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Timing is everything: Brandon Scott has a great opportunity to build a powerful city coalition | COMMENTARY

Brandon Scott, left, hears from activist Kwame Rose as protesters face off with police at Baltimore City Hall in response to the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Brandon Scott, left, hears from activist Kwame Rose as protesters face off with police at Baltimore City Hall in response to the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Congratulations, Brandon Scott, on your victory in the Democratic primary election, making you most likely the next mayor in deep blue Baltimore. The timing could not be better for a 36-year-old son of the city to take the top job in City Hall.

You have an opportunity to capitalize on the events of the last five years — and the last two weeks — to build something no other candidate could: A diverse citywide coalition to accomplish great things even as the road ahead presents huge obstacles.

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I’ve been watching you and all the young people in the streets — not just in Baltimore, but in the surrounding counties. Black, white and brown, men and women, together in protest of racism and police brutality, demanding a higher level of accountability and civility. It has been a wonder to see, and I keep thinking something great will come of it for Baltimore, if not the nation.

In a way, we’ve had a head start here.

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The city convulsed in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, and Brandon Scott walked the walk. You were out on the streets with the anti-violence 300 Men March to show the world that the sons of Baltimore cared about their beleaguered city. Almost all of those who marched were black.

The Freddie Gray protests had a greater racial and gender mix, but not like we’ve seen in the last two weeks, since the horrible death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

It’s different this time. More eyes are open now. The peaceful demonstrations in Baltimore have been inspiring.

Did they have anything to do with your victory in the primary? It’s hard to tell, but I’m guessing that some Baltimoreans turned to Brandon Scott in the final days of voting, after the protests started, because they saw you, with your high visibility in the media, as a leader of a rising generation in a changing culture. They saw not a shiny-bright who parachuted into Baltimore politics, but a young guy who had worked his way from Park Heights to the presidency of the City Council while still keeping his feet on the ground, walking the walk. That’s how it looked.

So I’m regarding all the energy in the streets, all the young progressives who live in Baltimore and want this city to finally reach its potential, and I’m thinking this is it: We have in our midst the makings of a powerful, biracial coalition across the city — perhaps even across the metropolitan area — and Brandon Scott is at its center.

In the old days, mayors could hold power with racial polarization. That doesn’t work anymore, but it takes special care and management to build and sustain a thriving coalition with political power shared across racial lines. This urban ideal has been within our grasp before. At two different times in the last 30 years, we had mayors who were elected with considerable biracial support only to see it crumble during their tenures.

That was then, this is now.

I’m full of unsolicited advice, and that’s my first piece to you, Brandon Scott: Build on what you have started here and what the tragedy of George Floyd has delivered. Look at the timing of your election with the protests and what appears to be the makings of a long-sought breakthrough in race relations. You’ve been handed a great opportunity.

So build a coalition, starting with a great Cabinet. Look at who’s working for Mayor Jack Young; he has some sharp people worth keeping in City Hall. You can find talent among your colleagues from the City Council who just lost their bids to succeed you as president — Shannon Sneed, Carl Stokes and Leon Pinkett. The city’s tech community is bustling with talent. You’re going to find that astute people will work for you because they believe you represent real change. People want you to succeed. Take advantage of that.

Oh, and please keep Michael Braverman as housing commissioner.

You don’t take the oath of office for six months. Use this time to work out a peace deal between the police commissioner and the police union. We don’t need bickering between the commander and his officers.

And maybe you could ask those who marched against police brutality to march in support of Baltimore Ceasefire during one of its anti-violence weekends.

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The months ahead are going to be rough. Be prepared for the headaches related to coronavirus. Get the counsel of people with management experience and wisdom; some of them just ran against you for mayor. You might want to speak to Gov. Larry Hogan about helping the city instead of ragging on it every chance he gets, but I would not spend a lot of time on that.

Even with the pile of problems created by coronavirus and the ongoing crime, there are things that need to be done. Attach yourself to the schools in a big way, to instill confidence that the system has the full support of the mayor. Get Harborplace either renovated or removed. Do something about the big hole in the ground where the Mechanic Theater used to be. Revive the “dollar house” program for vacants. Turn the Highway to Nowhere into a public park. Cut the property tax rate.

There’s plenty that needs doing, but the doing will be easier if you keep young Baltimore motivated and build that citywide coalition. Good luck.

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