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Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller worked for President Obama. Is it pandering for her to mention that? | COMMENTARY

In her campaign commercials, Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller is seen with President Barack Obama. She served as a Treasury official in the Obama administration for five years.
In her campaign commercials, Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller is seen with President Barack Obama. She served as a Treasury official in the Obama administration for five years.(Mary Miller campaign video)

I exchanged text messages with an acquaintance in West Baltimore regarding the mayoral candidates, and he said this about Mary Miller: “She wants to impress by bringing up pictures of herself and Barack,” meaning, of course, former President Obama.

Well, do you blame her?

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Miller worked in Washington for five years, helping the Obama administration with recovery from the recession that the new president inherited in 2009. Miller was assistant Treasury secretary for financial markets and then an undersecretary for domestic finance. Her work focused on cities emerging from the recession and homeowners facing foreclosure. At some point, she apparently got her picture taken with Obama, and the picture has ended up in Miller’s campaign advertising. She obviously considers having worked for Obama a plus.

But certain people knock Miller for doing this. In a commentary for Maryland Matters, a Democratic Party activist, Ufuoma Agarin, claimed that Miller, who is white, “talks down to black voters, and panders, name-dropping her connection to Barack Obama.”

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Ouch. That’s harsh stuff aimed at an accomplished woman who has lived in Baltimore for 33 years and who’s poured some of her wealth into trying to get elected mayor because she’s worried about the decline of her city.

Mentioning that she worked for Obama is pandering to black people?

Last I checked, Barack Obama enjoyed pretty broad approval among Democrats, no matter their race, and polls show that his popularity has grown since he left office. He’s particularly admired by millennials.

But mentioning that she worked for this extremely popular Democrat in an extremely Democratic city is nothing more than a play for black votes?

Sorry to inform Miller’s critics of this, but having worked at Treasury for Obama is on the woman’s resume — you can’t take that away from her — and here’s a shock: It probably helps her with white voters, too.

-o-

I hate this stuff. I hate that, for many of us, white and black, the appraisal of a candidate starts with his or her race. I understand the reality of race as a dynamic in city politics; it works in different ways, on different levels, and it gets in the way of things — building and sustaining multiracial coalitions, giving candidates a fair shake, reaching consensus and trust.

Just last week, people who formed a political action committee to help Miller were exposed for employing race in their strategy; the PAC intended to target white voters in an effort to pull them away from two other candidates, former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah and City Council President Brandon Scott.

Once that was revealed, the PAC reportedly shut down. That left Miller to try and disavow what the PAC had been up to and to separate herself from the race-based strategy.

“While we had no involvement or prior knowledge of this, we deeply apologize to our supporters and every Baltimorean,” Miller said in a statement. “I will continue to work every day to earn your trust and support.”

How much damage this did to her candidacy remains to be seen.

-o-

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For now, Miller remains a top player going into the last two weeks of the campaign. She just picked up the endorsement of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and though that group is not considered as influential as it used to be, Miller welcomed the endorsement, as would any candidate.

But even that, I learned Tuesday, comes with controversy.

Apparently, the IMA was ready to endorse Brandon Scott in March — I’ve seen a letter from the IMA to Scott stating that — but something happened.

Coronavirus happened.

In March, Gov. Larry Hogan banned gatherings of more than 10 people to slow the spread of the disease. A press conference to announce the IMA endorsement didn’t happen. Moreover, the man who runs the IMA is the Rev. Alvin Gwynn, the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Northeast Baltimore who vowed to defy Hogan’s order and conduct worship services. Hogan last week loosened restrictions, but Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, also a mayoral candidate, announced that the stay-at-home order for the city would remain. Nonetheless, Gwynn maintained his position, pledging to hold services at 50 percent capacity in his 500-seat church.

Scott, meanwhile, has supported the stay-at-home directive all along and, as The Sun reported, he’s been using social media tools to carry the message of public health experts to Baltimoreans, employing Instagram, in particular, to reach black residents.

Did this put him at odds with Gwynn?

Reached Tuesday, Gwynn said Scott “decided he didn’t want our endorsement," and that “he didn’t follow up.”

But Scott’s campaign director, Marvin James, said that’s not true, Scott wanted the IMA’s support. The campaign never received notice that the IMA’s endorsement would be withdrawn, James said, and the Miller endorsement was a complete surprise.

In announcing its endorsement in a press release last week, the IMA mentioned Miller’s experience with the Obama administration — apparently, a good thing — and it noted the city’s predicted financial troubles as a result of the pandemic. For this challenge, the IMA said, Baltimore needs a “fresh leader . . . who understands municipal financing and how to obtain funding from new sources — both private and public.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Bishop Douglas Miles, a past president of the alliance and long-time civic leader, is not pleased. He and four other past presidents and former members, who many Baltimoreans still associate with the alliance, issued a statement Tuesday that said “the original intent, mission, and actions of the IMA have been obscured by its present leadership.”

Miles and the other pastors, who left the alliance years ago, said the IMA had not maintained the practice of interviewing all mayoral candidates before making an endorsement. In the past, Miles maintains, Mary Miller would have been considered along with all others in the race. So the past presidents‘ complaint is with the IMA under Gwynn, he said, and not with her.

Right. After all, how do you knock Miller for accepting the endorsement? It’s like knocking that photograph of her and Barack.

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