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In Baltimore, the most important mayoral election of the 21st Century | COMMENTARY

Baltimore 2020 mayor candidates, (top, left to right) Sheila Dixon, T.J. Smith, Mary Miller, (bottom, left to right) Brandon Scott, Thiru Vignarajah and Jack Young.
Baltimore 2020 mayor candidates, (top, left to right) Sheila Dixon, T.J. Smith, Mary Miller, (bottom, left to right) Brandon Scott, Thiru Vignarajah and Jack Young.(Baltimore Sun / Baltimore Sun)

Nobody asked me, but the current mayor of Baltimore, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, might have a better chance of winning the Democratic primary on June 2 with a punchy campaign slogan like the one he’s been using lately: “I’m already doing that.”

I watched and listened to two online debates among six candidates, and the person with the clearest, simplest message seemed to be Young. He repeatedly reminded viewers that he’s already doing everything the other candidates intend to do if elected.

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“I’m doing already everything they just said,” Young declared after the others described how they would handle the coronavirus crisis in the year ahead.

At several moments in the debates — one via Zoom and Facebook, the other on local television — Young used some form of the expression as a refrain: “I’m already doing that.”

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Of course, this does not necessarily mean that Young is, in fact, doing what he says he’s doing, or that what he says he’s doing has been effective. For campaign purposes, that’s beside the point. Just imagine a TV commercial — a series of quick sound bites of other candidates expressing their ideas for the city, and each time Jack’s right there with his comeback: “I’m already doing that!”

Picture the campaign signs: “Jack Young: Already doing it!”

But, alas, nobody asked me.

Nobody seems to give Young a chance of winning, either. He came into office after the Catherine Pugh mess and deserves credit for being a stabilizing, if uninspiring, leader. And, since the health crisis, his earnestness has been on display in some way almost every day. Still, based on the polling we’ve seen to this point, a Young win on June 2 would be considered a major upset.

For one thing, while the coronavirus is the major issue now, Baltimoreans are sick of the miserably-high-per-capita homicides that continue at virtually the same awful rate in 2020. Young has been in City Hall — first as a councilman, council president, and now as mayor — since the 1990s. Given the crime and corruption of recent years, and the sense of municipal floundering, I’m guessing that my fellow Baltimoreans are not looking to reward incumbency.

One thing about the polls: When they were conducted, they showed a lot of undecided voters, and since then the coronavirus has become the biggest distraction of our lifetime. Only now, as campaign flyers and mail-in ballots show up (hopefully) in city households, is the campaign coming into focus.

And speaking of campaign flyers . . .

Nobody asked me, but Thiru Vignarajah is certainly one of the smartest mayoral contenders in the room and a prolific thinker with the most original ideas for a better Baltimore. But his actions during that controversial traffic stop last year on Greenmount Avenue showed up to haunt his candidacy again last week.

A flyer arrived in the mail with this headline: “Pulled over with suspended tags, Thiru Vignarajah pressured police to turn off their body cameras.” The flyer came from the now-disbanded political action committee that supported the candidacy of Mary Miller. As The Sun reported, the PAC was targeting white voters in an effort to erode Vignarajah’s support among them.

While the PAC might have since shut down, with Miller wisely disavowing it, the flyer probably did some damage to Vignarajah by reminding voters of the traffic stop.

I went back to the police video to review what happened. While sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, Vignarajah asked if a police sergeant’s body camera was on. “Absolutely on,” said the sergeant, who then asked Vignarajah if he wanted the camera turned off. “If you want to take it off,” Vignarajah said. Moments later, as the sergeant questioned him, Vignarajah asked that the camera be turned off. Was that a presumption of privilege on Vignarajah’s part, or was he just taking the sergeant up on his offer? I’m not sure. But, either way, it’s not good. Most of us would not think to ask about the camera to begin with. Is the incident disqualifying? Politicians have done a lot worse.

Which takes us to Sheila Dixon.

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Nobody asked me, but . . . If a plurality of Baltimore voters give Dixon a victory in the primary, they will have decided that a city rocked repeatedly by corruption in City Hall and the police department needs as its next mayor a former mayor who was forced to resign in a plea deal with prosecutors 10 years ago.

Baltimore is in the midst of a six-year run of debilitating violence, police and political corruption, loss of population and, now, the coronavirus pandemic. Given all that, a good number of voters apparently think the leadership remedy is a woman who was convicted of theft while mayor in 2010.

This seems incomprehensible to some people; I hear expressions of their incredulity all the time. They don’t understand how, on the heels of the Pugh scandal, particularly, voters would want to bring Dixon back. But I also hear from Dixon supporters. They think she was an effective mayor who deserves another chance, and they accept her motivation: Baltimore is in worse shape today than when she left City Hall, and she wants another shot at fixing things. I don’t accept that. I just try to understand it.

Nobody asked me, but I offer this advice to my fellow Baltimoreans who are undecided and hunkered down at home because of the coronavirus: Before you fill out a ballot, take some time to consider all the candidates — those I’ve mentioned, plus two others, T.J. Smith and City Council President Brandon Scott. Dig into their websites. Listen to forums and debates. Read our stories about them. Baltimore needs a mayor with vision, integrity and grit to get us through some tough years ahead. I know that sounds like a lecture about civic duty, but I make no apology for it. This is the most important city election of the 21st Century.

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