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Fact check: What Baltimore mayoral candidates said in TV debate

Six leading Baltimore 2020 mayoral candidates, (top, left to right) Sheila Dixon, T.J. Smith, Mary Miller, (bottom, left to right) Brandon Scott, Thiru Vignarajah and Bernard C. "Jack" Young.
Six leading Baltimore 2020 mayoral candidates, (top, left to right) Sheila Dixon, T.J. Smith, Mary Miller, (bottom, left to right) Brandon Scott, Thiru Vignarajah and Bernard C. "Jack" Young.(Baltimore Sun / Baltimore Sun)

During an upcoming Baltimore mayoral television debate, six leading Democrats made various claims in the event hosted by WBAL-TV and Maryland Public Television. In the recorded video conference, the candidates mostly stuck to the facts, but some occasionally exaggerated or made misleading assertions.

Here's how some statements candidates made stack up to the facts:

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What former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah said: “The Washington Post just did a profile of Baltimore. It said that our campaign and our approach to cutting property taxes was a potential game changer."

Analysis: This statement was misleading. The Post piece to which Vignarajah refers was not a reported article or the stance of the editorial board. It was an op-ed submitted by two professors who favor conservative economic policies and tax cuts.

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What former Mayor Sheila Dixon said: “I started the whole effort for community schools.”

Analysis: Dixon has long pushed for increased use of community schools in Baltimore and was an early adopter of the idea, attending a conference on the topic in 2005. Now, the state’s Kirwan Commission has embraced the wraparound model of delivering services to the families of students in its recommendations to improve public education. But it’s an overstatement to claim Dixon is the originator of the effort. The Baltimore Coalition for Community Schools began work on the issue in 2000 and the first such city school was created in 2005 under then-Mayor Martin O’Malley.

What former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller said: “Last year, spending on public education was about 14% of the budget.”

Analysis: Miller is correct that Baltimore spends much less than its wealthier neighbors on public schools, but she’s imprecise on the details. According to the city’s budget office, education and youth engagement represents 19% of this year’s budget and about 13% goes to public schools. But the city relies largely on state aid to support public education under state funding formulas that take into account its high levels of poverty.

What former Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said: “I watched as the satellite trucks parked over there that looked like Hollywood studios in West Baltimore. That went on for several months and then everyone left.”

Analysis: Smith is correct that during the unrest of 2015 in Baltimore, the national media flooded the city to cover the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. But he overstated their interest: most national news outlets left after days, not months. Even the Maryland National Guard withdrew about a week after it was activated.

What Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said: “I’m paying for [Dixon’s] Gun Trace Task Force right now and I could use that money to spend somewhere else.”

Analysis: Young’s criticism of Dixon implies she is to blame for the crimes of the corrupt Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force members and the subsequent lawsuits filed against the officers and the city, but that’s a simplification. While it is true that then-Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld created the force while Dixon was mayor, it morphed into performing street-level, proactive operations after she left office. Moreover, some allegations of wrongdoing against its officers predate Dixon’s term in office and continued through subsequent mayors.

What City Council President Brandon Scott said: I’m “the only graduate of city public schools in this millennium in this race."

Analysis: Technically true, although somewhat broadly stated. Scott graduated from Merganthaler Vocational Technical High School in 2002, while Dixon graduated from Northwestern High and Young from Northern High in the 1970s. While a new 1,000-year millennium launched in 2000, the three graduated well within 1,000 years of each other. Miller, Smith and Vignarajah graduated from schools outside of Baltimore.

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