Mayor Brandon Scott has publicly declined an invitation to an April candidate forum staged by Fox45 and The Baltimore Sun, highlighting the hosts’ political connections to rival candidate Sheila Dixon.

Branded as The Armstrong Williams Town Hall, according to an invitation sent Wednesday and obtained by The Banner, the one-hour, two-candidate event on April 1 would be moderated by Williams, televised live on Fox45 and streamed on The Sun website. Other Democratic candidates, including attorney Thiru Vignarajah and businessman Bob Wallace, were not invited.

Williams, a conservative commentator, purchased The Sun with David Smith, an executive with Fox45 owner Sinclair television, for an undisclosed amount in January. Both men have supported or promoted Dixon. Williams hosted her for an interview last June, asking her to tell viewers why she should again be elected as mayor; Smith has contributed $200,000 to a super PAC supporting her candidacy.

Last week, the political group started airing attack ads against Scott, labeling him: “nice guy, bad mayor.”

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Scott said in a statement that Fox45, Sinclair’s flagship station, has “showcased themselves to be entirely incapable of being impartial and ethical in their approach,” adding that Williams has made his opinions clear “in a number of venues, publications, and through political donations.”

Scott’s campaign manager Nick Machado said he received the invitation from Trif Alatzas, the publisher and editor in chief of The Sun. The mayor is more than willing to debate other Democratic primary candidates, and has publicly called for major candidates to discuss a debate schedule, Machado said.

“We are truly in unprecedented territory when the owner of the news outlet hosting a debate is also the leading political donor to one of the candidates participating in the same debate,” Machado said in a news release.

The Scott campaign’s statement said he would join the debate if an “impartial, outside moderator not employed by or affiliated with the Sinclair Broadcast Group or current Baltimore Sun ownership” hosted the panel instead. The statement named 10 journalists as potential moderators, including several former Sun reporters now employed at national newspapers and two local journalism professors.

On Wednesday, The Baltimore Banner, WYPR and WJZ CBS Baltimore, jointly, also sent an invitation for a mayoral debate.

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A Dixon campaign spokesman criticized Scott’s decision and suggestions.

“It’s understandable that Mayor Scott is most comfortable defending his record under terms he can dictate, but Sheila Dixon is ready to talk to anyone, at any place, at any time, to share her vision for how we move Baltimore forward,” Luca Amayo said.

On Thursday, Williams sent another letter to the Scott campaign, saying he would be an “impartial referee” and was open to discussions with the mayor over the panel.

David Johns, the news director of Fox45, sent a similar letter claiming the debate is an opportunity for Scott to be “100% transparent with the public.”

Alatzas did not immediately respond to questions about the invitation.

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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