Virtually every Baltimore politician was interviewed by a national TV reporter on the night of April 27 and the week that followed, but an exchange between City Councilman Nick Mosby and Fox News’ Leland Vittert managed to rise above the din. Standing on a West Baltimore street corner, Mosby put the rioting and looting that defined the night into context.
“This is bigger than Freddie Gray,” he said.”This is about the social economics of poor urban America. These young guys are frustrated, they’re upset and, unfortunately, they’re displaying it in a very destructive manner. When folks are undereducated, unfortunately, they don’t have the same intellectual voice to express it the way other people do, and that’s what we see through the violence today.”
Vittert then asked if the looting was “right.”
“Is it right for people to loot?” Mosby responded. “No. I think you just missed everything I tried to articulate to you.”
More than six months later, the Freddie Gray case is back in focus with the trial of the officers accused in his death. These days, Mosby speaks on the streets as a candidate for mayor.
Mosby, 36, is a Poly grad who left Baltimore to attend Alabama’s Tuskegee University, where he met his wife, and then returned home. With a degree in engineering, he worked for ten years in electrical engineering, rising in the ranks to oversee Verizon’s development of cloud data storage. In his first term as District Seven City Councilman, which represents West Baltimore, he has worked to keep underage kids away from drugs and alcohol, emphasized health and fitness for city residents and organized anti-violence rallies, among other initiatives. His wife, Marilyn Mosby, is the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, an association that some view as a potential conflict-of-interest.
As part of our first Baltimore Fishbowl series of interviews with mayoral candidates, Mosby tells us about his vision for the future, what he would have done after the Freddie Gray riots if he had been mayor, and addresses that conflict-of-interest charge.
Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.
We are all fruits of someone else’s labor and our success should be judged not on what we have obtained for ourselves but on the tools we have provided the next generation to achieve even greater success.
Why did you decide to move back to Baltimore after college?
This city made me who I am. I grew up here. But when I graduated from college, it was the first time in my life that I could chart my own course. I had several opportunities outside of Maryland but none compared to living out my dreams in the place that I love the most. I’m a multi-generational Baltimorean and this is my home. I knew this was exactly where I wanted to start my family. My wife and I bought a 20-year dilapidated house in the heart of West Baltimore. It was in an area known for blight, open air drug markets, and a haven for illegal dumping. The apartment complex known as Murder Mall was right across the street from our new home. Our family and friends relentlessly discouraged us. But nothing dissuaded me. Even then, we could see the potential of our amazing community and we were the first to purchase on our block.
I’m a son of Baltimore. My love for our city was rooted in me from birth. My mother raised me in a three-bedroom home we shared with my grandmother, aunts, and my older sister. I always joke and say I was the man of my house from day one. My mom would take two buses to work every morning at 4 a.m. to provide for our family. And she still made time for us as a family to give back and be engaged in our community. We would feed the homeless, I would rake the neighbors’ lawns, clean the streets. She made sure I knew the importance of civic engagement and always took me with her when she voted. I was weaned on Baltimore’s beauty, strength, grit, and spirit. This city poured so much into me and I wanted to harness my energy and talents and pour it back into Baltimore. [Coming back was] one of the best decisions I made in my life.
What’s one experience from your past that best prepared you to be mayor?
Growing up, so many of my friends had so much potential. But it was wasted. Even as a young kid, I saw the impact of that wasted potential and the devastating effects it had on our community at large. It is not so hard to connect the dots of our deeply challenged public education system to the social economic challenges, homelessness, drug addiction and poverty that plague our communities. As a City Councilman, when I visit our schools and meet with our students, I can see it in their eyes — and it’s exactly what I felt as a kid at times. I can see it in their eyes sometimes by the first or second grade… that they are either feeling engaged and inspired by their teachers or that they have already started to lose hope in a public education system that has failed so many of our young people…
In order for our city to thrive, we must protect and provide substantive opportunities for success for our most precious asset and that is our youth. As a product of the Baltimore City Public School System and growing up in the Baltimore City Rec and Park system, I know firsthand the impact that productive exposure and real opportunities have on the trajectory of our youth. Again, I’m the product of other people’s labor. We have to make sure our ceiling is our children’s floor.
What is the best advice you ever received, and followed?
Both my grandmother and my mother always taught me that if you don’t like things, change them. Even change meant a lot of hard work. Rest when you’re done and not a second sooner. There are so many systemic issues that plague our communities and stunt the shared success and growth of Baltimore. For decades, we have attempted to combat these challenges with the same approaches. I am running for mayor to hit these challenges head on with new energy and new ideas.
The Democratic primary has a lot of candidates. How do you plan to stand out?
Baltimore is uniquely positioned to be a thriving 21st century city and I am uniquely positioned to lead with new energy and new ideas that will move the city forward. We have to connect the dots to address Baltimore’s toughest challenges. It is not enough to fix the schools if there are no jobs after graduation. It is not enough to create jobs if there is no transportation to get people to jobs. It is not enough to crack down on crime without tackling the root causes of crime.
