In his recent Jmore blog “Passing the Torch,” Michael Olesker was right. For most of my 40 years on the Baltimore City Council, I was the only Jewish member of that body.
But I never felt alone. I had colleagues like William Donald Schaefer and Clarence “Du” Burns who cared deeply about our city and knew how to make the government work for the good people of Baltimore.
In my endorsement of Thiru Vignarajah as far and away the most qualified mayoral candidate to lead Baltimore City out of its present crisis, I am not so much passing the torch from one ethnic minority to another. Instead, I see in Thiru someone who transcends our differences and therefore unites us all.
If you did not know his name — if you only knew his story — what might you guess his racial background to be? His mother taught at Poly and Morgan State. His father, who was raised poor as one of five children by a single mother, taught at Edmondson, Frederick Douglass, Southern and Western.
Thiru went from Edmondson Heights to Woodlawn High, where he graduated valedictorian. He attended Yale but struggled, lacking the foundation of a high school that prepared students for the rigors of an Ivy League university.
After Yale, he took a step back, worked at McKinsey, and excelled again in the classroom only when he attended Harvard Law School. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, a law clerk first to Judge Guido Calabresi and then Justice Stephen Breyer, and later devoted himself to public service back in Baltimore as a federal and city prosecutor.
When I asked someone to guess his background (without saying his name), a quick-witted friend said, “I don’t know if he’s black or white; as a mother of sons, to me he sounds Jewish.”
Truth is, Thiru can’t be put into any obvious box — which is a good thing. Because today more than ever, we need a leader who cares about everyone, who sees a little of himself in everyone and in whom everyone sees a little of themselves. He’s an immigrant who has lived the American Dream. He’s a boy from Baltimore who embodies the promise of this city, who has devoted his life to unleashing it for others.
Thiru is an immigrant son of city school teachers, who was president of the Harvard Law Review, a Supreme Court clerk and a litigation partner at DLA Piper. He spent his career prosecuting violent criminals in Baltimore City and now wants to be mayor when no issue is more pressing than violent crime.
What are we waiting for? Why would we want anyone else? To me, it’s a no-brainer.
If you haven’t met Thiru, meet him. He is warm, charismatic, down-to-earth and brilliant. I know judges, lawyers and even police officers who have seen Thiru in action and say he’s the best trial lawyer they’ve ever seen — this was when he was prosecuting killers and gangs in Baltimore City.
At the same time, in a campaign video, he plays basketball with some young kids. He looks as genuine and comfortable on the basketball court as he does in the courtroom. This is why he seems to be gaining support everywhere he goes.
When Thiru is elected mayor, he will become the only immigrant and the only Hindu mayor of a major American city. He is not white or black; he has worked in Baltimore City for years, but he is not a career politician or a political insider afraid to take on the establishment. He cannot be boxed. He cannot be bought.
He rejects the status quo, and he is, right now, exactly what Baltimore needs. He has proven that he knows exactly what to do with this opportunity.
So if you want to know, that is why I would be honored to pass the torch to him. I urge you to join me on April 28, 2020 — the primary election day in Baltimore City — and cast your vote for Baltimore. Vote for Thiru Vignarajah for mayor.
A Baltimore native and Democrat, former nine-term Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector served Northwest Baltimore’s 5th District from 1977 to 2016.