At a lightning round of candidate speeches last night hosted by the Charles Village Civic Association, candidates for judge, city council, and mayor, some in snow boots, came to make their very, very quick bids for office.
Candidates were given just a few minutes to make their case and a few more for questions—just about enough time to skim over the issues and offer a sense of their values and, of course, their likability.
In summary, the mayoral candidates overwhelmingly called for more audits and budget balancing before much else can be achieved. Almost every candidate, mayoral and council, made a case for cutting nonviolent first-time offenders more slack in the jobs market. The city's relationship with developers showed less of a consensus, as some candidates called to lure big business to the city, and others railed against prioritizing it over and above community needs. The judges kept their opinions to themselves, except during a face-off between the sitting judges and public defender Todd Oppenheim, who is running against them.
Questions from the audience were bent toward property taxes, schools, and constituent services such as 311.
The evening took on equal parts political theater, real campaign issues, and snowstorm humor.
"This has been a hard week. What I've mostly done is say 'I'm sorry you haven't seen a plow,'" joked veteran Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District). Clarke injected much spirit into the more sparsely attended first hour, during which organizers lobbied to get rid of the free cookies. They were mostly gone by the end of the second hour.
Appropriately, Clarke opened the evening with a statement about the value of city-level government in initiating nationwide change. A friend in the audience who happened to be the president of the Baltimore NAACP called out, "I love you, Mary Pat!"
Three more, lesser known, candidates fought it out for the 12th District, all leading with education and jobs.
Software developer and former president of the Charles Village Community Benefits District Jason Pyeron led with jobs and "rebooting the structure for kids coming forward out of our homes." He later asked another candidate why he couldn't find enough local talent to fill the jobs he had going.
Robert Stokes, who works for mayoral candidate Councilman Carl Stokes (no relation), called for a $15 minimum hourly wage and a revival of the city's trade schools. "Not everyone is going to go to college," he said, "some people are good with their hands."
Thirty-three-year-old Gary Crum, a lifetime resident of the 12th District who works in real estate, wants to use his skills to create affordable homes for people in their own communities. He also spoke of burying 26 friends in the last five years. "We have a lot of folks who have no hope, no inspiration," he said. Crumb advocated for better job opportunities for ex-offenders: "Once you do your time you should be able to get a job."
In the judges race, the sitting judges, running together, presented a united front for the status quo.
Speaking on their behalf, Judge Wanda Heard stressed the limitations of their role, given statutes such as minimum mandatory sentences: "Much of what we see is already decided by the charge that is brought."
Oppenheim didn't agree. He countered that judges have "tremendous discretion" on court matters such as bail.
In a confusing but thrilling moment, Oppenheim wound up in an altercation with his opponents, spoken in legalese, over his claims of nepotism in the judge vetting process.
In the second hour, the house filled out for the mayoral candidates who were coming from another forum and running late due to snow.
The mayoral candidates were moderated by Bradley Austin, formerly of Y Maryland, who politely sidled up to the podium as their times started to run out.
State Sen. Catherine Pugh, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, attorney Elizabeth Embry, businessman David Warnock, and Councilmen Nick Mosby and Carl Stokes faced off in the mayoral round, which was defined by talk of budgets and audits (or lack thereof).
Warnock, a preacher-like orator wearing a Fitbit, called to "spiritually and economically revive this city" by dealing with finances first. He was the only candidate to really come out and say he wants to "bring big companies to town."
In an unsaid acknowledgment of the scandal that ended her term as mayor, Sheila Dixon said she's been asked: "Why do you even want to get back into his?" She said her three decades of experience in public service leaves her with more to offer yet. She advocated for accountability in all agencies and "using money creatively."
Pugh weighed on her experience as an entrepreneur and her bipartisan approach. "I will be an inclusive mayor," she said, who will aim to bridge the gap between blacks and whites in Baltimore.
Embry, a former deputy state's attorney, said she's "seen what works in government and what doesn't" and stressed her experience in stopping violence. Embry said she is a proud product of the Baltimore public schools.
Stokes told a tragicomic story of being told by the Department of Recreation and Parks that they "just don't do audits."
"We have a lot of money in city government. We won't take care of our communities because we're beholden to the big guys," he said, stressing the importance of prioritizing community development over corporate development.
Mosby put his 15-point "Connecting the Dots" plan front and center, and called for universal pre-K and embracing big data. On a personal note, he told the story of his Baltimore childhood spent sharing a bedroom with his mother and sister. A first-generation college graduate, Mosby nevertheless argued, "We have to stop seeing the barometer of success as going to college."
Two additional candidates showed up at the last minute and were given two minutes each.
"I think you'll find me exciting," said Cindy Walsh of Citizens' Oversight Maryland, a newcomer to politics who railed against corporate interests influencing schools through the charter program.
A charismatic Joshua Harris said that growing up in poverty informed his view that "the single biggest issue in this city is the distribution of capital." He called for free WiFi in every home.
Well after the 9 p.m. finish time, the crowd began to clear out at a glacial pace as kisses were blown and hands gesticulated in impassioned chats. Eventually the church lights abruptly started to turn off one by one, pressing everyone onto the icy sidewalk—all conversations left unresolved.