Q&A: Brandon Scott on his Park Heights roots, his vision for ‘transformational and generational change’ and more

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Courtesy: Brandon for Baltimore

The third in a series of interviews with the top-polling contenders for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

At 36 years old, City Council President Brandon Scott is the youngest contender in the race for mayor. But he also ranks behind only Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and former Mayor Sheila Dixon in the number of years holding elected office in Baltimore, having first joined the council in 2011.

Following the resignation of Catherine Pugh last year, Scott was elevated to council president, the position previously held by Young. He’s able to rattle off what he sees as some of the accomplishments the council has made in that short time: a series of ethics reforms in the wake of the “Healthy Holly” scandal that brought Pugh down, income-based water billing and bans on styrofoam and plastic bags, to name a few.

He also touted a series of charter amendments that would reshape city government, all of which Young recently vetoed (the council can still override).

Perhaps the most important legislative achievement to Scott is the Equity Assessment Program, a measure that Pugh signed off on in 2018 that requires every agency to examine their programs through the lens of equity. Voters approved the program in the election later that year.

Speaking about it during a phone interview with Baltimore Fishbowl, he says there’s no way such a law would have passed during his first term on the council. But he also notes it was a struggle to get Pugh’s approval, because she did “not having the understanding or the will to make the city operate in that way.”

In Scott’s view, Baltimore has been unable to make progress over the years due to ineptitude in the mayor’s office. He thinks the city wants “transformational and generational change,” adding that he is the only candidate in the race who graduated from a Baltimore City Public School in the 2000s.

Scott says it’s time for his generation to step up and run the city, and he feels he’s the candidate who can connect with the most voters.

“I can talk young, old; rich, poor; white, black; gay, straight; trap house, board room,” he says. “No one else can do that in this race. No one else has that flexibility in this race.”

During our conversation, Scott talked about his Park Heights roots, developing a comprehensive crime plan that also deals with trauma, how he envisions leading the city to its “highest heights” and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.

Baltimore Fishbowl: I think your campaign is something people have been expecting for a long time. A 2014 City Paper profile ran under the headline of “Great Expectations.” And in it, you said you hope to be mayor in 10 years. I think you’re one of the only members of the Council on the standalone interview in The New York Times, you were featured in that documentary “Charm City.” So does that have added pressure for you, all those laurels?

Brandon Scott: No. That doesn’t add pressure for me. Pressure is what I thrive off of. The pressure of being one of the first young African-American men to be elected in Baltimore, and then to be the youngest city council president. I thrive off the pressure of making sure that I represent Baltimore, I represent my family in the best light every day and with everything that I do. I’m the guy who wants the ball in his hands with five seconds left on the clock in Game 7 of the Finals, because that’s when I’m at my best. I want to be the person that uplifts and brings everyone together to accomplish and overcome things that many people said that we cannot.

For me, I’ve been under pressure my whole life. I grew up in 21215, I wasn’t supposed to go to college. I wasn’t supposed to graduate high school. I do the impossible every time someone says I can’t do it, because that’s what I was put on this earth to do. That’s what my family instilled in me. That’s what my community, that’s what my city has instilled in me, to make the naysayers look bad on behalf of not just myself, but everyone that comes from where I come from, and for the city that I love.

BFB: You were first elected to the council in 2011. And since that time in Baltimore some of the city’s biggest problems, such as violence, poverty, inequity, education, have persisted or gotten worse in some respects. What has hampered change during your time on the council?

BS: So I think you have to think about a lot of different things. First and foremost, what has hampered change in Baltimore is that you’ve had a status quo machine and you’ve had mayors in Baltimore who were either unwilling to make the tough change and the tough decisions to move the city forward, or who didn’t want to do that because they were tied at the hip with the status quo. I can talk ad nauseam about the issues that I had, and it’s been publicly documented, with Mayor Pugh.

Because there’s some people, and some people in this race, highlighting these issues just like a newfound thing. They’ve been silent all these years. But they want to talk about gun violence, right? There was one elected official saying we have a problem, fighting for change, fighting for reform right before it was popular to do so. But then also, simultaneously, leading the largest anti-violence movement in the city, with 300 Men March.

