Opinion: Two Views on the Baltimore Mayoral Race

Clockwise from top left are the leading Democratic candidates for mayor of Baltimore: Sheila Dixon, Mary Miller, Brandon Scott, Bernard "Jack" Young, Thiru Vignarajah and T.J. Smith

Larry Gibson: The Most Qualified, the Least Qualified and Those in Between

I have spent 50 years teaching, encouraging and helping young people become leaders in the law and government.

There are times when a city like Baltimore can afford to experiment with a new face in City Hall.

But, now is not that time.

Right now, Baltimore needs proven and experienced leadership.

Here is my assessment of the main candidates in the current mayoral election:

Bernard “Jack” Young is my friend and has been a good mayor with the best interests of the city at heart. Due to some verbal missteps, an ineffective campaign and some circumstances beyond his control, Young does not have a realistic chance of winning this election. I do not believe that he will finish as far back as fourth or fifth place, as most polls suggest. But, Young will not win this election and should focus his attention on helping the city through this difficult year.

Brandon Scott is one of our sons of whom we are proud. How can anyone not like Brandon Scott? He has done well in his 36 years and is one of our next generation of leaders. Whoever becomes mayor should seek Scott’s involvement in their administration.

T.J. Smith is another articulate and thoughtful product of Baltimore. It is good that he has re-engaged with the city where he can make valuable contributions. If Smith gains a little more administrative experience, I hope he will consider future opportunities for public office.

Thiru Vignarajah is the only candidate about whom people consistently speak negatively. There is something troubling about him. He is undoubtedly very intelligent, but he has certain personality traits that trouble people whom I respect. He will need to address those matters if he is to succeed in politics.

Mary Miller is a mystery. I have carefully examined her websites, mailings and TV ads and cannot find any consequential prior engagement with Baltimore’s problems, solutions, communities or organizations. She lives in Baltimore, but has no visible record of leading, organizing or guiding anything here. Even in the Obama administration, Miller appears not have directed any special attention or resources to Baltimore. Based on the record, Miller may be the least qualified candidate.

Sheila Dixon is our best choice to be mayor. Dixon was an excellent mayor who made Baltimore measurably safer, cleaner and healthier. Crime went down dramatically. She added green spaces, promoted minority businesses, increased early childhood education and improved Baltimore’s finances. Even after serious mistakes interrupted her political career, Dixon stayed engaged with Baltimore’s issues and possibilities. Sheila Dixon is the proven leader that Baltimore needs at this time.

Let us not split the vote in so many pieces that no one receives a mandate.

— LARRY S. GIBSON

The writer is an attorney and a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Ufuoma Agarin: State of the Race

Baltimore’s 2020 mayoral election was already the most important in generations. It is now among the most interesting.

Three insiders — the current mayor, a former mayor and the council president — line up against three insurgents — a career prosecutor, a longtime spokesman and a self-funded banker.

But, the race has begun to center around two leading choices, one from each camp. They are very different candidates, but have one thing in common: they know how to connect with voters.

But let’s start with those who have faded or failed to get off the ground over the past couple months.

Former city police spokesman T.J. Smith was an appealing voice when he entered the race. Now there are questions about his pension arrangement, his tax payments, and whether Smith failed to file three years of tax returns until last month.

He has become a spokesman who won’t speak. That won’t fly. And, with little money in his campaign coffers, it looks like Smith’s 15 minutes are up.

Brandon Scott’s campaign was always stuck between a rock and a hard place.  In trying to be all things to all people, he has found himself in no-man’s land. He gets too much money from developers to pretend he’s the fresh new face, which leaves Scott among city politicians people in Baltimore do not trust.

Scott’s anti-business, fight-the-man front makes it hard for serious people to take him seriously. Black Baltimore thinks he’s weak and inexperienced, especially compared to the no-nonsense strength of Sheila Dixon. His supporters, especially in the African-American community, will find comfort in hoping he’ll be back in four or eight years.

Mary Miller’s problem is not that she’s white. Her problem is that black people don’t like her. And only certain privileged white people like her. In every ad and interview, she only seems comfortable in an investment bank suite and seems downright uncomfortable on any street in West Baltimore. And even after pouring more than $2 million into her campaign, polls still show she has virtually no support among black voters.

Some may think Miller has no support in communities of color because she’s white. That’s not the reason; it’s because she talks down to black voters, and panders, name-dropping her connection to Barack Obama. Whatever expensive consultant told her black voters would swoon if she used certain buzz words should have talked to their one black friend first.

Eventually her supporters will realize a vote for Miller is a wasted vote, and they will do what they did four years ago with Elizabeth Embry and David Warnock — vote for someone else.

Bernard “Jack” Young is not that someone. He is, however, an X-factor who should not be counted out yet. While he has blown through an insane $974,000 in just four months and has collapsed in the polls, he is a wartime mayor. He has not seized the opportunity, but he has not completely fumbled it either.

With Gov. Larry Hogan handling all the tough choices, from school closings to face masks, Young has a big opportunity to step up and show leadership, but he has not done that so far. For now, however, he appears on track to end with a single-digit share of the votes.

That leaves former mayor Sheila Dixon and former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah.

Dixon is a natural and people are ready to forgive her. Young’s collapse has only helped. Dixon’s challenge is getting her base to vote in a mail-in ballot election. That will be hard, but remember the thousands of write-in votes she got last time. She also does savvy things that show her campaign has adapted better than expected,  such as virtual town halls and a workout video reminding voters why they love her.

Vignarajah continues to come on strong and seems to have a truly diverse coalition. A recent editorial by a judge and councilwoman (Judge Wanda Heard and Rikki Spector) has helped him overcome the traffic-stop stumble, which is now in the rearview mirror (pun intended). And, taking a page from Dixon, Vignarajah’s the only one out there on the streets, from fighting to keep the water running in Perkins Homes to helping out squeegee boys.

The other factor these two candidates share is impressive war chests.

Crime, however, is not the top issue since COVID-19 struck. That hurts Dixon and Vignarajah. But what people want right now is strong leaders, and both of them are tireless, project confidence, and are ready to lead.

Insider versus outsider. Politician versus prosecutor. Streets versus smarts.

Polls show many people in Baltimore think a criminal conviction should prohibit you from running for office. So, there are no doubt some people who will never vote for Sheila Dixon. But there are also people who will never vote for anyone else. If anyone thinks they know which group is bigger or who will actually come out to vote, they are kidding themselves.

At the beginning of this race, Dixon and Vignarajah both looked like longshots. But that is why we have campaigns and elections. Right now, as improbable as it once was, the smart money is that one of them will be the next mayor of Baltimore.

–UFUOMA AGARIN

The writer served as field director for former Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker’s gubernatorial campaign and field operations manager for the Democratic National Committee.