WYPR Mayoral Interviews: Brandon Scott
Brandon Scott was raised in Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood. He was elected in 2011 to represent the city's second district in Northeast Baltimore at the age of 27, one of the youngest people ever to serve on the council.
In 2018, Jim Shea picked Scott as his running mate in their unsuccessful bid in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
In May 2019, his fellow council members unanimously chose him to be president after then-Council President Jack Young became mayor following former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation.
A May poll commissioned by WYPR, The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore showed Scott in a statistical three-way tie with former mayor Sheila Dixon and Mary Miller, a treasury official in the Obama administration. Scott is 36-years-old, the same age Martin O’Malley was when he was elected mayor of Baltimore for his first term.
Speaking with On the Record host Sheilah Kast in May, Scott pointed to his legislative record and his efforts to reduce gun violence in Baltimore.
"I have been a leader and outspoken on this issue in my frustration with the inability of mayor after mayor to implement a complete and comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. It’s something that has led me to run. I'm tired of asking mayors, I'm tired of giving them crime plans because in Baltimore the police department only responds to the mayor, that's what's driving me."
Excerpts from the interview
Thousands of people have lost their jobs over the last two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How will you get city residents back to work?
We have to have a COVID recovery team that’s looking at what's going to be coming down the pike, be it federal funding and what that can go towards--the job and careers that [funding] [is] going to create. And we have to start to train people for those kinds of jobs and for the new world. We should develop [a] workforce training program for people whose jobs are not coming back starting with the people who lost their job to COVID.
Then when we are talking about city purchasing and contracts, we have to start to put more local hiring preference there, more local small business preference there, so that we're creating jobs here in the city of Baltimore.
One of the things I talk about in my campaign [is] creating opportunity while working against some of the inequities in the city, like what we should have done and what we will do under my leadership as mayor, and that's actually build a municipal broadband network in the city.
We can build and train our own residents to help do that while we are simultaneously working to undo some of the historical inequities in Baltimore at the same time.
Is Baltimore pursuing the right strategy to reduce violent crime?
No, Baltimore is partially pursuing the right strategy to deal with violent crime. I have been a leader and outspoken on this issue in my frustration with the inability of mayor after mayor to implement a complete and comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. It’s something that has led me to run.
I'm frustrated. I'm tired of asking mayors, I'm tired of giving them crime plans because in Baltimore the police department only responds to the mayor, that's what's driving me.
I saw my first shooting before I was 10-years-old. When you have to duck bullets when you're outside playing, it changes you. It's different for me. I know and believe that gun violence is a disease in Baltimore, we have to attack it from a complete and comprehensive way.
We have to have a constitutionally operating police department that isn’t focused on locking up everyone, but focusing on the violent repeat offenders, removing them from our neighborhoods. But also focusing on the flow of illegal guns into the city.
Gun traffickers and straw purchasers are just as responsible for the violence in Baltimore City and we know that those guns are coming not only from outside of the city, but outside of the state. And not until this year when I passed legislation in the city councilwere people who gun traffic or straw purchase even considered gun offenders. That’s embarrassing.
We will target those people and hunt them down, each and every day but also doing things the city has failed to do. Every city across the country that has reduced gun violence has done it by implementing a prudent gun violence reduction strategy because we know it’s a small group of people committing it on another small group of people.
Baltimore has failed to fully implement that twice because while we’ve done the part of identifying the people, we’ve left out the most important part, providing opportunities for people to change their lives and we would do that underneath my leadership.
Two, understanding the deep trauma and mental health issues in the city that has Hopkins and University of Maryland, we absolutely can, should and will send trauma clinicians out to the scenes and incidents of violence so that we’re dealing with those young people and their families right on the spot, preventing further harm in Baltimore City.
What resources is the Baltimore Police Department lacking to effectively close murder cases?
We know that people are not going to communicate with the department if the issues that we've had in Baltimore continue. We’ve had a horrible record of being able to protect people who spoke up.