The issue was that at the top levels of government, they weren’t seeing a need for change. There was no way that we would have been able to get what will be a historic piece of legislation once it is fully implemented, the Equity Assessment Program–it wouldn’t have went through in my first term. But imagine having to have conversations with Mayor Pugh about this legislation, over and over and over again, and just her not having the understanding or the will to make the city operate in that way.

Failed leadership and this status quo machine that I’ve been fighting since I’ve been in office is what has allowed Baltimore’s issues to persist. It’s not having a crime plan, and then for them to reply with a mandatory minimum bill that we know wouldn’t reduce crime in Baltimore. It’s about leaders who have the courage to do the right thing over the popular one, even if it costs them their election or re-election, and who want to actually build a better systems and change them because the way Baltimore operates doesn’t work.

BFB: Similarly, I think there was a lot of hope in 2016 with a lot of new blood elected to the council. And while there has been some progress with some of the reforms you mentioned and some other things like Complete Streets and the ethical reforms that the council is now undertaking, a lot of those problems have persisted. So do you think the current council, a lot of whom came on board in 2016, was similarly stymied by this machine as you put it?

BS: What I tell people all the time, if you think about what this council has accomplished legislatively–and I think that’s what happens here in Baltimore, is we sometimes forget their job is to pass laws. And then you have a mayor in Baltimore who has the ultimate power to not only enforce them but to direct agencies.

When you think about the things this council has done–let’s just say since I’ve been council president, May of last year: closing the “Healthy Holly” loophole, all these charter amendments, moving the Board of Ethics underneath the inspector general, hanging who has to file their ethics filings in Baltimore City, fighting to change the Board of Estimates, creating a charter review commission. And you add on to that at the trauma bill that we passed. You add on Complete Streets. You add on that Baltimore now has equity as the law of the land, for budgeting and everything else, come July 1 of this year.

Adding on to that, you talk about the bill that we passed to add $20 million dollars into the affordable housing trust fund. And you think about finally getting rid of styrofoam, plastic bags. The Water Accountability and Equity Act. These are significant things.

All of these things have happened, but the problem is that all that gets overshadowed because you have had ineptitude at the executive level and corruption at the executive level in Baltimore. In some cases I feel bad for my colleagues. It almost gets forgotten because you had a mayor who didn’t know how to implement things, didn’t understand them, didn’t want to, but also because they didn’t have the ability to deal with day-to-day basic functions.

And what I say to anyone who will listen is that what the council had to do is also operate as quasi-executive branch because people were not getting anything from this administration. They weren’t getting what they needed. And when you have the amount of violence in Baltimore and you have me at that time as the leader of the public safety committee, and the entire council, including the now-mayor, kicking and screaming and saying we need a crime plan that was never delivered. And we’re still waiting on a comprehensive crime plan.

But the ineptitude at the mayor’s office did not send out water bills; did not deal with violent crime, they put their heads in the sand; did not have a functioning government. That has overshadowed all that great work, because it gets lost, because people are dying that don’t have to die, people are not being served that should be served. And that can only be changed by one person in Baltimore’s government structure, and that’s the mayor. The mayor directs those agencies, and that’s where the ineptitude has been.

BFB: Jack Young has only been on since last May, so coming up on a year. Do you think that ineptitude has carried over under his watch?

BS: Well, I think it’s very clear that there are things that they haven’t got under control. We know that when Commissioner Harrison released his portion of the crime plan, the mayor said that the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice would in the coming weeks add on in a comprehensive fashion, and then backtracked. There still is no comprehensive crime plan, despite what anyone will tell you. Homicides have been up or right along where they were last year.

We know that the water bill issue has not been resolved. We know that he found out that people were still not getting water bills who should have been getting them. You can see how still, through all that work, how still these main issues have not been addressed. And it’s time, it’s time.

