Missing the Point – Go Big! …or Run for Mayor of Baltimore?

Yes, we all know that the expression is actually “Go big or go home.”  Either way, it applies to the thirteen candidates running to be the Democratic Party nominee for Mayor of Baltimore.

The most recent poll of democratic candidates I know about is the Garin-Hart-Yang (GHY) survey conducted for Sheila Dixon.  Former Mayor Dixon released the results of the poll presumably because it shows her to be running ahead of Mayor Scott by a few points, 40% to 37%, albeit within the margin of error which is 5%.  To save money, the Dixon campaign surveyed only 400 registered Democrats, not the 750 necessary to keep the margin of error under 4%.  Articles about this poll tell us that it was based on a sample of registered, not likely voters.  This distinction between registered and likely voters pretty much makes the poll useless.  In the 2020 Democratic primary, turnout – according to data available on the Maryland State Board of Elections website, was only 48%.  Fewer than half of Baltimore City’s registered Democratic voters cared enough to vote.

In third place, the GHY poll shows second-time candidate Thiru Vignarajah favored by only 10% of the respondents.  The remaining ten candidates, plus “Undecided” share a total of 13% so, at least for the purposes of this op/ed, they don’t count.  Let’s just talk about Dixon, Scott, and Vignarajah, one of whom will be Baltimore’s next Major.

First, some general comments…

Scott has been useless and has accomplished nothing to stop and then reverse the decline of the city.  His relationships with certain special interests who support his campaigns are problematic, to put it mildly.  He’s uninspiring and clueless.  He claims, on his campaign website, to be responsible for Baltimore having the eighth highest rate of growth in 2023 Gross Domestic Product among major cities in the entire United States.  To be polite, this is a garbage assertion.  For one thing, the more depressed the city, the easier it is, numerically, to show a higher growth rate.  Expansion by existing employers and/or a couple of new employers coming to Baltimore can grow the city’s depressed economy by an impressive rate.  On the other hand, a larger, successful city would find it much more difficult to accomplish even half of Baltimore’s rate of growth – precisely because it is larger and financially successful.  Being eighth among cities listed by their rate of GDP growth is a numerical distinction without any real meaning.

And now let’s throw in post-COVID local rates of inflation that are accounting for some of Baltimore’s growth rate – and a surging national economy, which has zero to do with Mayor Scott.  Is he responsible for Baltimore having the eighth-most robust GDP growth rate in the country?  Of course not, but he needs to take credit for it otherwise his cupboard of accomplishments is embarrassingly bare.

The Mayor’s website also mentions the renovation of the Inner Harbor as if that’s a good thing, which it’s not.

Mayor Dixon has a similar history of having accomplished little or nothing.  She had her chance and blew it.  Her website spends an inordinate amount of text describing her plan to reduce crime.  Two problems with that…  One is that violent crime is already down nationwide which is due, in part, to the persistent strength of the economy everywhere in the country.  The other problem with her anti-crime program is that it’s all about crime management without addressing the root causes of criminal activity, the principal one of which is the weak economy in which roughly two-thirds of the city’s households are trapped.  She asserts that economic growth depends upon controlling crime when, in fact, it’s the other way around.  Crime, ladies and gentlemen, is work.  It’s a job and, for too many Baltimore residents, the only one paying a living wage that they can get.  Criminals, many if not all of them, need legitimate options for employment.  There is no permanent solution to crime in Baltimore that doesn’t begin with economic development and growth.

Of the top three candidates, but running way behind the top two, is Thiru Vignarajah.  No question about it, hands down, Thiru is the superior candidate.  Unfortunately, he has yet to figure out how to run a compelling campaign.  Maybe this op/ed will help.  Not incidentally, his campaign website materials are too detailed, don’t communicate well and, for the most part, fail to demonstrate the clear vision and leadership Baltimore so desperately needs.

Here’s the problem with all three candidates that I’ll summarize in a single word…  “Scale.”  Baltimore is a lot smaller than it used to be when the city’s population peaked in 1950 at just under 950,000.  Today, it’s less than six hundred thousand – and still declining.  Crime is a very serious problem.  The city’s inventory of vacant and abandoned properties is vast, to say the least.  Its public education is the worst in the state.  And Baltimore has devolved – economically and geographically – into two cities that have, increasingly, less and less in common.  One-third of the city is doing okay, while the other two-thirds struggle every day to get by.

Small programs, most of which have nothing to do with job creation and with increasing household incomes in the neighborhoods most in need of help, just won’t get the job done.  What Baltimore needs is not more programs, but far fewer, literally only two or three of them, that focus on the creation of massive numbers of jobs, with on-the-job training, that pay significantly more than a living wage and offer the potential for long-term, career employment for Baltimore’s un- and under-employed.

Think of Baltimore City as if it were a container ship or supertanker going in the wrong direction.  How do you slow it down and change course?  Paddling, even if your oars could reach the water, swabbing the deck and new furniture in the Captain’s quarters won’t be nearly enough.  Not even close.  The size and momentum of the ship require a much, much larger corrective effort.

Create the new jobs city residents need by enticing large, new-generation industrial employers to move into the heart of the neighborhoods most in need of assistance.  Do that and naturally occurring market forces will, organically, stop and then reverse the decline of the city.  What I’m telling you is not a secret.  It’s just that Brandon Scott and Sheila Dixon don’t get it.  Scott, because he’s too beholden to certain special interests who don’t care.  Dixon, because she doesn’t understand what she has to do.

Massive scale, all-inclusive economic development is not only what Baltimore needs, it’s messaging that voters will appreciate hearing – from someone who can make it happen.

How are you going to fund this massive influx of new-generation industrialization?  With some city money of course, and state and federal support.  But primarily by using the city’s vacant properties as the “currency” to attract employers.

What’s the appeal of a candidate promising large-scale, in-city industrialization?  The real prospect of better jobs and higher household income for one thing.  Add to that a commitment that in only eight years – a rough estimate and the length of two terms in office – you’ll convert virtually all of the city’s vacant and abandoned properties into places of employment, new neighborhood commercial facilities – including full-size grocery stores – and affordable housing for Baltimore City families living and working in targeted communities.

Thiru, are you paying attention?  Other candidates who get the point?  You have until July 1, 2024, to register as a Petition Candidate to run in the general election – as a Democrat, Republican or independent – against the Democrat who wins the primary.

Go big – or stop wasting your time, your contributors’ money, and the dreams of so many good people counting on you for leadership

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