GBC, WBAL NewsRadio host Baltimore City Mayoral Debate


GBC logoWBAL logoThe virtual Baltimore City Mayoral Debate took place on May 27, 2020. Participating in the debate were leading candidates former Mayor Sheila Dixon, Mary Miller, City Council President Brandon Scott, T.J. Smith, Thiru Vignarajah and Mayor Jack Young.

The debate was moderated by GBC President and CEO Donald C. Fry and WBAL News Now host Bryan Nehman.

The candidates were asked questions about Baltimore in the five years since the death of Freddie Gray, why someone should invest in the city, the budget and how to improve the sense of lawlessness without mass incarcerations.

Excerpted candidate responses to some of the questions are below:

On Baltimore in the five years since the death of Freddie Gray:

While discussing Baltimore’s crime problems, economic weakness and population loss, Mary Miller said, “We haven’t taken the steps and done the work to reduce gun violence in the city. We don’t have a crime problem, we have an opportunity problem.”

Mayor Jack Young added that the agencies haven’t been working in a coordinated effort to reduce crime in the city and suggested that we need to rebuild the family structure.

Recalling the events of 2015, T.J. Smith said, “We missed an opportunity … when the nation’s spotlight was on Baltimore. We got distracted. Corruption took hold of the city yet again and that became the focus. We look at areas in West Baltimore where riots were prevalent, they look just like they did five years ago.”

Thiru Vignarajah compared the current crime situation in Baltimore to “the Wild, Wild West,” adding that we “need to not just say the same things we’ve said for the last 10 years.”

City Council President Brandon Scott said, “What happened in 2015 is what we can’t allow to happen during this election. We did not have a mayor who could unite the city. We have failed leadership. A mayor with no crime plan.”

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon had the last words on the topic, mentioning her tenure as Mayor and working with former Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld. “What we have lost in the city is consistency. …We need vision and leadership who knows how to do it.”

On why an investor should invest in Baltimore under the candidate’s leadership:

Mayor Jack Young noted the availability of technology jobs, the proximity to the airport and a world class port. “We’re doing all the right things here in Baltimore. We’re a city that has a great pride. We’re resilient. We’re the comeback city.”

T.J. Smith also emphasized Baltimore’s ports and said, “We’ve had our challenges. That’s no secret. We know this is a resilient town. We know that we are logistically in a very good place. This is an area that is prime, ripe and ready for investment.”

On the city’s branding issue, Thiru Vignarajah said, “Marketing is not going to get us out of this. Unless you change the reality [concerning property tax, school quality, etc.], changing the perception is a very difficult task.”

City Council President Brandon Scott said in order to tackle the issues, “We are going to be focused every day on reducing violent crime in Baltimore. To root out corruption. To make our government more efficient, more effective and more accountable.”

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon said her pitch to a business who wants to relocate is, “We have a great city with all the amenities and all the great attractions. We also have all the structures that it takes to be successful, but we have some disconnects going on right now because we have people in leadership roles who just don’t understand. …”

Mary Miller said she has a very strong vision for crime reduction and economic development in Baltimore and noted she would lower business and property taxes and raise income. “I want to roll out the red carpet for growth in Baltimore. That is the key to our city’s success.”

On the city’s relationship with the surrounding counties and enticing more people from the suburbs to visit:

“We absolutely need the income from all the surrounding jurisdictions,” T.J. Smith responded. “We have to have an inclusive Baltimore. Small business owners want dollars from whoever is coming to town.” There needs to be an “inclusive process of incorporating counties into decision-making.”

Thiru Vignarajah suggested people don’t visit Baltimore because of the perception of crime and the squeegee boys. Some need jobs, some need addiction services, some need discipline, he said. “This is a ticking time bomb. Right now it is causing people not to have dinner at Harbor East,” but he added that if something worse were to happen concerning the squeegee boys, “this city will burn in ways that we have not seen in decades.”

On the squeegee boy issue, Brandon Scott agreed that the individuals need to be identified and provided with needed services. He added that police officers need to be “proactive instead of reactive. Baltimore will be the driver for the region. We will not shy away from the issues.”