We know the broken relationship that the police department has with its community. You have to build a police department that is constitutional, that has deep rooted community relationships, that’s why I passed alaw to create the Citizens Advisory Commission for Public Safety which will be responsible for developing community interaction plans with the police department.
We also know that the police department, while well-funded, has a lot of outdated practices and policies that we have to get rid of and that we have to bring into the 21st century.
But the most important thing is rebuilding that relationship because police cannot solve murders if people do not talk. We have to change the culture in the police department, we have to change our culture in our community, and we have to have a mayor that understands to do that, you have to do the tough work of building better communities, investing in public health approaches to crime, investing in reentry, not waiting for people to come home from prison, but making the Office of Employment Development go into prisons and start to train people, working with labor unions and others so that we can create a total environment of change.
You've talked about addressing the opioid overdose epidemic as a public health issue in Baltimore. Talk about your support for safe consumption sites.
We lose more people to overdose in Baltimore even than we do to gun violence and we have been treating it the same way, criminalizing people who really are sick and need help. Under my leadership Baltimore will move to a harm reduction approach of dealing with addiction.
We can continue to have people overdose and die in vacant houses, in our alleys, in our homes, or we can do what has been done across the globe and provide these spaces known as overdose prevention sites where people can still use their choice of drug, but we can keep them alive because that’s where we can do the treatment, that’s where we can meet people where they are. Before we can get someone to break the hold of some substance, they have to be alive first.
What would you do to improve the city's water billing system?
I would do what should have been done a long time ago and hire someone who's capable of operating a 21st century Department of Public Works. This is why I voted no against former director [Rudy] Chow being reappointed and why I voted no against his raise. Where I come from, if you're hired to do a job and it gets worse, you don’t get a raise, you get fired.
I talk a lot about building a new structure of city government. What I also want to do is bring in the position of a city administrator, someone that has a professional record of running and operating agencies, not letting someone hire their friends as chief of staff or their family member to run the day-to-day operations of city government. But doing like Baltimore County, Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel, Washington D.C. and everywhere else around us and having that be done by a professional. That person will be held accountable by me, the mayor.
Water bills will go out to everybody, no matter where they live and what zip code, and they will be right and correct or someone will not have their job. And then doing the tough work of implementing legislation that I shepherded through the council--the Water Accountability and Equity Act--to make sure that we have a fair and equitable water bill system in the city.
Abandoned and vacant properties are scattered across Baltimore, concentrated on the west and east sides of the city. How would you hold absentee landlords accountable?
We have to make sure that we are investing in the ability for us to inspect and hold these people accountable through our Housing Code Enforcement Department. We also know that we have to work with our state and other partners to change rules on how we can deal with receivership and making it go through the court faster. Also going to the state, allowing us to tax vacant property owners at a higher rate for these pieces of property that they are not maintaining.
We also have to work with community, understanding that we can be building community land banks that can create opportunity and jobs by bringing in models like Philly LandCare model in Philadelphia where they actually help create small businesses and people in those communities [can] maintain those properties and create things like community farms and pocket parks and things that people need in their neighborhood.
You would diminish the mayor's control over the city's Board of Estimates. Why?
Great people and broken structures are doomed to fail. I am not telling the citizens of Baltimore that if you plug me into the current system, that everything's going to be OK, because it’s not. The system is broken.
You have a city government that operates the same way in 2020, as it did in 1974. It's not going to work. We have seen time and time again how the Board of Estimates has been used for corruption because there’s no balance. Our government structure is supposed to be based on checks and balances.
Even if Mayor Young when he was Council President and Comptroller Pratt last year would’ve voted against these contracts that were related to 'Healthy Holly,' they still would’ve passed, because never is the city solicitor or the Department of Public Works director going to vote against their boss. The citizens of Baltimore did not vote them into a citywide position and can’t hold them accountable. Those people should not be voting or have $500 million of taxpayer dollars to spend.
No, that isn't what’s best for Brandon Scott, it's what’s best for Baltimore so that I will be held accountable, and then my contracts will be better and my agencies will have to be better.
The transcript of this interview was condensed for the web. Listen to the entire conversation below.
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