Let me also be clear. My run for mayor is not out of disrespect to any of them. But what we always have heard, especially in Baltimore’s African-American community, for my generation: We can’t wait for you guys to come, get the experience, learn all you can learn, work your way up–you know, pull yourself up by your bootstraps–so that you guys can come and take the baton and take us to the highest heights. Well, guess what? Now is that time. Now it’s time for that generation to actually allow us to do that, and I am the person that can bring us all together, stand on the shoulders of those who come before me, and take Baltimore to its highest heights.

That’s what we need: transformational and generational change. Because you have to think about it like this: There is no one in this race not named Brandon Scott who is a graduate of Baltimore City Public Schools in this millennia. They either moved to the county and graduated from county school, or they’re not from Baltimore, or they graduated long, long ago. It’s different when you’ve never left. It’s different when you’ve lived it your whole life. I never left Baltimore, I didn’t run away. I came back home to serve immediately.

When you see your first shooting when you’re 8 years old, when you’ve lost friends, when you’ve seen what addiction does, when you go to schools with no heat and no air until you go to 9th grade, it changes you, and it forces you to make decisions with a different mindset than anyone else in this race is going to have.

And when you add on to that that I went away to school, got my degree at a wonderful college, St. Mary’s College, but then bust my butt in city government building relationships with workers, building relationships with community, learning the legislative process, trying to set an example of how to serve at every step of the way. It’s now time for me to take that to the next level so that Baltimore has a leader that can bring us all together and show us a new way forward.

BFB: You touched on it just now, but I wanted to follow up and ask you, when discussing violence in the city, you’ve often said, you know, Baltimore’s response must involve dealing with the trauma that people experience. How has growing up in Park Heights shaped that view for you? And what from that experience do you carry with you to this day?

BS: Listen, man. It’s not even where I carry it, it’s still what I go through. I live in Northeast Baltimore, but the overwhelming majority of my family, including my parents, still live in 21215. Most of my friends still live in 21215. Any time there’s a shooting or something that happens in Park Heights, in particular areas or blocks, when I look at my phone, my heart drops. So when we had a shooting at Cold Spring and Reisterstown a few weeks ago, the first person I called was my dad–because my family’s business is literally right there–to see if they’re alright.

When there was a shooting a few weeks ago on Queensberry and Oakley, I’m calling my friends to see if they’re alright, because I know people that live right there.

But for me, I carry this every day because I’m always going to be that kid from Park Heights. That’s like the layering covering my eyes, the way I see the world is that kid who came from the neighborhood–that only Elijah Cummings visited, that knows the world descended on my neighborhood for one Saturday in May and then the rest of it we were left to fend for ourselves. I’m always going to carry that.

I didn’t even know what trauma was until I got to college. I had no idea that the things that I experienced growing up were abnormal. I thought it was normal for people to lose people. I thought it was normal to be outside and have to jump a fence or run because someone was coming and trying to shoot–not you but someone else that happened to be playing basketball with you. I thought it was normal after something like that happened, or when someone dies, and the cop would not come and say, “Hey, are you guys OK?” but say “Hey, you’re going to tell me something or we’re going to put you in the back of this car.” Not having to go to school because, oh, the heat’s not working, it was too hot, I thought that was normal. All of that collective trauma impacts the way that I serve.

That’s why you see me spend so much time with our young people, personally mentoring them and trying to show them a different way. I used to hear this all the time, when I was in community meetings, “You spent so much time talking to the young people, what about us?” And I always would tell them, “If I don’t talk to them, who’s going to talk to them? Because you’re not.”

That is the way that I see the world. I carry myself the way I carry myself, because I know that if I screw it up, no one young, black, from Park Heights might ever get a chance. I have to be exemplary because I know the odds are stacked against me, because of what I look like and where I grew up. So I have to serve understanding that, and I will never forget those people, those types of neighborhoods. That’s why I do the things that I do every day.

BFB: What’s something you’ve learned as council president that you didn’t know as a councilman?

BS: I think that I’ve learned a lot in this last year. Something that I thought I was good at but learned on how to improve is bringing people together, people that were on opposite sides of different things or opposite sides of the political spectrum.

