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Baltimore mayoral candidates make final appeal to voters in forum focused on coronavirus, public safety

Although early voting has started in Maryland with record-breaking turnout, three of Baltimore’s mayoral candidates made one final appeal Tuesday night to voters in their last debate before Election Day.

City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee favored to win the Nov. 3 contest, withstood attacks on his record from his competitors, who spent much of the hourlong forum attempting to peel votes away from him.

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Unaffiliated candidate Bob Wallace and Republican nominee Shannon Wright sought to underscore their view that the council president, as a leader of city government, has presided over high homicide numbers, interagency dysfunction, and a coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the business community.

“Mr. Scott, enough words and enough talk," said Wallace, during a section of the WBAL-TV forum focused on crime. “My goodness, you’ve had a front-row seat in this fight, and still, no change.”

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Wright, who stood clear of questioning Scott’s record during a forum last week, changed her strategy Tuesday and took multiple swings at the Democrat.

“The current administration has shown us what not to do,” she said, regarding crime. She later accused Scott of using “psychobabble” instead of focusing on tangible solutions.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the attacks against Scott will have, as more than a quarter of Baltimore’s 400,000 eligible, active voters have already cast ballots in person during early voting or returned their votes by mail. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by nearly 10 to 1, and every Democratic primary winner has won the general election for nearly 60 years.

Scott also benefits from citywide name recognition and the support of unions. Polling conducted before the June primary election showed him as the only candidate in the race having double-digit support from both white and Black voters.

Before serving as president of the council, Scott represented the 2nd District and worked as an aide to then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat. In Tuesday night’s debate, he touted his experience in city government as an advantage, while seeking to remind viewers that the jobs he’s held have lacked the greater degree of power and influence a mayor has.

“I know city government inside and out — what’s wrong and how to rebuild it,” he said while responding to a charge from Wallace about “flip-flopping" on his stance related to the waste incinerators in the city, which he denied.

On questions related to the pandemic and the economy, Scott reminded voters of his legislative know-how, as well as accomplishments during his tenure. In particular, Scott spoke of his passage of bills related to increasing transparency of elected officials and mandating that mayors draft and publish comprehensive crime bills.

He vowed, if elected, to modernize the Department of Public Works, which suffers from outdated equipment. He also spoke of investing in economic opportunities for repeat offenders, reinvesting in schools and “reimagining public safety” from top to bottom. He also said he would move to shut the city down in the event of a major resurgence of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“I do not care about the status quo,” Scott said. “This is about making sure Baltimore changes for the better. I’m not going to focus on being reelected ... because this is about what’s best for the city, not about what’s best for Brandon Scott.”

But Wallace and Wright said Scott has failed the city, and does not deserve a chance to lead it from the top.

“The city is out of control,” Wallace said. “That’s unacceptable to me.”

Wright, in particular, came after Scott for vowing to reallocate more funds in the city budget away from the Baltimore Police Department and into education, behavioral health, and substance abuse services, a move that has become increasingly popular among the Black Lives Matter movement and those calling for the abolition of, and divestment from, policing.

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Already, the city has cut millions of dollars from the police department’s $500 million budget.

“To campaign on defunding the police is irresponsible,” Wright said, later suggesting that Scott says “a bunch of cute things that sound good,” but does not have hard evidence to back up his platform.

Wallace is unusually well funded for a third-party challenger in Baltimore. In the final days of the general election, Scott has nearly $240,000 left to spend, while Wallace’s campaign reported a balance last week of about $172,000. Wright, meanwhile, reported a cash balance of nearly $90,000 going into Nov. 3, according to the latest campaign finance documents.

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