Voters want to hear Baltimore state's attorney's candidates debate

From the seventh floor of the UMBC library, I can see the outline of Baltimore City. From here, it looks quiet, almost serene. Yet I stand here with the somber knowledge that it isn’t — that behind that outline is a city rife with violence.

In June, Baltimore will pick its next state’s attorney, whose job it will be to help restore lost justice. The incumbent, Marilyn Mosby, faces Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy Maryland attorney general, and Ivan Bates, a criminal defense attorney. Choosing the very best candidate will be difficult and requires that the candidates engage in a formal debate.

All three are Democrats, so it can be difficult for voters to distinguish one from the other. A debate would give voters a clear comparison of the candidates. Only a little more than two months from the election, and there has yet to be a debate.

The fear is voters will elect Ms. Mosby based on the sole merit of being the incumbent, without seeing how her opponents’ plans stand up against hers. It is only in a debate that we can clearly see the strength of each candidate, in juxtaposition to one another. As a new voter, full of hope and frustration, I take my civic duty very seriously. However, this is hindered by the absence of any formal debate.

A candidate forum scheduled for Monday was canceled. Mr. Vignarajah made a statement on Twitter expressing his disappointment. He blamed the cancellation on Mr. Bates for a scheduling conflict and said Ms. Mosby herself never agreed to attend.

This election is not the time for reckless voting but well-informed decisions. Without debate, this becomes harder to do. Ms. Mosby’s unwillingness to debate suggests her ideas are not strong enough. Avoiding a debate gives her an advantage over her opponents in that she, who has the ultimate qualification as incumbent, cannot be challenged directly. She shifts the power dynamic in her favor. If she would like a second term, Ms. Mosby should face her opponents directly to show us why she is the best person for the job.

The voters need a chance to make the most informed decision. This is a crucial election, as whoever is chosen will serve for the next three years. That may not sound long, but in three years alone there have been over 1,000 recorded homicides. No hyperbole. Justice itself rests in the hands of the next state’s attorney, and that person will be given a tremendous responsibility.

Mr. Vignarajah, in his statement, openly challenged his opponents, saying he is “prepared to debate any candidate, anytime, anywhere.” His eagerness to test his views with his opponents is refreshing. He risks vulnerability but assists the democratic process.

With Election Day approaching, it is time to have a debate with all three of the candidates. Debate gives us a helpful resource for making an informed vote. So many of them have assisted us in our deliberations. The famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 were for many the deciding factor in how they ultimately voted. For the new state’s attorney candidates, a debate would give them an opportunity to test their ideas publicly and not allow Ms. Mosby to rely so much on her celebrity. They have to prove to us why they are better than the other candidates.

Baltimoreans will often hear a popping from a distance. They’ve grown accustomed to it. They can tell themselves its firecrackers, or some other innocent noise. But every now and then, the sound is unmistakable, a crack so distinct it shatters their complacency. Somewhere, someone is being shot at. As citizens we can sometimes feel so helpless until we realize the full power of our vote. To any city resident, I ask that you put in the proper time when deciding who you will elect for state’s attorney. And to the candidates, I ask that you make it a little easier on us: debate.

Nathaniel T. Mamo (nathanielmamo@gmail.com) is a student at UMBC; he has signed up to be a volunteer on Thiru Vignarajah’s campaign.

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