For example, if you would have asked the average Baltimorean or even the average politician in Baltimore City a year ago if Councilman Schleifer would have supported the gag order bill, they would have said, “No way.” But it happened. And we were able to do that because you have to be able to communicate with everybody in the city, and that’s why I think that my candidacy creates an opportunity that no one else’s can.

Because I can talk young, old; rich, poor; white, black; gay, straight; trap house, board room. No one else can do that in this race. No one else has that flexibility in this race. So that’s what I learned.

And the other thing that I learned, too, is that it’s critical to always take time, take a breath, take a step back and look at things from other people’s point before jumping in or moving at such a fast pace.

BFB: What will your administration do to help residents, businesses and nonprofits after this pandemic has passed? And I know you unveiled a plan with several initiatives, but will you do something beyond that?

BS: Listen, we know that the world is going to be different. That’s why I put that suggestive COVID plan to start, to build the foundation.

One, I think it’s critical that we understand that we’re going to have to, as much as possible, work to identify those people who have lost jobs due to COVID. There are people who have worked their entire adult life who are not going to have a job. And what the city should be doing is building workforce development training for them to connect them to jobs that are here or jobs that are going to be coming post-COVID.

One of the things that you have to do is when you’re mayor, you also have to be a champion of your city and go and get resources. Working with our federal partners and our state partners to get resources, making sure that we’re keeping our businesses whole, making sure that we’re helping them in every way we can. But then also making the city invest. That’s why I asked that we look at the rainy day fund to create a program for our businesses here in the city, in addition to working with other levels of government, because we have to have skin in the game as well.

And when we talk about our young people in Baltimore, we also have to understand that we have to keep pushing to break the internet divide, making sure that they’re able to get the education that they need and deserve, and even improving upon that so that they also can be ready to make their way in this post-COVID world.

But then you’re also going to have to know that we’re going to be looking at budget shortfalls and things like that at the local level. That’s going to require someone with experience working on that. And in this race, we know that I’m experienced, there’s a couple other people that are experienced in doing it, working through these things at the city level to show why we’re going to have to make tough decisions. Someone needs to be making those decisions based on understanding how it will impact the average citizen.

There are so many things. Also, something I said before, we would put together a COVID recovery task force, where we would identify things that we can go after, various weaknesses, how we can partner to build on those things, and what the city will need. It’s not going to be the Brandon Scott show. We’ve had mayor after mayor after mayor where the mayor had to be the smartest person in the room and the superstar at all times.

I’m going to be Phil Jackson, I’m going to surround myself the best and the brightest, the most talented people who will make me look like a genius because they all worked toward this cohesive vision to make Baltimore the best city it can be.

BFB: Mayors have grappled with violent crime for years, as we’ve discussed. And since 2015, the annual homicide rate has surpassed 300 people killed. Why is your plan the best plan to solve violent crime in the city?

BS: It’s very simple. My plan is the most comprehensive, it’s based in not just the reality of Baltimore, it’s based in the best practice here and around the country. And also my plan understands like no other that fighting crime in Baltimore is like being on the Acela train and the regional train at the same time. You have to deal with the day-to-day violence. And you can do that in a way where you’re not violating people’s rights and we don’t have rogue cop units going off and running crazy. You do that by focusing in on people who are committing the violence, a proven violence reduction strategy that’s been implemented in town after town after town, but not here in Baltimore. Not once but twice we failed to do that.

But also doing something that they’ve never really done, and that’s actually focusing in on the flow of guns and the people bringing them in, building a strategy for gun traffickers, straw purchasers and people who are transferring weapons as well.

I mean, you look at the comprehensiveness of my crime plan, and you look at everyone else’s plan, think about this: Nobody in this race or anybody talked about the need for a comprehensive violence reduction strategy in Baltimore before I said it a few years ago. When the now-former mayor didn’t come up with a plan and said, “Hey, if you think you guys can come up with a plan to implement, give us one, we’ll do it,” we did that and they still didn’t do it. That started a trend, and then everybody’s talking about comprehensive approaches, doing all these other things that I have been the leader in talking about for years.

