Citing a need for new leadership, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called for T.J. Smith, the department’s plainspoken chief spokesman who resigned last week, to run for mayor in 2020.
The former commissioner compared the spokesman, who he hired from the Anne Arundel County Police Department in 2015, to Erricka Bridgeford, the charismatic co-founder of Baltimore Ceasefire. Davis called each of them a “shining light” for the city.
“I was probably one of the first to say it out loud, but a lot of thoughtful people are encouraging T.J. to consider it,” Davis said afterward. “T.J. exudes all of the personal characteristics of a leader. The thing he’d do most for Baltimore would be to pull Baltimore together.”
Smith would be a “nontraditional” candidate, Davis said, but he cast that as a good thing. Violence and public safety are likely to remain top issues, he added, which would give an edge to a candidate with a police background.
“Anybody who you will see run for mayor in 2020 has been posturing themselves to run for mayor for many years,” he said. “The political ruling class in Baltimore is a bit stale. T.J. offers a fresh perspective.”
Davis’ endorsement came during a panel discussion called “Taking Aim at Baltimore’s Violence” on the CW Baltimore’s “Square Off” with host Richard Sher. The other panelists were Bridgeford, whose brother was shot to death; attorney Warren Brown, whose stepson was killed; and Bryan Nehman, a WBAL morning news anchor.
Smith, who attributed his departure to the “nasty mudslinging” in the department and “political turmoil” all around it, demurred when asked whether he had any aspirations at City Hall.
“I’m enjoying my next phase, whatever that might be,” he said, after the show aired Sunday morning. “I’m going to support our current administration. My full support is behind Mayor Catherine Pugh. ... If she succeeds, we all succeed.”
Smith said he is most excited about spending the holidays with his family — without his phone buzzing with calls and texts from reporters. He answered it Sunday in a Halloween store, where he said he was picking out a Michael Jackson “Thriller” costume for his son and an accompanying zombie one for himself.
“I’ve been in an on-call capacity for the better part of the last 12 years, with an extra phone tied to my hand,” Smith said.
But he doesn’t expect to disappear from the city or the spotlight for long.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve been in a position to represent people,” he said. “I’m going to continue to be engaged with the citizens and their best interests.”
The Police Department’s next chief spokesperson should seek to relate to the community during tough moments, Smith said. But “whoever it is shouldn’t try to be me,” he added. “They should do them.”
Police updates should come from a “person who is knowledgeable and can see the big picture and can understand effects the police department and government has on people’s lives,” Smith said.
Whether or not Smith has any political aspirations, he’s staying attuned to the issues.
In a Facebook post Thursday, he solicited opinions — and received more than 100 comments — on what Baltimore should do about the squeegee boys. The Downtown Partnership recently announced it would pay unarmed guards at the intersections where they work.
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“Let’s see what type of compromise we can get to that does something,” he said Sunday. “Part of government is listening.”