In the wake of former Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s resignation, Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott (D-2nd) was unanimously elected president of the Baltimore City Council on May 6.
A Democrat and two-term councilman first elected to office in 2011, Scott succeeded former City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who was elevated to the position of mayor.
“We have to change,” Scott said after being sworn into office. “This isn’t about me. This is about Baltimore. We have a lot of work to do collectively, and it’s our job to lead this council to focus on what we have to do.”
Jmore recently spoke with Scott, 35, a Baltimore native who grew up in Park Heights and lives in the Frankford community, about his new role and the state of the city.
Jmore: With all of Baltimore’s current challenges, why did you want to be Baltimore City Council president?
Scott: Where Baltimore is right now, Baltimore needs leadership that is from Baltimore, knows about Baltimore and is dedicated to making Baltimore better. We need transformational leadership that is willing to think in a different way, to operate in a different way.
If you grew up in Park Heights, were poor here, were able to graduate here, and came and worked in city government for years here, then you know Baltimore. I know the worst of the worst of Baltimore. I know the best of the best of Baltimore. I know what’s great about our government. I know what’s broken about our government.
Your top priorities?
From the City Council’s point of view, what everyone has to understand is for us to be the best city we can be, we all have to do something that we’ve been unwilling to do. First and foremost, that’s being uncomfortable.
We must rethink and reimagine Baltimore City government. If we look at our city and our government, we have to change that structure. We need to take a deep dive, do deep analysis and look at every single thing we do, every single function of government, every agency, every budget item, to see if we are using our taxpayers’ money most efficiently to serve a 21st-century city.
In addition, we have to cure this disease in our city known as gun violence. We can no longer push this on the backs of our police department. We have to make sure that our police department is highly functioning, efficient, operating under the Constitution and has the resources to attack the 100 individuals who are wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods.
But at the same time, we must make investments in public health and especially in public education. We are going to have to put a significantly greater amount of money in our school system. We should have been doing it a long time ago.
What’s the current status of the ransomware attack in which hackers infected most of the city government’s computer systems?
The city is operational. Most folks [employed by the city government] have their email up, and we are between 90 and 95 percent online right now.
From the City Council’s point of view. I have created a special Cybersecurity Committee of the City Council. Both of our committee co-chairs, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer [D-5th] and Eric Costello [D-11th], have an IT background. I’ll be announcing the other members of this committee shortly.
Once the technology folks have us completely up and running, I’ll convene that committee. They will do a deep dive into this incident — what happened, how it happened, what steps were taken, and what steps weren’t taken that should have been taken. More importantly, what is the administration and the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The Council’s Cybersecurity Committee is going to have public hearings so we can hear from citizens and cybersecurity experts who will also participate. Then, the committee will put together a report of where they think the IT department is and where it must be so we are in a better space moving forward.
How will Baltimore pay for these cybersecurity needs?
Before this ransomware attack, the city was already making investments in cybersecurity from our general funds and from the IT budget. Investment is going to have to continue to come from our general funds to make capital investments in IT in the future, including for the police department.
It’s a digital world, so we have to invest in our digital infrastructure for our city to survive and to thrive.
What will you need to accomplish your top priorities in office?
We need the willingness to accomplish what needs to be done, even if it’s not beneficial for your own political career. We need elected officials who are not afraid to be un-elected. That’s in our city, our state and our country
We in the City Council need to work together and work with the mayor. And most importantly, we need the cooperation of the citizens of Baltimore and those people who operate businesses in Baltimore. Citizens must continue fighting for better schools and for decreasing crime. Citizens can mentor young men and young women, can change their lives by being a caring adult, by getting involved in their neighborhoods helping to clean up the trash and the violence. If you’re a business owner, work with us to create more pathways to careers for young people.
How can the Jewish community help?
As a kid from Park Heights, I know more than most people about the important role the Jewish community plays in Baltimore. I know the great things they have always done to help break down barriers and understand that there are different ways of life.
But also, all of us have to get a little uncomfortable. We all have to interact with each other more, think a little differently, and go to places that we normally don’t go. And we have to be willing to work with people we haven’t worked with before.
The Jewish community has been a partner in Northwest Baltimore. We can use that partnership in East Baltimore, West Baltimore, South Baltimore. We have to become one Baltimore, all of us, no matter where we live or what [religion] we practice.
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.