Exactly one year ago, the Baltimore Jewish Council hosted an event aimed at strengthening and unifying the Park Heights community. It was a cold, dark night, but nearly 200 residents from across Northwest Baltimore joined us.
One of our featured guests was Park Heights native Brandon Scott, who will be sworn in as the 52nd mayor of Baltimore next month. At the BJC, we are excited to have someone who is so intimately familiar with this corner of the city now leading Baltimore, and we look forward to continuing our work with him on behalf of the community. Additionally, we want to congratulate all of the recently elected officials in Baltimore and across Maryland.
It has now been more than a week since Election Day, and like for most people, I have found a lot to reflect on. Admittedly, Maryland had a relatively quiet general election, with no upsets or surprises.
But that does not mean there still are not some takeaways from this election cycle in Baltimore, Maryland and across the nation.
Virtually overnight our voting infrastructure was forced to be entirely reconfigured to accommodate casting ballots during a pandemic. Local and state election workers deserve an immense amount of praise for how they handled this shift.
In Maryland, we saw a record turnout of votes cast before Election Day. Just under one million people cast ballots in person during early voting and more than 1.2 million voted by mail, nearly five times the approximately 460,000 ballots cast on Election Day.
By essentially turning Election Day into election week, voters had options, one of which was even at Camden Yards. Are these modifications here to stay? Might Maryland consider going even further, perhaps even to all-mail elections with only limited in-person voting options, as in states like Washington and Oregon?
City Hall is getting younger. Brandon Scott will become the youngest mayor to lead Baltimore in quite some time. Two septuagenarian City Councilmembers are retiring. Once the new council is sworn in next month, all but two of the 14 members will be under 50.
In addition to a new mayor, voters elected a new City council president in Nick Mosby, and a new comptroller in Bill Henry. Marking another first in a long time, all top three citywide elected officials will be new to the job.
Will new leadership bring about the change the city needs to shake off recent scandals, emerge from the pandemic and fight violent crime, among many other issues?
In addition to new faces, the City Council became more powerful. The council is poised to receive a host of new powers delivered by voters. They now have the ability to remove a mayor from office with a three-fourths vote by the council.
The council has more budgetary authority – instead of only being able to make cuts from the mayor’s budget, they can now add to it in certain places. The council will also now be able to override mayoral vetoes with more ease, by only needing a two-thirds vote, and have more time to act on a veto override.
Another interesting change approved by voters is the addition of a city administrator, who will manage most of the city’s daily operations, ostensibly professionalizing the delivery of many services. All seven of the ballot initiatives posed in Baltimore City to the voters were approved, and some undeniably shake up the balance of power in City Hall. It remains to be seen how this will affect the up-and-down relationship between the mayor and council.
Baltimore County voters approved one ballot measure to establish a “Citizen’s Election Fund,” which is a public matching system for candidates running for a county office. We were pleased to see this pass, as the BJC has a long-standing policy supporting public campaign financing.
It is important to note, however, that the measure’s approval does not instantly set up this system. The specific parameters must still be determined, and funding will need to be allocated for future Baltimore County candidates.
Statewide, voters approved two ballot measures. The first legalizes sports betting, as has been done already by many neighboring states, and the Maryland revenue is to be dedicated to funding education.
The second measure is similar to one of the City initiatives, giving the General Assembly more power to add to the governor’s budget, though this will not take effect until the next governor takes office after the 2022 election.
Speaking of 2022, the next campaign cycle is now underway. Several candidates have already announced or hinted at taking a run for statewide office.
Unable to make the usual rounds due to the pandemic, campaigning has taken a new form, forcing potential candidates to be more innovative and less coy about their intentions. Some have already established political action committees to lay the groundwork for a full-scale campaign.
But the BJC’s focus is now turning to the upcoming legislative session, where we will be working on behalf of the community to combat hate crimes and hate symbols, protect our aging community, and deliver funding to the vital programs and services offered by non-profit organizations like the agencies of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
With ballot counting complete in Maryland, a quick look at turnout shows a slight decrease in ballots cast from 2016. In Baltimore County and City, voting was down about 8 percent. After the election is certified in December, and more granular precinct data becomes available, a more thorough analysis can occur.
But we know that on Dec. 14, all 10 of Maryland’s presidential electors will cast votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
At the BJC, we are dedicated to promoting civic engagement and keeping the community as informed as possible. If you voted in this past election, thank you for making your voice heard. If not, I hope you will next time, and if you are not registered to vote, you can do so now. Maryland’s next election is June 28, 2022.
Matt Peterson is the assistant director of government affairs relations and communications at the Baltimore Jewish Council.
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