Service” for everyone to give back to the community certainly sounds like a noble cause.

Also, there are few cities in the United States that could benefit from a huge outpouring of community service and participation more than Baltimore right about now. Public events designed to get people out in public areas and push gang activity back into the shadows have been attempted recently, some producing admirable effects. More of that sort of grassroots work wouldn’t be amiss, and MLK Day seems a fitting time to do it.

Unfortunately, the political optics of this were awful. The city’s African-American residents were already reportedly feeling left out of City Hall’s priorities when Pugh scaled back the size and cost of the city’s African-American festival, AFRAM, earlier this year. Cancelling the MLK parade was simply seen as a slap in the face to the black community. (For the record, Pugh herself is African-American.)

The compromise is that they’re going to wind up doing the day of service, but also hold the parade. Unfortunately, that may reduce both events in size and participation, but sometimes that’s apparently just the political cost of doing business. Best of luck to the mayor in getting her Day of Service off the ground. It sounds like a very positive step in the right direction.