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Baltimore's woes central in second Democratic gubernatorial debate

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Democratic candidates for governor said Wednesday that the state needs to invest dramatically more resources in Baltimore.

During their second televised debate, the nine candidates largely agreed that inequities in Baltimore’s schools and communities were at the heart of a three-year surge in violence and are fueling a school-to-prison pipeline that hurts Maryland’s largest city.

And as they made their cases for investing in Baltimore, the candidates attacked popular incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for what they called a lack of leadership on the tough problems facing the city.

“You’ve seen Governor Hogan at work,” state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. said. “He’s very good at telling people at where they’ve gone wrong. He’s very good at diagnosing problems. He’s not good at finding solutions and leading the charge to get things done. That’s why you need a Democrat in office.”

Hogan aired positive ads about his record during the debate, which was taped in Arlington, Va., and broadcast in Baltimore on CW54 and in Washington on News Channel 8.

The second of five televised debates before the June 26 primary focused heavily on issues central to the Baltimore region: helping the city’s schools, rebuilding after the second devastating flood to swamp Ellicott City in less than two years and bridging the state’s racial divide, laid bare by reactions to the death last week of a white female Baltimore County police officer, who was allegedly run over by a car driven by a black teenager from Baltimore.

“If you want to prevent a six-year-old from becoming a 16-year-old who goes out into the suburbs and kills people, you need to invest in universal pre-K, psychologists, and social workers in our schools,” said Alec Ross, a tech entrepreneur and author. “We need to massively invest in our low-income communities and education if we want to break this schools-to-prison pipeline. It is educate or incarcerate.”

All the candidates agreed the state’s juvenile justice system failed both the officer, Amy S. Caprio, and Dawnta Harris, the 16-year-old from West Baltimore accused of driving the Jeep and charged with murder in her death.

Harris had been released from the juvenile justice system earlier in May and ordered into home detention while awaiting sentencing for an auto theft, but he had been missing for a week when he allegedly ran over Caprio.

Candidates said Hogan was responsible for the state agency tasked with keeping track of Harris.

“Did the system fail? No. The governor failed,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said. “The governor knew we had this issue coming in. The leadership starts at the top. That’s where the buck stops.”

Attorney Jim Shea said Hogan has “enormous power“ to collaborate with law enforcement and help prevent such problems. The failure of the system, Shea said, lies at the governor’s feet.

Hogan administration officials objected to the characterization after the debate. “These types of claims made by political candidates who have no facts are irresponsible but not surprising coming from partisan politicians more interested in scoring political points than good policymaking,” said Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse. “This type of rhetoric run amok is exactly why so many Marylanders are sick of politics as usual.”

The candidates substantively agreed on policy issues during the short time allotted for them to answer questions. They tried to use their biographies, careers and political experience — or lack thereof — to draw distinctions among them.

“We all agree the biggest leadership problem in the state is Larry Hogan,” said Ben Jealous, former NAACP chief.

Krish Vignarajah, a former policy director for Michelle Obama, said the Democrats broadly agree on the issues, but might differ in how they approach challenges.

“What I hope voters decide is: Can you trust this politician to ultimately deliver?” she said. “It’s going to be a serious election to beat Larry Hogan, and voters are going to have to decide who is going to be best to take him on.”

The sole moment of disagreement came from Valerie Ervin, the labor organizer who took over the campaign of her former running mate, Kevin Kamenetz, after he died suddenly on May 10.

Ervin disagreed with the rest of the field’s analysis that schools are underfunded. She said the problem is what happens during the hours that students are outside the classroom. She said Maryland needs to invest in communities, affordable housing, access to food and before- and after-school programs.

“We’re not going spend our way out of the big problem that we have in the school system in Maryland,” she said. “We need to look at how the community is supporting children and their education.”

Also participating in the debate were Ralph Jaffe, a teacher who says Baltimore needs better parents, and James Jones, a police chaplain and drug addiction counselor from Baltimore who said the state needs a change in direction.

All nine candidates in the Democratic primary said the state should help rebuild Ellicott City after the flood, but some questioned the wisdom of bringing back businesses before costly stormwater mitigation problems are resolved.

ecox@baltsun.com

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