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Baltimore mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah criticizes city, housing department for treatment of minority residents

Expressing solidarity with an East Baltimore woman who lost her family house to a city demolition in 2018, mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah pledged Tuesday that if elected he’ll protect other senior citizens from losing their properties.

He called Baltimore’s treatment of the 70-year-old Audrey Wesson, reported Feb. 18 by The Baltimore Sun, “outrageous and embarrassing.”

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The city sent Wesson a bill for nearly $27,000 in January to pay for the 2018 demolition of her father’s longtime home, which was condemned in 2015. It offered to allow her instead to donate the property, at a cost of $600 to her, to the city.

But Wesson, who feels the city prevented her from repairing the home, said she did not feel she should bear any fiscal responsibility for its demolition.

“Just compensate me for it,” Wesson said at a Tuesday news conference with Vignarajah, which took place at the vacant lot where her home and four others once stood. “It’s mine.”

Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general of Maryland, said the city’s inability to simplify such matters for its senior citizens demonstrated the need for an outside candidate to inspire confidence in those who depend on it.

Tammy Hawley, a housing department spokeswoman, said in an email that Wesson still needed to pay the bill, since she had not yet donated the property.

“She has been reached out to in that regard, but she has not rendered her decision,” Hawley said.

Wesson inherited her father’s home in the Middle East neighborhood after he died in 1977 and assumed the taxes and mortgage. She let family and friends use it and rented it out, considering it a piece of generational wealth for her family until it was condemned after the back collapsed on one of the adjacent vacant rowhouses.

Vignarajah said that as Baltimore’s mayor he would move to raise the taxes on abandoned properties and raze and rebuild dilapidated ones, while also ensuring that communities of color and low incomes “hold on to the wealth they have.”

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The Baltimore mayor’s race features a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls, a list that includes incumbent Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, state Sen. Mary Washington, former Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith and Mary Miller, a former acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

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