Baltimore Mayor Jack Young gives a briefing on the city’s COVID-19 response, on March 31. He is joined by Dr. Leticia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner. (Mayor’s Office photo)
Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller said the administration of the city’s current mayor, Jack Young, has been slow to respond to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t think the city had a well-prepared plan to react to something of this nature or magnitude. And I think on the health-care front we’ve been scrambling to follow medical directives, to get the testing centers set up … we’ve not responded with the sort of speed and urgency that we would have hoped for,” Miller told Maryland Reporter.com in a phone interview on Monday. “And I think a lot of that has to do with not having the emergency preparedness work in place ahead of time —regardless of what the situation could be.”
Miller elaborated on that point.
“I also think that we’ve been full off the mark in providing economic relief. I’ve been pushing for over a month now to try to get the city to use its budget stabilization reserves to help businesses, in particular, get through this period. I’m very worried that when we come out the other side we’re going to have lost a significant number of employers in the city. And I’ve seen other cities move more aggressively to put in place bridge loans and to help employers who are not getting access to the federal programs or even some of the state programs in Maryland — just get through this period.”
Young has been mayor for slightly over one year, taking over after Catherine Pugh resigned. He previously served nine years as city council president.
Miller, 64, is tied in the race with both former mayor Sheila Dixon, 66, and City Council President Brandon Scott, 36, according to a poll released on Friday by the Garin-Hart-Yang research group —which showed each candidate at 16 percent. Young, 65, polled at 13 percent in the survey. All four are Democrats. The primary election is on June 2. The winner is almost certain to go on to win the general election in a landslide as the city is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Miller has raised $2.3 million, according to a campaign finance report released last week. The report, which was her first, said $1.5 million of that amount came from self-financing and still has $150,000. Dixon has about $300,000 on hand and Scott has about $415,000, according to finance reports released by their respective campaigns. Young has $202,000, according to his campaign report. Former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah has about $700,000 left.
Miller served in three high-ranking posts at the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama, including undersecretary for domestic finance and assistant secretary for financial markets. She was the director of the fixed income division when she left to join the Obama administration. Prior to joining the Treasury, she spent 26 years at the Baltimore-based global investment firm T. Rowe Price. Miller said her diverse set of experiences in both the public and private sector makes her uniquely qualified to lead the city she has called home for 34 years.
“As a political outsider, I think I bring a completely fresh approach and perspective to city government. I think I have a very deep set of experiences in public policy, in the private sector and in the public sector…I just think I bring a pretty broad package of skills and experience to a city that is going to have daunting challenges to recover from this.”
Scott stresses Baltimore roots and says he can unite the city
But Scott, who succeeded Young as council president, said his own strong Baltimore roots make him uniquely qualified to lead the city.
“Baltimore is different for me than anyone else in this race. There is no one else in this race that has graduated from Baltimore City public schools…It’s different when you’ve seen the first shooting at eight years old. You go to those schools with no heat and no air. And despite all of that — you work your way, you’re able to go to college, come back home and dedicate your life to serving the city.”
“I am the only candidate in this race that can actually bring Baltimore together…what Baltimore needs right now is a leader who’s unafraid to do the right thing over the popular one.”
Scott said that he has a good working relationship with Young and that the mayor has done many good things for the city. But Scott also said the council had to push the mayor’s office to take certain actions during the pandemic such as requiring residents to wear face coverings and shutting down the city’s restaurants. Scott reiterated that even though he is running against Young, the two continue to work together for the benefit of the city.
MarylandReporter.com asked both Miller and Scott if candidates who have been convicted of corruption should be allowed to run for office. In 2009, Dixon was convicted on one count of embezzlement for using gift cards that had been donated by a developer for needy city residents and lying about gifts she received from a prominent developer whom she was dating. A jury acquitted Dixon of three other charges and deadlocked on a charge of misdemeanor embezzlement. Dixon was sentenced to probation before judgment in a plea deal that required her to resign.
“Personally, no,” Miller responded. “I think in Baltimore’s case we have got to have a higher standard for elected officials. The public is so distrustful of elected leadership and I think exhausted by corruption and frankly mismanagement in city government, that I think we need a real change. So I would say no.”
But Scott said: “People have to follow the law. If the law allows them to run, then they can run.”
Miller calls city’s violent crime ‘an emergency’
MarylandReporter.com asked both Miller and Scott how they would address violent crime in Baltimore. In Gov. Larry Hogan’s State of the State address on Feb. 5, he urged the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation his administration had crafted to address the “out-of-control violent crime, the shootings and murders that are destroying Baltimore City.” At the start of the session, he said the violent crime in the city should be legislators’ top priority, along with corruption. However, the General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic without passing any legislation related to crime in Baltimore. The assembly leaders said on April 20 that the special session planned for May was being postponed as well. There were no fewer than 348 homicides in the city in 2019 — the second deadliest year on record.
“I have said publicly that I will support our police commissioner, Michael Harrison, and give him the resources that he needs to succeed in his job and use scale-proven strategies to reduce violent crime,” Miller said. “I will bring the urgency to that that I haven’t seen from elected officials because I think we have an emergency in terms of violent crime in Baltimore and we need to bring a much more forceful approach to bear.”
“We know group violence reduction is the way to go,” Scott said. “Never in Baltimore was it about how many people they arrest. It’s always about who. So you focus in on those violent repeat offenders.”
Both Miller and Scott said they would focus on improving education and expanding economic opportunity in order to prevent violent crime.
The Dixon and Young campaigns did not respond to requests for interviews by MarylandReporter.com. Young’s office has not responded to repeated requests for interviews by MarylanderReporter.com over the past three months.
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