Is change on the horizon in Baltimore?

13 June 2020

6:09 AM

13 June 2020

6:09 AM

Crime-ridden Baltimore finally dodged a bullet this week. The bullet, in this case, was former mayor Sheila Dixon, who nearly became mayor again, despite resigning from office a decade ago when a jury found her guilty of misdemeanor embezzlement. Perhaps this loss can undo the curse of the Baltimore mayor’s office.

Considering the string of scandals plaguing recent mayors, curse may not be a strong enough word. Decide for yourself:

  • 2010: Mayor Dixon, who assumed office in 2007 after Mayor Martin O’Malley was elected Maryland governor, resigns after soliciting gift cards from a wealthy developer that were intended for poor children but were used on shopping sprees while she was city council president. City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake assumes the office.

  • 2016: Mayor Rawlings-Blake declines to run for reelection after being criticized for her handling of the Freddie Gray riots in 2015 when she said she ‘gave those who wished to destroy space to do that’. Maryland state senator Catherine Pugh beats a number of candidates to win the mayoral election, including Dixon.

  • 2019: Mayor Pugh resigns amid state and FBI investigations in response to a series of Baltimore Sun articles detailing how she made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling her children’s book, Healthy Holly, to the University of Maryland Medical System while serving on its board. City Council President Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young assumes the office. Pugh is later sentenced to three years in prison.

City Council President Brandon Scott was declared the winner of the Democratic primary election for mayor Tuesday night, narrowly defeating Dixon after a controversial week-long ballot-counting effort. Scott is expected to easily win the general election in November, as Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 10-1 in Baltimore.

Scott would be deemed a success if he could avoid a major political scandal while keeping annual homicides under 300. For any other city, this would seem to be a simple task. Not in Baltimore: ‘Charm City’ has had 437 firearm-related homicides since 2019.

Scott campaigned on a promise of trust and change, which he centered around his humble upbringings in Baltimore. His story brings an authentic sense of hope, but it’s far from a guarantee that his political experience will prove to be effective. Mayors Dixon, Rawlings-Blake and Young all served as president of the city council before becoming mayor as well.

After rioters hit the streets of Baltimore in 2015 in response to the death of Gray in police custody, the city’s police department became more lenient in enforcing the law. Police reported roughly half of the violations they did prior to the riots, as officers largely ignored drug deals and arrest warrants, USA Today reported. The result of this new approach proved to be fatal.

Baltimore saw an annual average of 217 homicides between 2010 and 2014. The average jumped to 337 between 2015 and 2019. Such a drastic increase can’t be attributed to one factor, but it’s clear that new leadership must bring change.

Scott stood out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates by bragging of his progressive approach to public policy. He recently joined protesters in Baltimore in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. As city council president, he requested this week that Mayor Young consider ways to decrease spending on the police department.

As mayor, Scott should be wary of caving to extreme policy advocates. Instead, he should take note of the role of the city’s lenient law enforcement and the sudden rise of homicides. Perhaps the mayor-to-be can work with both sides of the crime debate to find a balance between stopping abuse of police power and ensuring officers have the tools to bring law and order back to the streets.

Oh, and try not to illegally cash in on the office of mayor at the expense of the city’s residents.

Many Americans know the tragedy of Baltimore through HBO’s fictional yet realistic series, The Wire. If Scott is hopeful, perhaps he should take a hint from the show’s mayor, Tommy Carcetti: ‘It’s Baltimore, no one lives forever.’

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