Baltimore’s mayoral election is barely off the ground, and already the personal attacks have commenced.
Shortly after announcing that he was jumping into the race last week, City Council President Brandon Scott was the target of such grousing, including from potential candidates who haven’t even decided whether to run. Apparently, Mr. Scott is an opportunist and to blame for pushing to hire a jail-bird, tax-dodging police chief, potential challengers told The Sun’s Luke Broadwater.
We certainly hope this type of sniping will not set the tone of the campaign in the coming months. Such rhetoric doesn’t usually appear until toward the end of an election, when defensive candidates feel like they are losing ground to a stronger contender. It is disconcerting to hear it so early in the process.
We say this not because we support Mr. Scott or believe his candidacy is beyond questioning. He deserves real scrutiny — but the kind of scrutiny that helps Baltimoreans decide whether he has what it takes to lead this city. Voters have already said they are looking for serious leadership to guide Baltimore in a new direction. Anyone running for mayor needs to regain the trust and confidence of an electorate turned off by city government after the recent scandal involving former mayor Catherine Pugh and hefty payments she received for her Healthy Holly children’s book series. We are pretty sure that name calling and barb throwing is not going to do much to comfort people. How about the candidates focus on their opponents’ records and platforms?
Former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah took a petty shot at Mr. Scott for supporting the elevation of Darryl De Sousa to police commissioner. Mr. De Sousa was later sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for tax fraud. We doubt that Mr. Scott, or anyone else, would have known Mr. De Sousa was making up stuff on his tax forms to generate a bigger refund. Criticize him (and then-Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young) for failing to conduct more thorough vetting of Mr. De Sousa? Sure. Ask what Mr. Scott has accomplished in his time as chair of the council’s public safety committee amid an incessant increase in violence, as Mr. Vignarajah has done? That’s fair game.
We also urge former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who said she is considering entering the race, to practice more civility and take fewer cheap shots, like calling Mr. Scott an “opportunist” out just for the title of mayor. No question, Mr. Scott is ambitious, but that’s not the same thing as being an opportunist, which implies that he is motivated by no principle other than his personal advancement. Mr. Scott has presented a comprehensive, and frankly somewhat exhausting, plan for the city that touches on crime, health, business, equality and several other issues. He has held community meetings garnering people’s support for his ideas in a show of interest for the city. If that’s opportunism, give us more opportunistic candidates.
By all means, push Mr. Scott on his record. He and all the other candidates need to show voters where they stand on issues and to show they have already been effective in making the city a better place. Or perhaps take Mr. Scott to task on how he intends to implement his grand plan so that it more than just words on paper. That is what voters needs to know.
Mayor Young stayed mostly out of the fray and did not badmouth Mr. Scott after his announcement, which was probably an upstanding move. But even his reaction came with a bit of subtle pettiness, and he most certainly didn’t offer Mr. Scott any praise. “Anybody in the city can run for any position they want,” Mr. Young said. We can all read between the lines on that one.
At the end of the day, Baltimore residents want to hear how the candidates will stop homicides, car jackings and break-ins. They want to see a plan for improving academic performance and reducing class size at public schools. They want to hear how our next potential mayor will restore the image of the city so that is no longer the punching bag of politicians and a symbol of urban decay.
We know criticism is part of the election process. It would be a disservice to voters not to point out candidates’ weaknesses along with their strengths. But the city is still in a fragile state, and unnecessary political bickering won’t help. Besides that, there is enough vitriol in national politics. We have a feeling voters won’t stand for too much more and will exercise their displeasure at the polls. So to all the candidates thinking about joining the race, make civility a priority.