The top candidates for Baltimore mayor broke little new ground during the season’s first televised debate Wednesday.

Mayor Brandon Scott and former Mayor Sheila Dixon — the front-runners — were joined by attorney Thiru Vignarajah and businessman Bob Wallace. The Democrats took the stage at Morgan State University’s Murphy Fine Arts Center for a panel hosted by WBAL-TV, WBAL Radio and Maryland Public Television.

The candidates generally stuck to the same pitches their campaigns have already been selling voters, who tuned in less than a month from the May 14 primary. In deep-blue Baltimore, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 10 to 1, winning the primary all but guarantees a win in November.

Polls suggest the race is tight. A recent survey from Goucher College Poll and The Baltimore Banner found that 40% of likely Democratic voters said they would reelect Scott, while 32% said they would support Dixon. Vignarajah had 11% support, and 3% said they would support Wallace. The poll has a 4.7 percentage point margin of error.

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Mayor Scott, who won the 2020 Democratic nomination as voters were hungry for change at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic and a nationwide reckoning over racism and police brutality, pitched voters on his results. He touted homicide reductions and successful outreach programs for squeegee youths. He also pointed to a tenure “without scandal,” a dig at Dixon’s 2010 resignation as mayor amid a corruption probe.

Dixon’s opening statement immediately addressed the controversy.

“As many of you know, in the course of my time in office, I made a mistake,” she said. “I undermined the trust placed in me.”

She is running to reclaim the office because “people stop me on the street” asking her to come back, she said, citing her record of cleaning city streets and managerial experience. Twice during the debate, she cited a need for an adult in leadership — a dig at Scott, who turned 40 earlier this month.

Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general of Maryland and Baltimore prosecutor who has previously run or citywide office three times unsuccessfully, positioned himself as a choice between “incompetence or corruption.”

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Wallace, who ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for mayor in 2020, said he would use his business expertise to bolster city operations and increase economic opportunities for residents. He questioned why some voters cast ballots for candidates who he said do not care about them.

“How long will you allow them [politicians] to take you for granted?” Wallace asked.

Public safety and juvenile crime

Clarence Mitchell IV, a former state legislator who co-hosts WBAL Radio’s C4 and Bryan Nehman show, asked what candidates will do to address juvenile crime.

“There’s no challenge that is more defining” for Baltimore than juvenile crime, Vignarajah said. He said that schools should work to decrease chronic absenteeism and teach youths that there are consequences for bad conduct. Carjacking and violent offenders are being treated “like they’re stealing bubblegum from the cafeteria,” he said. He said he would detain youths who committed violent crimes for at least 30 to 60 days “so we can evaluate what these kids need to get back on track.”

Dixon pointed to reductions in crime under her tenure, and said City Hall and the Baltimore state’s attorney must work with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and families to ensure that the needs of young people are being met.

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Scott again touted the decline in homicides and nonfatal shootings during his tenure, attributing the drops to his signature Group Violence Reduction Strategy, a form of focused deterrence. Up next is ensuring that state agencies are in line with the city.

Wallace said if youths “are old enough to commit a crime, they’re old enough to be held accountable.” He said he will use the same approach his father used in raising five sons: a belt and a carrot.


Jayne Miller, a former investigative reporter who worked at WBAL for more than four decades, asked candidates about an upcoming ballot measure to allow residential development at Harborplace, as part of developer P. David Bramble and MCB Real Estate’s planned redevelopment. As mayor, would each candidate support residential development, and would they commit city dollars for promenade improvements and street redesign?

Dixon said she wants to see a balanced design without 900 apartments. “Are we going to take all that infrastructure money and put it in their [MCB’s] pockets and neglect other neighborhoods?” she asked. She called the real estate company’s development a “side deal.”

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Scott called her a comment a blatant lie. He pointed to Harborplace’s 2019 receivership, which kick-started a legal process for new ownership. “We know that downtown is our fastest growing residential neighborhood,” he said, adding that the promenade has to be fixed regardless because of climate change.

Vignarajah said he would issue an executive order as mayor within his first 60 days to stop construction of apartments in city parks. “We wouldn’t do in this in Druid Hill Park, and we sure are not going to do it in the Inner Harbor,” he said. Like Dixon, he alleged Scott made a deal with Bramble and MCB, which have both donated to the mayor’s campaign.

Wallace said he has concerns about the project and is against using public money to build it. “We have invested in the shiny buildings, but not the people in the neighborhoods,” he said. “For that reason, I would say no.”

Complete Streets and roadway safety

Miller asked candidates about Complete Streets, a city law that says new street construction must promote the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users in new street designs. Would each candidate expand the program — and ensure that police enforce traffic laws?

Vignarajah said Complete Streets is a philosophy about making streets safer, but that Baltimore has failed to deliver on much of its promises. He committed to expanding free buses for residents.

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Dixon cited her track record with the Circulator, a free downtown shuttle bus route she created as mayor. The system now has several routes; she said she wants to expand it. Dixon, a cyclist, said she supports the addition of bike lanes in communities that desire them, and added that many city roads need to be repaved.

Scott said that officers have been enforcing traffic violations and will continue to do so. “Following the pandemic, people have been driving like maniacs,” he said. He is committed to building streets in a way that is safe for everyone, he added, not just motorists.

Wallace said he would support the creation of the Red Line, saying it would be a major economic engine for the region.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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