Can­di­dates for mayor de­bate on ra­dio — mi­nus Pugh

Frus­trated op­po­nents raise is­sues about the con­duct of the pri­mary elec­tion

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

Three of the lead­ing can­di­dates for Bal­ti­more mayor clashed Tues­day in their first broad­cast de­bate of the gen­eral elec­tion. But they did so with­out Demo­cratic state Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh, the fa­vorite in the race, who pulled out af­ter ini­tially con­firm­ing her at­ten­dance.

Pugh’s ab­sence frus­trated her op­po­nents and the host of the event, WYPR’s Tom Hall, who told lis­ten­ers the Pugh cam­paign had de­clined to pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion.

“The se­na­tor has every right to change her mind,” Hall told lis­ten­ers. “I’m just sorry that I can’t ex­plain to you the rea­sons for that de­ci­sion.”

Repub­li­can may­oral can­di­date Alan Walden had a stronger re­ac­tion.

“I had smoke com­ing out of my ears when I heard from your pro­ducer that Cather­ine Pugh had de­cided not to ap­pear on this pro­gram.” Walden said. “The

“Her un­will­ing­ness to ap­pear on this pro­gram and her un­will­ing­ness to ap­pear on other pro­grams … smacks of the worst kind of po­lit­i­cal ar­ro­gance.” Alan Walden, Repub­li­can nom­i­nee

duck-and-cover pe­riod should end some­time soon.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, her un­will­ing­ness to ap­pear on this pro­gram and her un­will­ing­ness to ap­pear on other pro­grams with other an­chors on other sta­tions smacks of the worst kind of po­lit­i­cal ar­ro­gance.”

In deep-blue Bal­ti­more, Democrats out­num­ber Repub­li­cans about 10-1. Walden ac­cused Pugh of tak­ing ad­van­tage of that.

“The ar­ro­gance is based on the premise, with some va­lid­ity, that if you win the Demo­cratic pri­mary you have won the elec­tion in Bal­ti­more,” he said. “Fly un­der the radar, as­sume that you’ve won, and don’t bother with any­thing else.”

Pugh said af­ter the de­bate that she had to go to West Vir­ginia to visit a sis­ter who is suf­fer­ing com­pli­ca­tions from a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure to treat can­cer. She said she told the sta­tion she would be happy to ap­pear “later this week or next week.”

The de­bate was the sec­ond in the may­oral cam­paign for the Nov. 8 elec­tion. In April’s Demo­cratic pri­mary, dozens of fo­rums were held across the city.

In Pugh’s ab­sence, Walden faced off with Green Party can­di­date Joshua Har­ris and for­mer Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Demo­crat who is run­ning as a write-in can­di­date af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond to Pugh in the pri­mary. Hall said he in­vited Dixon af­ter Pugh pulled out of the de­bate.

Dixon, who re­ceived more than 46,000 votes dur­ing the pri­mary, nar­rowly lost to Pugh. The for­mer mayor has ques­tioned the le­git­i­macy of that re­sult, cit­ing hun­dreds of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties un­cov­ered by a state re­view.

“This is the first time in the his­tory of the state of Mary­land that an elec­tion was de­cer­ti­fied,” Dixon said. “There were ques­tions in 71 precincts. There were pro­vi­sional bal­lots that were thrown out. Judges al­lowed in­de­pen­dent vot­ers to vote dur­ing the pri­mary.”

Dixon told lis­ten­ers she is “not a sore loser,” but that state of­fi­cials re­view­ing the city’s elec­tion “lit­er­ally threw up their hands be­cause it was such a to­tal mess.”

She sug­gested that boxes full of votes for her and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bernie San­ders weren’t counted.

“I got calls from peo­ple that there were boxes of bal­lots with Bernie San­ders’ name on it, with my name on it, they were in a box and they asked, ‘Are we go­ing to count these?’ ” Dixon said.

Har­ris agreed that there were se­ri­ous prob­lems with the pri­mary elec­tion.

“I’ve knocked on 8,000 doors per­son­ally since the pri­mary,” Har­ris said. “There have been so many peo­ple I’ve found who were dis­cour­aged be­cause of what hap­pened in the pri­mary. ... I’ve even run into peo­ple who were paid to vote, who have told me per­son­ally they were given money.”

