Just days before early voting begins, Baltimore’s four mayoral candidates joined a virtual debate to make their cases for why they are the best choice to lead a city that was suffering already from deep inequities long before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee, is the heavy favorite to win in deep-blue Baltimore. He used Thursday night’s 90-minute forum to remind voters of legislation he’s passed in City Hall and pitch his vision for remaking local government.
“This election is not just about who the next mayor will be, but what kind of mayor they will be,” Scott said.
From the get-go, independent candidate Bob Wallace sought to tie Scott to the city’s long-standing problems, including violent crime. The city has seen more than 300 homicides in each of the last five years.
“Where’s the beef?” said Wallace, echoing a famous line from the 1984 presidential campaign. “Where are the results of all this legislation and these ideas and this talk?”
It was among the four candidates’ last chances to address residents before early, in-person voting begins Monday. More than 70,000 people in Baltimore already have returned mail-in ballots.
Of the ballots already received, roughly 88% came from registered Democrats in the city, according to the state elections board.
Scott has been campaigning mostly from his seat in City Hall, continuing to push legislation central to his platform, such as a law that would require all city bills be analyzed through a lens of equity.
Wallace, a businessman, has put together an unusually well-funded challenge, run television commercials and embarked on a walking campaign across the city.
Wright, meanwhile, had less than $10,000 cash on hand, according to the latest available financial disclosure forms. Harding acknowledged during the debate that he doesn’t expect to be the next mayor.
Both Scott and Wallace used their personal stories to explain why they’re running for the job, and are primed to take it on. Scott grew up in Parks Heights, while Wallace was raised in Cherry Hill. They both graduated from the city’s public schools and spoke about their perspectives being shaped by violence in Baltimore.
They expressed differing views on how to tackle crime in the city. Scott was unequivocal about the need for the state to repeal the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which has been criticized by some as a way to shield police officers from being held accountable.
Wallace said the law must be “looked at and challenged in areas where it doesn’t meet the needs of the people.”
The two disagreed on whether Johns Hopkins University should proceed with a proposal, currently on hold, to form a police force to patrol its campuses. Scott opposes it, while Wallace said he doesn’t see a problem with it.
Scott recently oversaw a push by the City Council to eliminate millions of dollars in Baltimore Police Department funding, a move that came amid widespread protests against officer brutality. He repeated a campaign promise Thursday night to rethink the way Baltimore approaches and funds public safety while still complying with a consent decree the city entered into after a U.S. Justice Department investigation found officers routinely violated residents' constitutional rights.
Wallace pitched a “truth and reconciliation commission” to rebuild trust between officers and community members.
Wallace attempted to contrast his professional experience — he runs three companies in Baltimore — with Scott’s decadelong tenure in City Hall. Wallace said his record as a businessman would allow him to bring jobs and investment to the city, and he pledged to focus on minority-owned companies.
“Are we ready to put a $3.4 billion corporation in the hands of the wrong leader?” he asked during his closing statement.
Scott defended his record, saying this race is about “providing tested leadership.” A staffer under then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Scott was later elected to the council to represent the 2nd District in Northeast Baltimore, and then became council president last year.
He said he knows what it’s like to confront budget deficits, both from the perspective of a government staffer and an elected official. He asked voters to remember who they’ve seen on the streets, marching for peace, for years.
The candidates all agreed that it was vital to adequately fund Baltimore’s schools. While most of the discussion was around public education, Wright said she would lobby to increase families' access to school voucher programs.
Debate moderator Joshua Harris said the NAACP aimed to ensure voters understood all their options as they head to the voting booth — or mailbox. At the end of the day, the organization wants to encourage all eligible residents to vote as if their lives depend on it.
“Because they do,” Harris said.