I like the op-ed piece Rikki Spector wrote in The Sun on Wednesday, Dec. 4. She told some painful truths about crime and political indifference in the city of Baltimore.
I like the piece, also, for something Spector left unsaid but should resonate with voters.
Spector spent 40 years on the Baltimore city council. In most of those years, she was the only Jewish member of the council. Her op-ed piece this week goes beyond lamenting the current crime disasters to endorse Thiru Vignarajah for mayor. He would be the city’s first mayor with roots in Sri Lanka.
Spector doesn’t say this, but her words read like a torch being passed from one ethnic minority to another.
And that happens to be a shadow hovering over the next political campaigns here. Do we vote for candidates because they share our own skin tones, our own ethnic backgrounds, or are we more sophisticated than that?
In Baltimore, a city more than 60 percent African-American, there’s a perception among many whites that blacks will only vote for one of their own. That happens to be a myth.
Over the last several decades here, in races pitting black vs. white mayoral candidates, blacks have shown far more inclination to vote for white candidates (William Donald Schaefer, Martin O’Malley) than whites voting for black candidates running against whites (see Billy Murphy, Lawrence Bell, Carl Stokes).
As Baltimore edges its way toward the next mayoral election, most of the talk has been about Mayor Bernard (Jack) Young and City Council President Brandon Scott. And why not? They’re the top two elected officials in the city.
All Vignarajah’s got going for him is his remarkable history: the son of Sri Lanka immigrants who became local school teachers, he graduates Woodlawn High, goes to Yale, gets a master’s degree in Medical Ethics at King’s College London. Then comes Harvard Law, where he’s elected president of the Harvard Law Review and leads a fight to address gender disparity in law review admissions.
He clerks for U.S. Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Serves as chief of the Major Investigations Unit in the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office and as deputy attorney general of Maryland, where he’s the lead author of statewide guidelines to end discriminatory profiling by police.
I’ve never met Vignarajah, and today’s offering is no political endorsement. But I certainly don’t see anyone else with his background. And I read Rikki Spector’s op-ed piece, and like everybody else I know about the paralyzing crime in Baltimore.
And I’m touched by the mere notion of one ethnic minority reaching out to welcome another – while wondering how those ethnic considerations will play out in the next election for mayor.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.