“I have worked over the last 10 years on a number of regional efforts as it relates to transportation, crime … on how we can bring businesses here and vice versa,” former Mayor Sheila Dixon said about working with the county executives. She added that we have to address the fact that people don’t visit because they don’t feel safe and said the panhandler issue also needs to be dealt with. “All of that is a quality of life issue. …Clean up this city. It is filthy.”

“As Baltimore goes, so goes the region,” Mary Miller said. “These issues don’t stop at the city borders. We need strong partnerships with surrounding counties. We have a lot of work to do to reduce the perception and reality of crime in Baltimore and encourage more tourism.”

Mayor Jack Young said he’s already working with the counties. “I’ve always talked about regionalism,” he said, mentioning efforts to look at how guns are coming into the city and forming a regional transportation system. “The city is the state’s city. I understand exactly what it takes to drive down crime in the city of Baltimore. You have to have a total holistic approach to reduce crime.”

On mass incarceration for minor offenses:

“Baltimore needs a mayor who will see through with a comprehensive plan to deal with the gun violence,” City Council President Brandon Scott said, suggesting using data to track the repeat offenders. “Investing in the communities to allow them to be better in the first place.”

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon said, “We have to do preventive measures. …There are long-term things we have to do. We have to provide wrap-around support at an early age. Provide psychological support. Look at ways to train our young people about jobs.”

“We absolutely have to restore a sense of public safety in Baltimore,” Mary Miller said. “There is a feeling of lawlessness in the city and it’s a cancer on our city.” Miller added that she believes in decriminalizing addiction and going after violent repeat offenders. “I will ask, ‘What works?’ and ‘How can we get this done?'”

Mayor Jack Young said the key to reducing crime in Baltimore is to invest in our youth. “Track where these guns are coming from,” he added. “We have a crime plan. We have job training programs.”

T.J. Smith said the answer lies in consistency “and consistency comes with integrity. It also comes with a sense of urgency. Part of the urgency is bringing the entire community in to understand the sense of urgency in the community. …It is a holistic approach, but we have to do something in the short-term.”

“No more excuses. No more delays. No more buzzwords. No more sound bites. We need to actually clean up the streets in Baltimore,” said Thiru Vignarajah in agreement with Smith. “The strategies of yesteryear will not work,” he said. “This is a moment of crisis. This is a moment of existential threat to the city and we need actual results and actual leaders.”

Closing statements:

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon summarized her thoughts with “Baltimore is in a make or break moment. Baltimore’s next mayor needs to be ready with a plan and put public health and safety first.”

“Our leaders have promised us change and we’re all waiting. Voters are voting with their feet,” Mary Miller said in closing. “The world is aware of Baltimore’s crime problems. They’re directly related to our economic problems. I want to attack the systemic racism and lack of opportunity that has trapped families in poverty for far too long.”

Mayor Jack Young said he remains “hopeful about moving the city forward. If you want honest, transparency in a mayor who always put the people first. …Baltimore, I am you.”

T.J. Smith closed with, “We are in a tough situation here. Violent crime has a grip on the city.” Stressing that he is not a politician, Smith said, “I am a public servant. We have to build a better Baltimore than we have ever experienced. We can’t continue to go with the status quo.”

“Crime is the defining issue,” Thiru Vignarajah said, “I want the responsibility to rest on my shoulders. If crime doesn’t go down … blame me. If schools don’t get better … blame me. It’s what leaders do and Baltimore is in desperate need of one.”

Brandon Scott had the final closing statements of the debate. “This is the most critical election in our city’s history,” he said. “Baltimore does not need a mayor who is divisive. We need someone who can bring the city together. Baltimore truly can and will be more.”

Also see:


VoteGBC 2020 Baltimore City Election Coverage

‘In Their Words’ Election Series | 2020 Baltimore City Election: Meet the Candidates

 2020 Baltimore City Election: Dates to Know | Maryland Presidential Primary Fact Sheet