Josh Kurtz: Questions for Baltimore Voters

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What are the qualities the voters of Baltimore should be looking for in their next mayor? Here are a few:

The on-the-job experience and street cred of Sheila Dixon.

The business background and legislative chops of Catherine Pugh.

The youth and energy – and photogenic family – of Nick Mosby.

The liberal passion – and can’t-be-bought independence that wealth brings – of David Warnock.

The problem-solving abilities and historical perspective of Elizabeth Embry.

The long record of public service of Carl Stokes.

Unfortunately, none of these candidates possesses all of these qualities. So at a time when the voters are looking for – and the city so clearly needs – a superhero, they are instead offered a choice of flawed or untested supplicants, each saying roughly the same things about Baltimore’s flaws and needs, but without surefire prescriptions to cure the city’s ills.

Talk about a crapshoot – and a dilemma.

Dixon certainly knows how to be mayor, and compiled a decent record during her three years on the job. Her ability to rally key segments of the community – including those who feel ignored by the current regime at City Hall – has undeniable appeal.

But the embezzlement scandal that drove Dixon from office in 2010 may rob her of the moral authority she needs to govern effectively – even with her plea for forgiveness and Baltimoreans’ inclination to give their leaders (and neighbors) second chances.

Is Mosby, with one term on the City Council under his belt, experienced enough to be mayor? And would he even be running for the top job if his wife, tyro State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, hadn’t taken the city by storm and gained nationwide attention with her swift indictments of the police officers allegedly involved in Freddie Gray’s death earlier this year?

Marilyn Mosby’s decisive action is credited with short-circuiting some of the unrest that consumed the city in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death. But if the trials of the police go badly, if Marilyn Mosby’s office is seen as botching the prosecution, the unrest could return – and that could negatively impact Nick Mosby’s campaign.

However the trials turn out, Baltimore voters will need to consider whether they want to consolidate so much power in one Reservoir Hill household – and what the potential pitfalls are if they do. An attractive young African-American power couple with two adorable small daughters could be just what the city needs – or it could be a very bad idea.

Pugh by all accounts is a serious and competent public servant. But even though she closed quickly in the Democratic mayoral primary of 2011, was anyone really clamoring for her to run again this time? Do the political wise guys in Annapolis, who genuinely respect her, overestimate her appeal and abilities as a citywide leader?

And what are we to make of the other leading Democratic candidates? Stokes may have been around the block a few times too many for a city that so desperately needs forward-looking vision.

Embry and Warnock are thoughtful but are woefully inexperienced in the political arena. And, as if anyone needed reminding, they’re white, trying to govern a city that’s two-thirds black. They’re not making overtly racial appeals, of course, and Baltimore has had fine white mayors in the past. But Embry and Warnock have a long way to go to show they can galvanize the city the way Martin O’Malley and William Donald Schaefer did – and the four months between now and the Democratic primary might not be enough time to show they can.

So let’s ask the question again, but in a slightly different way. What should the voters of Baltimore be looking for? What should they prioritize?

Do they want someone who can keep the peace? Do they want someone who can unify the city?

Do they want someone with the long-term vision to map out a robust economic future, or would they prefer someone who can roll up his or her sleeves immediately and focus on short-term progress?

Do the voters want someone who can work closely with the business community? Do they want someone who can hear the voices of the city’s disparate and oft-neglected neighborhoods? Do they want someone who can expand the city’s economic base, or who expands the base of human capital – not just someone who tends to the existing population or encourages white hipsters to relocate to the city, but who seeks out immigrants, who can revitalize neighborhoods in incalculable ways?

Do they want someone who can empower the police – or someone who can restrain them?

Do they want a master communicator, a tactician, an ambassador, or a cheerleader? Do they want someone who can go toe-to-toe with Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who so clearly is looking to score political points by campaigning against the city’s dysfunction, but whose commitment to helping is questionable?

The answer to all of these questions, of course, is yes. Baltimore is a city with a daunting array of needs – and none of the candidates, so far, has proven equal to the task.

But if voters are smart, they aren’t waiting for Superman. Out of necessity, they should turn to the candidate with the best grind-it-out abilities – fitting for a gritty city whose people, against all odds, are still able to envision a better future for themselves and for Baltimore.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.