Baltimore Sun Opinion Editor Andy Green on The Sun's endorsement of Catherine Pugh for Mayor of Baltimore. (The Baltimore Sun video)
A year after Freddie Gray's death, Baltimoreans are eager for change. From the smallest neighborhood groups to the city's biggest institutions, people are clamoring for ways to address problems we have ignored for too long but which came painfully to the surface during last April's protests and unrest. What they need is a proven leader who can unite the city and channel that energy into a vision for a better Baltimore. That leader is Catherine Pugh.
Ms. Pugh grew up in a family of seven kids in Philadelphia. Her parents could provide a love of learning but not the money to go to college, so she moved to Baltimore and worked multiple jobs to pay her way through Morgan State University, where she later got an MBA. Her career has been varied, with experience in small and big business and the media. She served on the City Council for five years and the House of Delegates for two, and she has been a member of the state Senate since 2007, rising to the rank of majority leader.
That experience means she knows how to get things done in a political environment. She knows how to work with the business community — a crucial attribute in a city desperate for jobs — and she knows what it is like to struggle and strive. She has drawn broad support across racial, neighborhood and socio-economic lines in this election, and she is the only candidate who, from day one, would be able to bridge those divides in times of crisis or of opportunity.
Her only potential rival in that regard is the candidate who has actually run the city before: former mayor Sheila Dixon. Much of Ms. Dixon's campaign has served as a reminder of what was good about her tenure in City Hall. She had an excellent staff, a clear focus and a real connection with the city's residents. But she has been unable or unwilling to take the opportunity to truly account for the ethical shortcomings that resulted in her conviction and resignation from office six years ago. The result is that while she engenders tremendous loyalty from her supporters, she remains a deeply polarizing figure, and one that many cannot trust. Political leaders on the state and federal level and business leaders locally would understandably be reluctant to partner with her. That isn't what Baltimore needs.
Many voters were eager for an outsider to take over City Hall, and several candidates made credible runs for that mantle. Among them, attorney Elizabeth Embry stood out; across the board, her policy proposals were consistently detailed, innovative and well conceived. We believe she has a tremendous future and much to contribute to the city, but it is simply too much of a leap to hand control of City Hall to a candidate who has never run for, much less held, elective office before. Neither she nor any of the other outsiders has a track record of success in a political environment, nor have any managed so far in this campaign to galvanize the electorate around them in the way that would be necessary to achieve the kind of change they promise.
Senator Pugh has, and her history shows she can deliver. She was out on the streets of West Baltimore to help bring calm during and after the unrest, and she worked the halls of Annapolis to help secure a package of aid the city so desperately needs. Her life has been one of bringing people together around shared goals — she did it when she helped found the Baltimore marathon and the Baltimore Design School, and she can do it when it comes to bringing the city's philanthropic, business, religious, grassroots and political leaders together to find solutions to Baltimore's injustices and inequalities.
Ms. Pugh has been an extremely active legislator, serving as the primary sponsor of dozens of bills a year covering a broad range of issues. Some of them are technical — a reflection of her seat on the Finance Committee — but many have had a direct impact on Baltimore. She has focused on bills related to ex-offenders, including legislation to help them get jobs and start businesses; insurance issues, including legislation allowing customers of the state's auto insurer of last resort to accept installment payments — a major victory for the working poor; educational issues, such as increasing the drop-out age; consumer protections; health insurance policy; and reforms to the state's minority business enterprise program. She was the lead sponsor of Maryland's law requiring that inmates in state prisons be counted for redistricting purposes in the communities they came from — a major boost for Baltimore's clout in Annapolis and the first law of its kind in the nation. And she spearheaded legislation generally prohibiting employers from using applicants' credit reports in hiring decisions.
Education is at the center of Ms. Pugh's platform for mayor. She wants greater mayoral control over the school system (legislation she sponsored to achieve that failed this year but would likely fare better if she, as mayor, pushed for it), and she wants to get the community more directly involved in providing support and services for students. She worked on police reform commissions at both the state and federal levels and has a strong understanding of the steps needed to repair the relationship between Baltimore's officers and the community. She proposes strategies for the city to connect employers with job seekers in Baltimore's most impoverished neighborhoods, and she understands the need for city government to operate more efficiently and with less bureaucracy. Perhaps most importantly, she has the skills to rally a broad coalition around her goals — from the neighborhoods, City Hall, the State House and Washington.
We are concerned by some of the tactics Ms. Pugh's campaign has employed. Her decision to solicit campaign contributions from lobbyists appearing before her committee in Annapolis during this year's legislative session may follow the letter of Maryland's campaign finance law but not its spirit. And her campaign's efforts to bus people to the polls after attracting them with the prospect of an election-day job (and providing them with lunch and snacks) at the very least skirts close to the line when it comes to Maryland's law on offering a reward or promise of reward to those who vote. Given the facts as we presently know them, those incidents are disappointing but not disqualifying. We don't need a mayor who is guided solely by what she believes is legal, we need one who will do what is right. We will watch closely to ensure that such lapses of judgment do not extend to her administration.
This election is a time of significant transition in city government. Not only did Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake choose not to seek re-election, but so too did many of the longest-serving members of the City Council. It appears likely that the next council will be full of enthusiasm and fresh ideas. We need a steady leader in the mayor's office to direct that energy and to build a relationship that moves beyond the power struggles we've seen between the two branches of government in the last few years and toward one of collaboration. Ms. Pugh's experience in City Hall and Annapolis proves she can do that. She is also capable of working effectively with Ms. Rawlings-Blake during her protracted lame duck period to ensure a smooth transition and to fend off some ill conceived efforts by the outgoing council to permanently alter the balance of power in City Hall.