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For Brandon Scott, Baltimore’s next mayor, a little advice and some big ideas | COMMENTARY

Sporting a retro Afro hair style, Baltimore's democratic mayoral candidate Brandon Scott speaks to the media during his post-election party at Soundstage Tue., Nov. 3, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Sporting a retro Afro hair style, Baltimore's democratic mayoral candidate Brandon Scott speaks to the media during his post-election party at Soundstage Tue., Nov. 3, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

To Brandon Scott, Baltimore’s next mayor:

I don’t have to tell you what the big problems are. Violent crime tops the list. Everyone who is invested in the city, who still cares about this place, wants to see less gun violence and fewer wasted lives. We need more police officers. We need more social workers. We need parole and probation officers to identify men most likely to shoot or be shot and offer them a way off that dead-end street.

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But you know that already.

Baltimore needs to offer hope to more of the young men and women who grow up here. People who live, work and run businesses need to feel safe. They need to believe the city will get out of this long slide and reach that potential we’ve been talking about for the last 30 years.

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But you know that, too. You grew up here and you’ve spent a decade in public office already.

When you take the oath on Tuesday, you’ll face the kind of challenges I would compare to those that confronted two previous mayors — Robert B. McLane, who was your age, 36, at the time the great fire of 1904 destroyed downtown, and Thomas J. D’Alesandro III, who was just a little older, 39, at the time of the 1968 riots. You’ll be the second mayor during the coronavirus pandemic, assuming office as the number of infections and deaths rise and as businesses continue to be battered or shuttered. You’ll have your hands full getting through the winter and spring, making the city budget work, keeping your citizens safe, helping businesses recover from the recession.

But, with all that, there’s even more a mayor has to do — or at least think about.

Some of what I’m about to suggest might seem frivolous or unlikely to ever happen. Crime, the pandemic, schools and kids — those are Baltimore’s top priorities. But a mayor should not stop dreaming. You can’t halt all other progress while we wait for the shootings to stop.

So, I’m going to do what I normally do when a mayor takes office — make recommendations, big and small, and remind you of some things we’ve left on the back burner.

  • Make time to give a series of talks at colleges and universities to ask students to consider putting down roots here, starting a career and getting involved in helping Baltimore break through its problems. You’re young; they’ll listen to you.
  • Ask local broadcasters, as a public service, to create a new anti-trash campaign to make this issue top of mind again. There has been no consistent anti-trash message in Baltimore for years. We need one.
  • Enlist every one of Baltimore’s 250-plus neighborhoods to start trash patrols. Several already exist and deserve mayoral recognition. Imagine 250 trash patrols deployed every Saturday morning for a couple of hours. Combine that with anti-trash messaging, and we might get somewhere.
  • Once we get back to some kind of normal, how about giving every household a swill bucket and establishing curbside pickup of food scraps and yard waste? Bring in a company to manage and market Baltimore’s compost.
  • This might seem odd, but I think the city needs a paint job. In my meanderings around town I see a lot of concrete walls, bridge abutments, hydrants, lamp posts, bus benches and other infrastructure that could use a coat of happy paint. Some of these properties are private, but you could encourage the owners to spring for paint and rollers — a relatively cheap civic contribution — or hire a crew of kids off squeegee teams to brighten exteriors.
  • Give the Baltimore Green Network a push. This gorgeous plan was adopted a couple of years ago after hundreds of Baltimoreans took part in community discussions about how to bring trees to green-deprived neighborhoods and connect them with city parks through green corridors and bike trails. This might seem like a luxury item, but not with climate change and not with the city’s health issues. Done right, the BGN presents an opportunity for public-private partnerships and new jobs for people close to where they live. Remove blight, plant trees.
  • Related to this: How about a serious look at turning the city stretch of Interstate 70, the so-called “Highway to Nowhere,” into a 1.2-mile long, people-friendly, dog-friendly, bike-friendly city park? The Westside Greenway would add a major slice to the Baltimore Green Network and connect West Baltimore neighborhoods to Lexington Market and downtown. Baltimoreans would love this. It deserves consideration.
  • The Flowering Tree Trails need your support, too. It’s a great project to create and connect miles of blooming trees throughout the city.
  • Don’t forget the coolest idea for the waterfront ever put to paper — a pedestrian bridge spanning the Inner Harbor from the southern rim, near the Rusty Scupper, to Pier 5. The bridge would draw tourists from all over the world and become the city’s classic Monday Night Football shot. Again, it sounds like a luxury item, but Baltimore needs to have new and exciting projects up its sleeve.
  • Allow me to repeat to you the advice I gave former Mayor Catherine Pugh on the day of her inauguration in 2016: “If you need to make a decision that gives you pause for an ethical consideration — a conflict of interest, for instance — stop and think. If the situation feels hinky, it probably is. Get legal counsel. Get an opinion from the ethics board. As much as I like when Sun reporters get scoops, I don’t want to be reading about [your] ethical lapses in the newspaper.” Pugh obviously didn’t listen to me — or my advice came after her game was already afoot — but I trust you will. Mary Pat Clarke, the long-serving and retiring councilwoman, says you’re surrounding yourself with good people. That’s great. I hope you assign a person of integrity the role of Official Smeller to help you with smell tests.

Good luck, young man.

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