Safe Streets was dead on arrival. I led the fight to bring it back and expand it to 10. But now we have to do even more than that. We have to give them the resources to not only intercede in violence, but we also have to provide resources so they can change people’s way of life.

Thinking about how we talk about reentry, it’s not waiting for people to come home from prison. But if we know Sandtown has the most people in prison, and is going to have the most people returning, in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, and there are others in the city like it, why aren’t we working with the employment places here, with the Department Public Safety and Correctional Services, with our Office of Employment Development, with labor unions and whoever to train these individuals before they come home to Baltimore, so that they don’t have to go back to that way of life?

And people talk about trauma commissions. Well, we were the first to say that we’re going to also send trauma commissions out to these scenes with the police and fire, because we know that so many instances come from that. One little incident starts here, people don’t know how to deal with their grief and trauma. The next thing you know, we got a four-years long battle that ends up with some kid being shot.

People know my plan is rooted in my life experience, best practices and being unafraid to get it done. But also that, unlike everyone else, I am going to hold people accountable in every way so that we can actually accomplish it and not get off the train.

BFB: You’ve said it in so many words, but in a more direct question: The current mayor and police commissioner have said that the current crime plan is working and yet homicides are close to last year. Do you feel the plan is working?

BS: So, what I will tell you is that, if you look at the violence in Baltimore City. If you look at where we are, amidst COVID-19, we are two homicides up on the most violent in the history of the city, right?

(Editor’s note: Since this interview was conducted, the homicide rate has slowed somewhat. As of Wednesday, there were 109 killings compared to 114 at the same point last year.)

Yes, we are down in non-fatal shootings, but we know that there’s still too much violence. Yes, they may be having some success, but that success is not the success that we need.

And you can’t have a special crime plan in Baltimore without a deep focus on repeat offenders, an actual strategy with violence reduction, but also a comprehensive approach. We now know that COVID-19 is changing the world and changing everything. But when we talk about where we were at the beginning of this year, and now that even through COVID-19, we are still ahead of that pace, the impact is not there. It’s not working. We need to readjust and bring all our resources there.

BFB: How would you improve and expand access throughout Baltimore to public transit, cycling, walking and other transportation options not based around single-occupancy vehicles?

BS: We’ve already committed to fully implementing the Complete Streets program. We’re going to do that in every way we can. But we’re also going to not make the mistakes of the folks before us and we’re going to do it through a lens of equity, and making sure that we work with the community.

But when you talk about transportation in Baltimore, you also have to talk about how we’re actually going to deal with the elephant in the room: We have a transportation system, here and in our region, that is unlike others in other major cities, where one person, the governor, can decide that, Hey, decades of work went into building this line to create true 21st century transportation and get people to job hubs and job centers, and I’m just going to walk away from it.

One of the most important things the next mayor can do, especially around transportation, is be someone who can convene and work with the current executives in Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, and maybe even, dare I say, Harford counties, to grow and support the efforts of the folks in Annapolis and make our transportation agency, MTA, a regional agency, so that we can then build a true regional plan and regional transportation network.

But in the meantime, what can be done right now–and you may have covered it in the past, you know that I have an adversarial relationship with the Charm City Circulator, because of this inequity and lack of access to certain neighborhoods. Well under my administration, the same way that we run a free bus downtown and into some of our most affluent neighborhoods, we will do that in other neighborhoods as well.

Why don’t we have one running down Pennsylvania Avenue or down Greenmount Avenue or down Harford or Bel Air Road? We can. We can do these things if you have the courage to do it.

And we will also formally push for what I call a Charm City Job Circulator. Why can’t we have a bus that goes to Mondawmin, which pretty much anyone who lives in Northwest and West Baltimore can get to pretty easily with public transportation, that then takes people out to Tradepoint Atlantic, down to Port Covington, or whatever job center there is, to get people to work? Why can’t we do that? We can.

