Morgan State University’s Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center was packed Saturday with people and politics as Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young and 13 other hopefuls looking to replace him took part in a lively candidates’ forum ahead of the April 28 primary.

A platoon of candidates made the Jan. 24 filing deadline for the primary and onstage Saturday were 14 candidates that included Young, former Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, former Mayor Shelia Dixon, state Sen. Mary Washington and former Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignaragh.

The forum, sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Urban League, was fast and furious because candidates only had one minute to answer questions, which ranged from education, health care, crime and economic development to why they were running for office.

Washington, who represents Maryland’s 43rd District, said that she decided to run despite just being elected to the statehouse in 2018 because of her frustration with “false promises and old leadership.”

“Our institutions have failed our children with out investing in education,” she said.

T..J. Smith, former spokesman for the Baltimore City Police Department, said he got into the race because he wanted to do more than talk about the crime problem.

“We have to turn a page on the violence,” Smith said.

Catalina Byrd, a political strategist and one of just seven Republicans in the race, said she decided to run because she wanted to do more than lobby in Annapolis.

“I am a victim of violence. I had to tell my 4-year-old why her father wasn’t coming home after he was shot,” Byrd said. “We all have different plans, but we all love Baltimore.”

Her sentiments were echoed by businessman Rikki Vaughn: “We have a plan to take Baltimore to the next level.”

Young (D) was the city council president in May when he was named acting mayor after Catherine Pugh resigned amid a corruption scandal that resulted in criminal charges. She was indicted in November in connection with the scandal, which stemmed from Pugh allegedly pushing sales of a children’s book she authored in exchange for city contracts.

To win a full term, Young will have to outlast a bloated field of Democratic contenders, many of whom were on hand for Saturday’s forum, to represent the party in the Nov. 3 general election — largely a formality in the majority-Democrat city.

The forum included candidates from the old guard alongside several legislative neophytes. While Scott, Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady, Dante Swinton and Frederick Ware-Newsome made it clear that they are part of a new generation with new ideas, Young sparked laughter when he said he is a political veteran who knows where the money is in the budget.

“I have seen it,” he said.

Vignarajah, also a former city prosecutor who spoke of his parents’ deep roots in Baltimore as educators, addressed his plan to cut the city’s homicide rate.

“I am running for mayor because I am going to cut the murder rate in half without mass incarceration [or] cash bail,” he said.

Karsonya “Dr. Kaye” Wise Whitehead, a local radio personality and one of the forum moderators, stressed the event’s importance for voters as the primary rapidly approaches.

“We heard from 14 of the 30 or so candidates and we had a chance to listen to the issues that the people wanted to hear,” she said. “We heard where they are coming from, we made them show us what they have done and now we have more information to prepare us to make a good solid vote.”

The forum came less than two weeks before a Feb. 4 special primary election to replace late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), who died in October at age 68, in Maryland’s 7th District.

Cummings’ widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the former chair of the state Democratic Party, and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who held the seat before Cummings, are the two most well-known hopefuls in a field of 24 contenders. The general election for that race will be held April 28, the same day as the Baltimore mayoral primary.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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