The Pugh cam­paign has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

Har­ris used the de­bate as an op­por­tu­nity to stress his “pro­gres­sive” pol­icy plans for Bal­ti­more. He has pro­posed creat­ing a public bank that would hold all tax­payer money and col­lect in­ter­est for res­i­dents, at­tract­ing “clean en­ergy” man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs and re­fus­ing to grant cor­po­rate sub­si­dies for busi­nesses that don’t ben­e­fit the poor.

“These are pro­gres­sive pol­icy so­lu­tions,” Har­ris said. “In­di­vid­u­als from tra­di­tional par­ties, they get in of­fice and they do the sta­tus quo.”

Walden stressed ideas to build a light rail line on North Av­enue, re­hab houses and im­me­di­ately cut taxes. “The prop­erty tax is too high,” Walden said. “It has to be cut, not in 10 years. Now.”

Dixon em­pha­sized plans to cre­ate a “land bank” to stream­line the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of va­cant prop­er­ties, tar­get gun of­fend­ers to re­duce crime, and im­prove city ser­vices. She ar­gued that Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake hasn’t prop­erly lever­aged her high-rank­ing po­si­tions with the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors and Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee to bet­ter ben­e­fit Bal­ti­more.

“The cur­rent mayor was the head of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors,” Dixon said. “She saw the pres­i­dent all the time. You would think with that type of power you would have been lob­by­ing for re­sources to come to the city. ... We’ve got to fix city gov­ern­ment. Our agen­cies are in a dis­as­trous state.”

Walden and Har­ris found them­selves clash­ing on a num­ber of is­sues, in­clud­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and the Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion that de­tailed dis­crim­i­na­tory polic­ing in Bal­ti­more.

Walden said he be­lieved rhetoric that po­lice of­fi­cers tar­get black res­i­dents is based on a “flawed nar­ra­tive.”

“The flawed nar­ra­tive is the po­lice are out to get black peo­ple, that there is a na­tion­wide con­spir­acy of some kind,” Walden said. But he added that po­lice need to es­tab­lish bet­ter re­la­tion­ships with poor com­mu­ni­ties. “There’s no ques­tion that changes need to be made within the struc­ture of the Po­lice Depart­ment,” he said.

Har­ris said it shouldn’t sur­prise any­one that young black peo­ple are tar­geted by po­lice.

“If you are young and black in Bal­ti­more, you didn’t need the Depart­ment of Jus­tice re­port to come out to un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties that we ex­ist in every day,” Har­ris said. “If you are an elected of­fi­cial who was shocked by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice re­port, you’re part of the prob­lem.”

Har­ris, 30, also sug­gested that his op­po­nents are too old for the job. Dixon is 62. Pugh is 66. Walden is 80.

“All of my op­po­nents are above of the age of 60. In any other in­dus­try, they would be re­tired,” Har­ris said. “We need new ideas and a new vi­sion.”

Walden took of­fense at those com­ments. “What both­ers mem­ost about what you just said is the ageism,” Walden coun­tered.

Each of the can­di­dates at­tempted to cast them­selves as an agent of change. Dixon, a Demo­crat, said she’s al­ways had an “in­de­pen­dent” mind — and noted she ini­tially de­clined to reg­is­ter with a po­lit­i­cal party when she first signed up to vote as a high schooler in North­west Bal­ti­more.

Har­ris said the two-party sys­tem has fa­vored big busi­ness and only the Green Party rep­re­sents true change. “The ma­jor­ity of the poli­cies have been in fa­vor of ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions at the ex­pense of our neigh­bor­hoods,” he said.

And Walden ar­gued that in heav­ily Demo­cratic Bal­ti­more, the GOP rep­re­sents a true out­sider party.

“The Democrats have had 100 per­cent of the mem­bers of the City Coun­cil since Adolph Hitler came to power,” he said. “When you’re in power that long, one party, no mat­ter how good your in­ten­tions, you have a ten­dency to get lazy.”

Early vot­ing be­gins Thurs­day.

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