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Baltimore voters: Take this into consideration when casting your ballot | COMMENTARY

Baltimore City Hall, where an array of newly elected officials could take office soon.
Baltimore City Hall, where an array of newly elected officials could take office soon. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore is in the throes of an election of extraordinary consequence to the future of our city. While this type of proclamation is uttered during every election, this time it’s the absolute truth.

The winners of the Democratic primary for the offices of mayor, City Council president, comptroller and City Council members are likely to also win the general election. The victorious will face challenging times as Baltimore grapples with a public health crisis, economic downturn and a host of policy uncertainties. This is quite the sobering moment.

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I love Baltimore for all it is and all it could be. Despite our challenges, we boast a world class port, a significant concentration of quality institutions of higher education, top tier health care centers and rich history. Residents and neighbors in our surrounding counties all know that Baltimore is the economic engine and cultural capital of the region.

Because we are in the midst of decades — not years — of intolerable rates of violent crime, a declining population and an economy that fails to meaningfully embrace a significant population of residents, people are desperate for hope. Sometimes that hope is to recapture the best times in recent memory. That’s tangible and real. For others, it’s re-imagining what our collective success looks like altogether. These are admirable aims because they are fundamentally about Baltimore overcoming its current challenges.

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Whenever you speak with Baltimore residents, people generally want the same things: safety, great schools, clean streets, economic stability, quality recreational amenities and basic peace of mind. The path to making all of that possible will soon be in the hands of newly elected policymakers as well as policymakers from other jurisdictions and levels of government that have a hand in what resources we can even access.

As chair of Baltimore’s House delegation to the Maryland General Assembly I will have to effectively work with the eventual winners of citywide offices. To those voters who have yet to cast their ballots I share some important considerations they should take into account when making their decision:

  • All politics are local but all power is not. Baltimore leaders must understand our unique neighborhoods to identify the best ways to provide assistance. To that end, partnership with local corporate and philanthropic leadership has always been important. However, Baltimore will still need coordinated federal and state resources to address the needs of small businesses, public schools, public safety and folks out of work. Consider if your candidates are positioned to leverage existing relationships — outside of Baltimore — to lift us up. You can’t build these relationships overnight in the middle of a pandemic. They will matter.
  • Vision must be paired with strategy. Wanting a better Baltimore is the easy part. Developing the strategies to yield that result requires more effort and skill. Do you know what your candidates want to accomplish or continue accomplishing in their roles? Do you know how they prioritize what matters? We can’t do all things at the same time. Are your candidates comfortable saying “no?” Truly assess your confidence in your candidates’ theories of leadership, goals for the office and ability to stand their ground for our collective best interests.
  • Words matter, actions matter more. During campaign season, it can be difficult to decipher what otherwise simple words mean. For example, what’s a progressive or a moderate? People of good will can respectfully disagree on who embodies all types of political labels. Similarly, what does it mean to be experienced? For voters, you have to determine your own values and where a candidate aligns based on their ideas, relationships and demonstrated leadership. Experience comes in many forms and they all hold special lessons. Managing people, projects and significant budgets are full of many lessons about how to extend respect, support a team and take full responsibility for losses right along with the wins. Some experience sharpens analytical skills, while others enhance empathy. Consider which combination of skills and experiences matter to Baltimore’s future through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Your future is on the ballot and that of all your neighbors. No matter where your decisions fall, please lift your voice and cast your ballot by mail or drop box no later than June 2nd.

Delegate Stephanie M. Smith (Stephanie.Smith@house.state.md.us) represents District 45 in the Maryland General Assembly and is chair of the Baltimore delegation.

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