Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott has a message for the Jewish community living throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area.
“Step up,” said Scott, who won the city’s Democratic mayoral primary in June, while appearing on the July 28 airing of “The Upside.” “When you’re talking about the moment we’re in right now, at a point of reflection for the whole country, we need folks to get involved. If you want to see racial equity and an end to [police] brutality, you have to be part of that. We need to fight for reform and legislation, and organizations are already doing that.
“We need people for when the tough decisions need to be made, people who don’t necessarily look like me or who may be affluent,” he said. “We need them to step up and say, ‘I’m part of this because this is the right thing to do. We can’t discriminate against any people.’ We have a seat on the bus for everyone to be a part and step up.”
In a wide-ranging 45-minute conversation with “Upside” hosts Dr. Scott Rifkin, publisher of Jmore, and Beth H. Goldsmith, chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, the City Council president spoke about his vision for Baltimore if elected mayor on Nov. 3.
“For me, this is all about helping the city I love and that helped my family. I want to see that for everyone,” Scott said. “I know that Baltimore is truly the greatest city in America, but we’ve left too many people in too many neighborhoods behind. … I intend to be a mayor for all of Baltimore, wherever you live here or whether or not you voted for me. I want to be your mayor.”
Scott, 36, spoke about his own background, growing up in the Park Heights community at the corner of Cold Spring Lane and Pimlico Road. “My story is a true Baltimore story,” he said. “I’m a first-generation Baltimorean. My parents both grew up in the South [Virginia and North Carolina] and moved here.”
Scott said growing up in a tough city neighborhood greatly informed his decision to work in public service. He noted that of a small group of friends that he played basketball with while attending Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, two are dead and another is addicted to drugs.
“That’s what puts you into public service,” Scott said. “When you see your first shooting before your 10th birthday, it changes you.”
If elected mayor, Scott said his first course of action will be to build a better infrastructure for the city government, which he said has not basically changed since 1974.
“We need to professionalize and modernize the government in that it’s going to be intentional and focused on a comprehensive strategy on crime in Baltimore, including the illegal flow of guns into Baltimore,” he said. “Not just the police but every city agency. … We have to keep people alive and safe in the city.”
Part of that strategy needs to be reimagining the city’s drug policies while making people of color feel like they are not a targeted population by law enforcement.
“It’s purely luck that I’ve never been arrested,” Scott said. “We know so many people arrested who were in possession of a small amount of drugs, or loitering. That had no impact on reducing crime violence in Baltimore. Now, we have to undo those policies regarding drug use. We have to go into the neighborhoods and invest in health, education, recreation, to build stronger families and neighborhoods.”
Scott called former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke “a genius before his time” due to his advocacy of drug decriminalization in the late 1980s and 1990s.
“He was ridiculed at the time, but you had families and neighborhoods that were broken down and devastated for generations,” Scott said. “We have to understand that drugs is a public health issue. We lose more people in Baltimore to overdoses than to handgun violence. Growing up, we were taught to look at folks with substance abuse issues as less than human. That was the wrong approach. We must reimagine our drug policy and deal with it from a public health standpoint. Policing isn’t going to make it all happen.”
Scott said he also wants to reenvision and invest in Baltimore’s educational system, working closely with the business community in creating and supporting programs that benefit the city’s young people.
“We know we’ll always have the tourism and health care industries, but we have to invest in young people and their families as well,” he said. “If we want Baltimore to reach its full potential, we need to invest in our future and the possibilities of young people.”
Scott said that crucial to revitalizing Baltimore will be rebuilding the city as a business center and regional leader.
“We have to show a deep vision for the city and community to folks and figure out how we can support our local businesses and help people,” he said. “We have to lead the charge and step up. We know how things work in D.C., so we have to show people the way. We also have to be accountable. I can’t make up for the mistakes of the past. But I want to show people how I want to operate and create a renaissance in Baltimore.”
In particular, Scott said the city needs to support programs and projects that support youth initiatives.
“Baltimore doesn’t have a shortage of that. There are so many great programs in the city,” he said. “So we need to invest in them and allow them to scale up and keep their autonomy. If we want Baltimore to be its best, you need people on the ground leading and being part of it all.”
Inspiring young people will be key to the future, but Scott said the city also needs to develop a stronger stable of champions who will promote Baltimore throughout the nation.
“Great things happen in this city every day, but nobody knows about them,” he said. “We need people to champion the city wherever they go. We need to build a better city and make people want to be here and support the services everyone needs.”
When asked by a viewer about the administration of outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and its response of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott said, “By and large, the mayor has handled this in a very appropriate way. We don’t agree on a couple of things that happened — I think the city should do more to give out masks — but by and large the city is operating in an appropriate way. We’re following the advice of health care experts. Public health safety must come first.”
When the pandemic subsides or ends, Scott said the city government needs to evaluate how it responded to the crisis and contemplate how to move forward in the future if similar situations arise.
“We know that no way of life has not been impacted by COVID-19,” he said. “We know that when you talk about COVID and students learning at home in a city where a lot of students have no access to the Internet and parents are losing their jobs, as well as the finances of the city itself, you see that COVID is wreaking havoc on everything that everyone does.
“We need D.C. to step up in a big way to help cities close their deficits,” Scott said. “We do have folks who are not being responsible and not listening to health care professionals and are saying, ‘Open, open, open.’ They are endangering their lives and the lives of others, while stopping the return of any semblance of normalcy.”
He noted that COVID-19, “for all of its wrecking of our lives, has created opportunities. We can now do the tough work of breaking down silos and have uncomfortable conversations about how to build up.”
At the conclusion of the program, Dr. Rifkin asked Scott about the Orioles’ future in Baltimore. The City Council president, a longtime O’s fan, sounded an optimistic note.
“I know the Orioles will remain here,” he said. “The city has to remain committed to the team and build infrastructure to make people feel safe in the city. We also have to go to the games, not just when they’re playing good. … I have a relationship with the [Angelos] family, and they know as long as I’m here, I’ll do whatever I can do to keep them here for the long-term. They love Baltimore, and want to support them. The Orioles are so much a part of Baltimore.”
You can watch the full interview here: