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Mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah, front, calls for action on aerial surveillance to help fight crime. He was joined, from left, by Victory Swift, whose son was murdered in 2017, former Councilwoman Rikki Spector, and community leaders Archie Williams and Marvin "Doc" Cheatham. Mr. Vignarajah proposes limiting police use of the program for murder, shooting and carjacking investigations, with the requirement that police obtain a warrant.
Mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah, front, calls for action on aerial surveillance to help fight crime. He was joined, from left, by Victory Swift, whose son was murdered in 2017, former Councilwoman Rikki Spector, and community leaders Archie Williams and Marvin "Doc" Cheatham. Mr. Vignarajah proposes limiting police use of the program for murder, shooting and carjacking investigations, with the requirement that police obtain a warrant. (Amy Davis)

For nearly 40 years, I had the honor of serving on the Baltimore City Council. Like every other city in America, we’ve struggled with crime. Certain years were worse than others, but never have I seen crime as out of control as it is today. Never.

I have also never seen our local city leadership so out of touch with reality, unable to act and unwilling to lead. Never. The mayor and council president seem numb to the death toll, obsessed with pointing blame at one another and more focused on their own political ambitions than solving our problems. I do not want to think what the increase in the body count would be if we did not have a top-notch shock trauma center and emergency rooms.

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Three years ago, I was myself attacked in a carjacking incident, which fortunately drove me to help create the non-profit Food Project-UEMPOWER of Maryland, where with good mentoring and job training programs, we have turned a community around. I am a recovering politician, an octogenarian and an optimist. What we have tried before is not working; we are twiddling our thumbs while Rome is burning. We are failing the good citizens of Baltimore. I worry that no one currently in local government has the clarity to see the critical urgency of our situation — that no one has the ability to stop the the out-of-control violence and unacceptable loss of life.

Then, I read the crime plan of mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah, a fresh name in Baltimore politics and a remarkable homegrown success story. The immigrant and son of Baltimore school teachers went from local public schools to president of the Harvard Law Review. He could have done anything, but he dedicated himself to Baltimore. From what I see and hear — and I still see and hear a lot — he is getting traction in diverse neighborhoods across the city. His crime plan explains why. It is smart, concrete, detailed and realistic. It is tough and progressive, rejecting policies of mass incarceration and cash bail and rooted in principles of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It is the plan of a person who, as a federal and city prosecutor and deputy attorney general of Maryland, actually fought crime.

If you heard Mr. Vignarajah’s promise to cut murders to below 200 and did not believe it, read his plan. If you only saw Dan Rodricks’ enlightening columns or listened to radio host C4 gush about it, go back and read his plan. And if you have read it, frankly, read it again. Why do I appreciate it so? Because it is different, in style and substance, from anything we have seen from our elected leaders, including the other mayoral candidates. It does not pander. It has measurable goals and strategies to achieve them. In times like these, it says what needs to be said, even if it is unpopular.

Mr. Vignarajah also responds to questions about crime honestly and directly. Public servants do not get paid to go where people who like them ask them easy questions, but rather to go where people who don’t like them ask them hard ones. Mr. Vignarajah is always ready with answers. I already knew he and I saw eye-to-eye on the “Eye in the Sky” surveillance plane program. But there is much more. A timetable for wiretaps in 12 specific neighborhoods, prioritized by data. Federal prosecution of carjackings. A special focus on violent repeat juvenile offenders. Using burglary evidence to apprehend killers. Triaging murders by caliber of weapon and method of execution.

Mr. Vignarajah’s plan is not solely about enforcement either. Let’s add a college cadet program to get a more diverse and local police force. Let’s divert low-level offenders to apprenticeships and jobs to end the revolving door of poverty and prison. Let us forgive crippling government debt and get churches, synagogues, mosques and all houses of worship to help citizens returning from jail. The plan is innovative and fearless, willing to do what others have refused.

I got out of politics before Mr. Vignarajah got in. From one generation to the next, however, I see the passion and pragmatism of a leader with a plan that can work. With him, I firmly believe that fixing Baltimore is actually doable. We need a leader like him and a plan like his today more than ever.

Rochelle Rikki Spector (spectorr2@gmail.com) is a former Baltimore City Councilwoman who served the 5th District in Northwest Baltimore from 1977 until 2016.

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