Missing the Point – Baltimore, Treading Water Until The Next Election

So, Mayor Brandon Scott has been re-elected with just over 50% of the vote.  The general election in November will make it official unless a viable petition candidate comes from out of nowhere to challenge him.  Wouldn’t that be something?

We’ve known all along that only two real candidates were running in the Democratic primary, Mayor Scott and former Mayor Dixon who promised, thank goodness, that this time would be the last time she runs.  Not incidentally, that’s something only an old and tired candidate would say and doesn’t encourage popular support.

Ms. Dixon had plenty of money behind her.  Lack of funding isn’t the reason she lost.  She lost because Baltimore voters have been there and done that and just weren’t interested in giving her a second chance.

As to why Brandon Scott won, his victory says nothing about his being a skilled politician or effective manager of his city’s government.  And he’s certainly no visionary.  Clueless is more like it, certainly when it comes to understanding how to save the city, he’s a convenient official for some of the city developers who couldn’t care less.

No, he won because people have to vote for someone and Brandon is the safe and comfortable choice.  As for the city’s voters, they’ve just wasted yet another election cycle – four more years of treading water until someone competent, a new face without Scott’s ties to special interests, will have a chance to replace him.

There’s an old adage in politics….  “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.”  Make no mistake about it, there are much better prospective Mayors in the city.  Unfortunately – and there is no more true indicator of a city in trouble – none of them wants to run.

Why don’t they want to run?  Well, it’s not because running for office is so expensive.  Sheila had a well-funded PAC behind her candidacy and lost to Mayor Scott by more than ten points.  David Trone spent tens of millions of his own money and lost to Angela Alsobrooks by twelve points.  And, in the 3rd Congressional District where I live, on January 6 celebrity policeman Harry Dunn, who raised tons of money, lost by 10 points to Sarah Elfreth, a seasoned state legislator with an impressive record.  Yes, it takes money to run for office, but money alone won’t save you if you’re the wrong candidate and don’t compare favorably to your opponent.

In Baltimore’s quadrennial races for Mayor, the problem for candidates isn’t insufficient funding so much as it is a lack of vision and effective messaging to communicate with prospective voters.  Over time.  Lots of time.

Time and money turnout to be somewhat interchangeable campaign resources.  Who, for example, is more likely to win?  The candidate for city council who goes door to door, meeting the voters face to face for at least a year before the primary or the one who waits until a few months before that primary to send expensive mailers and run pricey television ads?  The ideal candidate does both.  It’s hard not to vote for the candidate who took the time to shake your hand, looked you in the eye, and listened to what you had to say.

How to become Mayor of Baltimore

First and foremost, you need a vision.  I mean that literally as well as figuratively.  You need to see, in your mind and heart, the city you want Baltimore to become.  Think big.  Really big and then ask yourself what it will take to make it happen.  By “big,” I’m not just talking about some new shiny new buildings or plazas downtown.  I’m talking about massive, all-inclusive, city-changing renovations that radically increase household incomes and improve the quality of life in distressed neighborhoods everywhere throughout the city.  Think in terms of nothing less than the rebirth of Baltimore, turning it into a destination city where people and companies want to move instead of the declining mess too many people can’t wait to leave.

Second, start running for Mayor now, a full four years ahead of the next election.  Don’t register as a candidate.  That’s a detail that comes later.  For now, what you need to do is start a non-profit, political action committee that gives you the platform you need to communicate your vision and get to work accomplishing the hopes and dreams you have for your city.

Third, spend the next three years talking and lobbying everyone who will listen.  The fourth year is for the campaign proper.  In the meantime, go door to door.  Invite yourself to community meetings and church services.  Become a guest on local radio talk shows.  Write op/eds.  Do whatever you can to get your message out there and become identified with it.  Not only will you become better known throughout the city, but you’ll also be doing the groundwork for your campaign platform, perfecting your plans for the city, testing the effectiveness of your messaging, and attracting funding for the furtherance of your cause – all while helping the people of Baltimore.

The reality is, an effective campaign for Mayor is a four-year process.  Most candidates don’t see it that way because their day jobs won’t allow it.  In fact, they’re under-committed to running for office.  They can’t take the time and won’t have the money to make up the difference later.  Well, they’re missing the point.  Running for office is all about time.

Brandon Scott may not be very good at what he does, at what he’s been elected to do for his constituents, but the one thing for which you have to give him credit is that he’s invested the time – as a member of the City Council and then President of it, albeit having inherited the position when another Mayor was forced to resign.  As young as he is, he’s been a fixture in Baltimore politics for years now.  He’s learned whose calls to take and what someone – without the skills and vision the city needs – has to do to keep getting elected.

Brandon Scott is not your model.  At least I hope not.  You’re not running by gaming the system.  You’re running to save the city.

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