Former Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith today launched his candidacy for mayor, pitching himself as someone who can shake-up the political status quo.
Standing a short distance from the site where his younger brother Dionay was fatally shot, Smith said the city’s political class has become fixated with 300 annual murders as a measuring stick for success.
“We have to change our mindset of thinking it’s OK for 300 or 250 or 200 of our sons, our brothers and daughters to be killed in our city,” he said, as supporters stood behind him holding signs with the campaign motto “Think Different.”
During a press conference that was emotional at times, Smith invoked the names of several homicides victims, ranging from young children to the elderly, and welled up when discussing his 93-year-old grandmother, who was recently hospitalized with an illness. She no longer walks the three blocks down the street to her local salon, he said, because it doesn’t feel safe.
“This is not our new normal, and this is not something we can allow for one more second,” he said of violent crime.
In his remarks, Smith suggested he had new ideas for addressing trauma, providing “focused enforcement” for quality-of-life crimes such as robberies and carjackings, and offering more enriching activities for young people and jobs for returning citizens to steer them away from drug gangs and violence.
He likened it to the organizational change that occurred when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, building a team around Ray Lewis that eventually won the Super Bowl in 2001.
“Baltimore, we must change the culture,” he said. “We need a new head coach.”
Smith, who most recently worked as a spokesperson for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., started as the chief spokesman of the Baltimore Police Department in 2015, a tumultuous time for the embattled department just after the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray.
During his tenure, the city saw violence spike, the release of a Department of Justice investigation that found police routinely violated the rights of citizens and the unfolding of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal in which an elite unit routinely robbed citizens, falsified reports and committed other crimes.
In his three years with the department, Smith worked under three different commissioners. He left the BPD in October 2018, citing “nasty mudslinging” and “political turmoil.”
But today he balked at the idea the department’s scandals should weigh down his candidacy. He told WJZ’s Paul Gessler: “My reputation speaks for itself. And for people that think because I was there when they were doing something bad, look at your job when somebody did something bad. Are you connected to that? I mean, come on, it’s ridiculous.”
Smith joins Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah and nine other Democrats in seeking the nomination.
The primary election is April 28.