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First televised Baltimore mayoral debate to air on WBAL-TV Wednesday

The six leading Democratic candidates for Baltimore mayor will face off on television for the first time Wednesday, providing them a major platform to pitch themselves to voters right as ballots are mailed out.

The debate — which was recorded remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic — will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WBAL-TV 11 and Maryland Public Television.

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Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Brandon Scott, former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, former Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith, former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young are scheduled to participate.

“As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, we felt it was crucial to provide a platform for our viewers to hear from the candidates,” Dan Joerres, WBAL-TV 11 president and general manager, said in a statement. “There is no question that this in one of the most important mayoral elections in the history of Baltimore City."

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The coronavirus pandemic has upended this race, forcing an almost entirely mail-in election and shifting voters attention to other life-or-death matters. Roughly 40% of Democratic primary voters said they were undecided about who to vote for in late February, and the virus has taken away many of the traditional ways for residents to get to know the candidates.

Now in the final stretch before the June 2 election, the race is heating up. Well-funded candidates are flooding voters’ mailboxes and taking out significant television ad buys. Those without significant war chests are relying on these virtual forums and social media to get their message out.

In a spirited Monday night debate hosted by the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and the Afro News, the same six candidates squared off. Dixon, Scott and Young pointed to their experience in office as reasons they should be trusted to run the city; Vignarajah, Miller and Smith said it was time for a political outsider to come in and turn things around in Baltimore.

The candidates dug into each others’ campaign contributions, and argued over who is most prepared to help Baltimore recover not only from the pandemic, but also the city’s other longstanding problems like gun violence.

Similar issues will likely arise during Wednesday’s televised debate.

The event will be moderated by anchor Jason Newton, who will joined by panelists Deborah Weiner and Jayne Miller of WBAL-TV 11 News, Bryan Nehman and Clarence Mitchell IV of WBAL NewsRadio and Jeff Salkin of Maryland Public Television.

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