It’s going to take time to make Baltimore all it can be. I’m the only viable candidate in the race who has the energy and the commitment to see this job through for decades to come as long as the people afford me the honor to continue serving the city. I’ve had a successful electrical engineering career in the private sector where I managed large teams of people and multimillion dollar budgets. I successfully built complex network systems that get information to millions of people.
I’ve served on the City Council where four months into my term I introduced a liquor ordinance whose aim was to prohibit youth under the age of 18 from making purchases from corner liquor stores and to stop the normalization associated with being around alcohol and other merchandise meant for adults. It received unanimous support from the Council and was signed into law in June 2012. In 2014, I introduced and ensured the passage of some of the most progressive “Ban the Box” legislation in the country that prohibited employers from asking job applicants about their criminal past before making a conditional job offer; I’ve consistently worked with police and community leaders and organized over 50 Enough is Enough Peace Rallies to reduce violence and crime in my district. And recognizing the challenges of poor health in the community, I partnered with the American Heart Association, nearly 30 personal trainers, fitness organizations, and Y of Central Maryland and to start “Get Fit with Councilman Mosby” challenge. I exercised alongside my community and joined constituents for free healthy cooking classes.
I’ve spent nearly 15 years living among and working beside the community I serve. I have the ability to comprehend and solve problems in the boardroom as well as the street corner. That’s the type of transformative leadership that Baltimore needs right now.
Baltimore has already experienced all-time record homicides this year. How can we curb the bloodshed?
During the course of this campaign, we’ll lay out detailed policy proposals to address this issue and so many more, but immediately, we must develop a better way of proactively identifying the violent, repeat offenders who are responsible for so much of the bloodshed in our communities. We must crack down on Baltimore’s drug markets by making it harder for individuals to come into Baltimore to buy drugs without fear of consequence, which will further reduce market demand. We must also restore trust between our police department and the communities they serve, and we will reinvigorate our use of data and intelligence to better anticipate and target troubled areas.
A crime fighting strategy will not be successful by itself. We must address root causes of poverty and drug addiction in our communities. We must provide real, tangible opportunities for our young children before they turn to the drug trade, and get caught up in the criminal justice system.
Among many other things, the unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral showed that mayoral leadership includes the ability to navigate a crisis. What is the most important thing for a mayor to do in that situation? What would you have done differently if you were mayor on April 27?
During the unrest, I was on the street urging our young people to go home. It was a time of crisis, and in a time of crisis, clear and concise decision making, followed by clear and concise communication with my command staff, the public, our community partners and our partners in government would have been my top priority.
What is the best moment of your day?
The best moment of my day is definitely coming home to my wife and daughters. My wife and I are both public servants and our days are long. But there’s always that few minutes of quiet time at the end of the day where I get to be a dad tucking in my girls and look at their faces looking back at me and I take solace in the assurance of knowing that I am working to make Baltimore a better place not just for them but for every child of Baltimore.
One-third of respondents to a University of Baltimore/Baltimore Sun poll said that they were less likely to vote for you because of your wife’s position as state’s attorney. (Fifty-eight percent said it had no effect.) How do you respond to voters who see a potential conflict of interest?
I completely understand the question. And it’s a fair one. The answer is simply this: My wife and I are both public servants who love Baltimore and we are passionately committed to the betterment of our community. We didn’t choose to use our talents to make a lot of money in the private sector. We choose to make a difference, to serve our community, to make a better place not just for our family but for every family in Baltimore. And every day I see hundreds of people who are happy to have advocates fighting and working on their behalf — even if those advocates happen to be married to each other.
There is no legal or ethical conflict of interest. Our interest is the people of Baltimore. We serve at their pleasure. More importantly, if someone engages in fraud or abuse while I’m mayor not only will I investigate, but I will welcome an investigation by the independent state prosecutor. We’ve had enough mismanagement and impropriety under previous administrations. Baltimore needs and deserves an open and honest government and that’s what my campaign is about.
What’s your favorite local charity?
Jubilee Arts on Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore. They have intergenerational classes exposing residents to all forms of art.
No doubt, you and your family have a go-to restaurant, a reliable place that best meets your needs. What is it, why do you like it and which dish do you recommend?
Teavolve in Harbor East is always a win for my wife and kids. Marilyn and I enjoy shrimp and grits. They are the best in the city! We also love the homemade hummus. My girls absolutely love the red velvet pancakes.
During April’s unrest, you talked on national TV about how the riots were in part a response to decades of disinvestment and counterproductive policies. The city’s response has involved focusing on efforts to address entrenched issues related to race, poverty, education and community-police relations. What is the first step you would take as mayor to “rebuild Baltimore?”
In the first 100 days of my administration I will reinvigorate CitiStat, develop a process to immediately conduct audits on large city agencies, establish a project management office to oversee large capital projects, deploy body cameras on patrol officers, and begin work on a comprehensive recreation center plan. Just as I have managed multi-million dollar projects as an engineer that connected people with information, I will institute systems that put every dollar of the city’s budget to its best use. This campaign is about new ideas, energy, and commitment. I have the ideas to move this city forward. I have the energy to execute those ideas. I have the commitment to rebuild Baltimore.
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