Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown skipped the third televised Democratic governor's candidate debate Tuesday night in favor of a small forum with several dozen people in Northwest Baltimore.
After telling a story of his poor Jamaican background, Brown spent the roughly hourlong Q&A session at the Renaissance Gardens Senior Center addressing questions on education, health care and jobs, among other topics.
"Baltimore is central to the success of Maryland," he said, adding that the city's history, heritage and culture are central to the success of the state.
Brown took some credit for a recent drop in violent crime in Baltimore, citing a collaboration between state and city government.
He acknowledged the administration's botched health exchange launch but said leaders "rolled up our sleeves" and addressed the problems, bringing insurance to 300,000 Marylanders.
Brown briefly outlined plans for education: expanding pre-K to all students by 2018, working with students who would otherwise drop out, and fully funding historically black colleges and universities.
He said he would augment the state's recent "Ban the Box" initiative with similar efforts in local governments to give people with prior arrests a better chance to get jobs. Better case management, transitional services and a shield law would help cut down on recidivism and help former convicts to reintegrate into society, he said.
"We need to change attitudes," he said. "We can't view them as a scourge."
Brown has raised more than either of his primary opponents with more than $4 million on-hand, but he told the crowd of West Baltimoreans and other elected officials that "the currency of politics is the vote," and encouraged them to bring others to the polls.
Kathryn Cooper-Nicholas, of Ashbury, was disappointed with the lieutenant governor's pitch. She said she submitted a question about how to keep kids engaged in school that went unanswered.
The resulting crime "keeps happening," she said. "We have kids out in the streets."
Alfred Drake, who lives in the Renaissance Gardens center, said he planned to vote for Brown, who he called "impressive."
"No doubt about it," Drake said. "He's dynamic."
Brown, the front-runner, was accused of dodging the third televised debate, opting instead for a radio debate next week. He defended his decision not to go to the media before the event Tuesday night.
"Campaigns are about conversations with voters," he said. "With 28 days to go, we're working hard to make sure we're touching as many voters as we can."
Del. Maggie McIntosh sent an invitation to constituents for Brown's event around 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon apologizing "for the late notice."
Brown said he didn't know when the campaign scheduled the event. His campaign later said it had been scheduled more than a week prior and finalized last weekend.
"I don't think that's on my schedule," Brown said.