And also then, in the other neighborhoods, working and going to our nonprofit partners like Hopkins and UMD and others who have their bus shuttles and say, We’re also going to fully implement an ID program. And working with them to say, Hey, if a Baltimore City resident wants to get on your shuttle, you should let them on for free so that we can create transportation access. It’s about leading in every way, implementing the best practice and policy at the local level here, fighting for best practice and policy at the regional level, and then doing the partnerships that we need.

BFB: The area has been transfixed over the last couple of years, I believe, with the “squeegee kid” debate about window washers on Baltimore streets. What would your administration do to connect people who are clearly eager to work with well-paying jobs? 

BS: We have to do some deep analysis. We will use our resources–I will go out there myself, offer some African-American male engagement–especially starting with the students who should be in school, because let me be clear, no 10-year-old, 11-year-old is saying I want to stand in the dead of winter or the dead of summer in Baltimore and wash windows.

What people have to understand is that, no matter what anyone says, if someone’s parents tell them to bring home 50 dollars a day, guess what they’re going to do? Find a way to bring home 50 dollars a day. So we would do an assessment with each and every one of those young people’s families, them and their families, get them back on track with school, figuring out how to get people employed.

Because you also have to understand this, and I heard this directly from several young men who were squeegeeing, some of whom I was able to work with and try to find some opportunities for them. I heard from a young man who said me and my friend had to give up our squeegee corner, because the dope boys tried to tell us that they started squeegeeing. See, now they can understand that other ways they had been making their money is not providing a reason to stay. We have to deal with that as well, go out and deal with them, get people the substance abuse help that they need, identify things that we need, placing them into some kind of job training and moving forward.

And then at the same time, because not everyone’s going to follow rules and we continuously have people who want to be some of the few who are out there assaulting people, then you deal with that from a law enforcement standpoint. But you don’t go out and try to arrest everyone. You go out and try to deal with the issue at its core and not try to push it from that area.

BFB: While many major cities have seen population growth in recent years, the number of people living in Baltimore continues to decline. What are your main strategies for building healthy neighborhoods throughout Baltimore and making sure that investment is not concentrated in just a few areas so that current residents can participate in any resurgence?

BS: People ask how can we stop population decline. The first thing is you actually have leaders that will actually do the basic services for Baltimore in an efficient and 21st century way, not some antiquated 1974 structure of government like we have today. That’s why I’m going to make Baltimore join the rest of the counties in the region and have a professional City Administrator. Because when people leave the city, and you talk to folks, they say, “Oh, I left because of crime.” But also, and in some cases more so, because “the light was out on my block and it was out for six months,” “I didn’t get a water bill; I got one, it was wrong,” “my kid’s school was this or that,” “the road by my house had a pothole.” You have to get the basics right.

And what Baltimoreans will get when they elect me is someone that works at that level, and each and every day will get the basics right, but that also has that vision for how we can do grand things to improve the city.

As I say to all the candidates when we’re having forums, when they start talking about racial equity and equity in neighborhoods, I have to remind them that it’s not optional for them anymore. I made sure that now we’re going to be doing that, because everything that they present to the council and to the public is going to have to be done through the lens of equity.

What we will do, is we’re going to flip the investments, we’re not going to have the overwhelming amount of capital dollars going into neighborhoods that are the wealthiest. We are going to target the areas where we know people need help, the areas that are ripe for growth in the city; we’re going to do that without gentrifying everyone out, do that to empower people that have been there, working to take renters and make them home owners. As I often talk with Park Heights, allowing people like my grandmother, who lives in Park Heights, to also benefit from the renaissance of Baltimore by protecting them in every way and making sure that they’re invested in, and not invested around.

BFB: The acquisition of Legg Mason by Franklin Resources Inc., and the merger of WillScott Corp. and Mobile Mini Inc., signal the end of two corporate headquarters in the city. While that may not mean much to a lot of citizens, the city’s big companies, as the Baltimore Sun editorial board noted, populated the boards of many city arts, education and charitable enterprises, and had been leaders in the business community. Should the city be concerned by these transactions? And what will your administration do to attract the next Legg Mason and keep it?

