Baltimore Sun editorial board: Brandon Scott for mayor | COMMENTARY By BALTIMORE SUN EDITORIAL BOARD MAY 22, 2020
Baltimore’s last mayoral race, in 2016, was the first to follow the senseless death of Freddie Gray from an injury sustained while in police custody and the widespread unrest it sparked, shining a light on some harsh realities long ignored by many: systemic racism, structural inequality and the wide gap in opportunity between two very distinct Baltimores, one black, one white. Four years later, we’re still struggling with those same issues, and we again find ourselves in crisis, captive to a novel coronavirus that’s only deepened the city’s divisions. Whoever wins this year’s mayoral contest will face a tough road ahead. Much of their term will be about budget reductions and recovery from all that the pandemic wrought — on top of the city’s other problems, including soaring homicides, a declining population and poor public transportation options. There’s a temptation felt by some in the community to lean toward a placeholder candidate, someone who won’t rock the boat in already turbulent waters. But while Baltimore certainly does need a mayor who can deliver basic services, hire competent people and fight for our share of federal pandemic funds, it cannot afford to forego big ideas for another four years. If there’s one thing Catherine Pugh’s mayoral tenure and subsequent criminal conviction should have taught us, it’s that there’s no such thing as a “safe” choice in this city. So let’s aim high. It’s time Baltimore had a visionary leader who lives and breathes the city, and knows it like the back of his hand; someone who will work tirelessly to improve it and who isn’t afraid to upset the apple cart if it’s for the greater good. That’s why we endorse Brandon Scott to be the next mayor of Baltimore. Mr. Scott, a Democrat, came up in the city, a child of Park Heights who experienced the same challenges that thousands of African American boys face every day here: shootings in the streets, suspicion from police, few educational or economic opportunities. He credits much of his success and political rise — first as a staffer under former City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, then a Northeast Baltimore councilman and now City Council president himself — to tenacity and a chance he was given to go to a decent middle school, changing the trajectory of his life (he went on to graduate from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School and earn a political science degree from St. Mary’s College of Maryland). And he wants others to have a shot at the same level of achievement. For Mr. Scott, addressing gun violence and officer attitudes toward residents, while creating prospects for a prosperous future, is personal. He wants to make Baltimore better for people like him, yes, but everyone else as well. He has support across racial lines, a difficult feat in this city. We understood this anecdotally, but it was confirmed Wednesday in a Baltimore Sun/WYPR/University of Baltimore poll that showed Mr. Scott has equal support from both white and black voters — something no other candidate has been able to achieve. He has a decade of experience in city government — long enough to develop a deep understanding of the city’s management flaws, but not so long as to be a part of the problem establishment. His relative youth (he’s 36, the same age Martin O’Malley was when he ran for mayor in 1999) has allowed him to preserve his idealism while developing expertise. We expect him to use his knowledge, with the power of the mayor’s office behind him, to dismantle the parts of city government that don’t work — the outdated offices, systems and ideas — and to embrace the parts that do (or did in past administrations) and to develop smart, innovative ways to move Baltimore forward. As a member of the City Council, he sought to increase government transparency and accountability and to better support the Board of Ethics in its watchdog role over Baltimore. He developed a reputation for getting things done and building a coalition to pass legislation, like 2018’s bill to require city agencies to assess whether their policies create racial inequities. That same year, he ran as a candidate for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary on a ticket with attorney Jim Shea. When the City Council president position opened up last year, as Bernard C. “Jack” Young stepped in to serve as mayor after Catherine Pugh resigned, Mr. Scott showed strong leadership in convincing the rest of the council members to choose him, even though Mr. Young supported someone else. The two men are now competing for the next mayoral term, yet Mr. Scott has not let the rivalry cloud his focus on the council. As City Council president, he laid out 26 policy proposals as part of a sweeping plan to address the city’s crime, corruption, ailing schools and rudderless youth. He wasn’t in the job long enough to carry out the comprehensive and ambitious agenda, but it has formed the basis of his platform as mayor, which includes a data-driven approach to public safety that’s informed by citizen oversight, stabilizing and growing the economy, and improving youth opportunities. He even sees opportunity in the tragedies of COVID-19 — a chance to learn from the inequities it has highlighted and to force change. From the digital divide among students, he envisions municipal broadband. And in the masses who’ve lost low-paying jobs, he sees potential for workforce training. Mr. Scott has at times been at odds with some business leaders in Baltimore, and he’ll have to rein in any urge to antagonize in order to succeed as mayor. He must be a bridge builder, rather than a bridge burner, and look to work cooperatively with all city stakeholders, from big developers to public housing residents. He has clearly made a strong impression in this tight race of qualified individuals. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon has again drawn strong support from residents who’ve forgiven her ethical lapse years ago to focus on the good from her first mayoral term, including a capable staff and lower crime rate. Meanwhile, former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller, a Treasury official in the administration of President Barack Obama, has earned praise for her big picture thinking and business sense. Thiru Vignarajah, a former Maryland deputy attorney general, has impressed the city’s tough-on-crime crowd, as has T.J. Smith, the likable former Baltimore Police spokesman. And many in the business community support incumbent Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who’s had a difficult tenure shepherding the city through COVID-19. We think Brandon Scott has the broadest appeal across groups, however, and the skills to back it up. He is the best positioned to unite Baltimore at this critical time and to prepare it for the next generation. He has our endorsement.