BS: What we hear consistently is, when you have a functioning city government that is tackling the issues, when you see someone investing and making sure violent crime is going down, when they see city services are being provided for everyone, no matter where they live, what they look like, what ZIP code they’re in, when you’re a city that’s focused on getting your finances in order, cutting the ineffectiveness so you can do the tough work of looking at how you can restructure how the city does everything, then you can have people coming in.

One of the things that we’ve been lacking for a long time, really since Schaefer if you think about it, is a mayor who’s willing to put Baltimore on their chest and show the world and go out and tell people how great Baltimore is, with that true Baltimore swagger, and convincing people to come here and stay here. And you need that as well.

But you also need something else. While we’re out trying to attract the biggest and the best, we also haven’t done something that many other cities have done and done well. When you look at most places, most of their job growth is from their small- and medium-sized businesses that they have. We are going to invest in those people, making sure that we’re helping them expand.

When you think about this, the tech growth that we have here, when you think about the maker stuff that’s happening here, when you think about some of the other kinds of businesses that we have in Baltimore, and investing in them creating that organic business environment, it’s also going to be attractive to those larger businesses.

When they see what we did for those emerging technology centers and how companies have taken off, when they see that, then people will want to come. But you have to be working on every level. You have to be communicating in a way that the city hasn’t done with the business community. You have to be providing services for everyone, focus on the issues that everyone is focused on. But you also need a mayor who’s willing to put their pom poms on and go out and champion the city.

BFB: A bill to build new racetracks at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park recently became law. Aside from keeping the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, what, if anything, should the city push for when the new Pimlico is being developed?

BS: This, of course, is personal for me. When people ask me about how important the development of Pimlico is, I say it’s critically important. But we also have to understand that Pimlico is bigger than Preakness, the redevelopment of that racetrack is bigger than Preakness, that entire neighborhood has to be invested in, including people that have already been there.

So what we should be pushing for is making sure that you’re not talking about just rebuilding the racetrack to rebuild the racetrack, but you also need things that allow it to be functional after racing moves to Laurel. So we’re thinking about having a venue where–some of the biggest things at Pimlico have been concerts, having a place like that. Figuring out how you can work with the city to see the neighborhood’s needs met, working with your partners over at LifeBridge and Sinai to create more jobs in that community.

And then the most important thing is to not do that redevelopment in a vacuum. As I often say, if we go through with actually trying to rebuild Park Heights after many, many years of acquisition and demolition, that we’re also rebuilding it not with just going and bringing “new people” to Park Heights.

If you grew up when I grew up, a lot of my friends who don’t live there now are in Pikesville, Owings Mills and Randallstown. We also need to make a deep investment in recruiting them back to Park Heights from what we call “Park Heights North,” so that they can also then do what our parents and grandparents did and raise their families there.

It has to be a complete synergy, because the racetrack is going to create opportunities for the neighborhood. But we have to rebuild the neighborhood as well.

BFB: We know we’re in the midst of the five year anniversary of the Baltimore uprising. Maybe just past that. What lessons did you learn from that?

BS: Man, that’s actually the best question. I need an hour alone just for that.

What I learned the most is that when everyone says that Baltimore is down and that we’re out, and that we don’t care about our city or about ourselves, about each other, we always prove the world wrong. We always rise from the ashes and come together to be a better Baltimore. And I know that we can and will do that again. Baltimore’s been looking and waiting for someone people can believe in who can bring us together.

I also learned throughout that process that you have to appreciate everybody, everything, every experience that you have, because they can be gone in the blink of an eye. Even though I already live my life like that, post-Freddie Gray.

And then the last, and I think one of the most important things, is that everybody–and I say this all the time, I’ve really been saying it since that night–Baltimore will only truly be more if everyone in Baltimore is willing to be uncomfortable and do things that they are uncomfortable with, talking to people that they’re uncomfortable talking to, going to places where they’re uncomfortable going to. That’s the only way, if Baltimore is truly going to be more, and to do that we have to be uncomfortable and doing more as well. That’s it.

Brandon Weigel


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