Thiru Vignarajah has dropped out of the Baltimore mayor’s race and endorsed former Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Age: 47

Personal: Separated. Father to one child. Lives in Federal Hill neighborhood in South Baltimore.

Education: Graduate, Woodlawn High School. Bachelor’s degree, philosophy and political science, Yale University. Master’s degree, medical ethics, King’s College London. Graduate of Harvard Law School.

Experience: Managing partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp. Partner at DLA Piper, 2017 to 2021. Deputy Attorney General, 2015 to 2016. Chief of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Major Investigations Unit, 2011 to 2015. Democratic candidate for mayor in 2020; Democratic candidate for City State’s Attorney in 2018 and 2022.

Notable donors: Using public financing.


A: Yes. As a federal and city prosecutor, I saw firsthand the strategies that drove murders below 200 in 2011. Progress required coordination across law enforcement agencies, identification of individuals at greatest risk of being victims or perpetrators of gun violence, and relentless focus on group violence, all of which are at the heart of what GVRS and MONSE seek to achieve. But execution is everything, and it is a mistake to conclude that these methods worked just because murders dropped in 2023, a local result that follows a nationwide trend. Furthermore, these programs have been slow to expand beyond the Western District and have been hindered by a shortage of police officers and by high turnover in leadership. As mayor, in order to rapidly expand with a depleted police force, I would concentrate on a dozen specific neighborhoods (rather than districts) that account for an outsized share of gun violence each year. A cabinet-level deputy mayor for public safety would coordinate these efforts across agencies and provide residents with timely, transparent and complete updates. Being a good leader is not scrapping everything and starting over. It is building upon sound initiatives, diagnosing areas for improvement, and maintaining accountability and focus.

A: Increasingly gun violence is driven 1) by juvenile crime, 2) by returning citizens who are not given a chance to build a constructive life, and 3) by repeat killers convinced they will never be caught. Each of these factors deserves focus. 1) The mayor cannot abdicate responsibility for juvenile justice by claiming it falls solely within the state’s jurisdiction. To say so is not truthful, and it is not leadership. City police have to crack down on gangs who use juveniles to perpetrate crimes, build stronger cases against juvenile violent repeat criminals, and distinguish them from youthful offenders who mainly need support and services. 2) Returning citizens with crippling unpaid state debts (like child support) are told they will lose their driver’s license and have a material share of their wages garnished. This is backwards and inhumane. As mayor, I will forgive unpaid debts for returning citizens so long as they are demonstrating progress. 3) Finally, I will recruit hundreds more police, including 50 more cold case detectives. Currently, only a quarter of murders result in an arrest. This expanded cold case unit will concentrate on murders perpetrated by repeat killers, and those using high-caliber bullets, high-capacity magazines and headshots.

A: To improve prosperity for Baltimore’s residents means to enhance life for all residents. That requires a mayor who is not bought and controlled by developers, PACs, lobbyists and corporations. It requires a mayor who will take responsibility not just for what is working but also for what is failing. This is one reason why I am the only mayoral candidate using public financing, which limits donations to $150. Our grassroots campaign is fueled by small contributions from city residents, and I will not take a single contribution from PACs, corporations or special interests. Using this approach, we have raised more funds than every candidate other than the incumbent mayor. As a result, we can get our message out and advocate for shutting down the incinerator, small businesses and entrepreneurs, subsidies for senior housing, universal pre-K, free buses citywide, and free college and trade schools for public school graduates. Increasing prosperity requires sweating the small things, from potholes and illegal dumping to water bills and graffiti. A mayor in Manhattan once said, “If a pigeon dies in Central Park, it’s my responsibility.” That is not what city politicians do, but it is what leaders do. Baltimore is in desperate need of one.

A: Three years ago, I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing that cutting property taxes is fiscally imperative and the right thing to do. Still, it must be done in a responsible manner that does not require gutting services. I am the only candidate pledging to lower property taxes, and I would do so in equal increments over 10 years. The experience of cities like Boston suggests that population and property values will rise, mitigating the risk of reduced revenue. Nevertheless, to cushion against this risk, I would raise taxes on abandoned property, use eminent domain to seize vacant properties with persistent code violations, and end the tax sale system so no more homes are transferred to investors who let these houses rot. My detailed road map of how to deliver on my pledge to cut property taxes in half in 10 years was called “visionary and actionable” in a Baltimore Sun op-ed four years ago, and I stand by that overall approach. Thus, while I can quibble with Renew Baltimore’s six-year timeline (mine is 10) and the referendum approach (I’d prefer the city just do it), I agree that cutting property taxes is necessary and smart.

A: On this topic, the mayor and I have deep and serious disagreements. ARPA funds presented a $641 million, once-in-a-century opportunity. Birmingham completed rapid bus transit; Phoenix converted an abandoned K-Mart into a workforce development center; El Paso invested in crumbling water and sewage infrastructure. Mayor Scott instead frittered away the funds, padding agency budgets and repaying favors to donors and developers. For example, he gave $5 million to Seawall Development, whose owners made thousands in campaign contributions, and handpicked 45 nonprofits to get $44 million in operating funds. Even worse, with a looming Dec. 31 deadline, half the money remains uncommitted. This is among the mayor’s biggest unforgivable mistakes. As mayor, I would launch a forensic audit into how the money has been spent and what remains. Certainly, some investments — like public Wi-Fi and library services — should be sustained. But because Mayor Scott has largely used ARPA money as a political slush fund, wherever possible, it should be redirected to support groundbreaking investments like free buses citywide, repairing all heat and A/C systems in public schools, creating trails and public spaces around the Jones Falls waterway, establishing public ferries at the Harbor, and bringing back the Dollar Homes Program.

A: To ensure adequate affordable housing, we need to both make homeownership more accessible and strengthen tenant support to keep rents reasonable and avert homelessness. The Dollar Homes Program would be a cornerstone of these efforts, along with increased pressure on out-of-state investors to develop vacant houses or sell them to someone who will. These programs would be especially aimed at supporting local living for essential workers, including teachers and firefighters, with partnerships established with local banks and lenders for financial backing for home rehabilitation. I would also invest in community land trusts to mitigate homeownership rate disparities, especially among Black and low-income residents. CLTs provide a model for collective land ownership, offering affordable, long-term leases to homeowners, thus expanding homeownership opportunities and securing affordable housing for the future. To safeguard tenants from eviction and draconian landlords, I would enshrine in the city charter a right to counsel in contexts where an individual risks being evicted or losing their home. I would also advocate for city renter protections, requiring landlords to prove just cause for evictions. Inspired by successful models like Boston’s HomeStart, I would work to keep tenants housed and reduce the costs linked to emergency housing and homelessness.

A: Progress on vacant properties has been pathetically slow. In 2015, Baltimore had 14,000 vacant houses and 16,000 vacant lots; in 2023, our city bragged about bringing the number of vacant houses to 13,000, but vacant lots rose to 20,000. City Hall insists tackling vacant properties is a priority, commits massive resources to it but leaves the details for later. Our city also adds 1,000 vacant houses by selling properties in tax sales to foreign investors who let properties languish and become more vacant houses each year. As mayor, I will first end the city’s unconstitutional tax sale system. I will also 1) raise taxes on blighted and abandoned property to force hedge funds and investors to meaningfully develop their properties or sell them to someone who will, 2) use eminent domain to seize out-of-state investor properties with excessive fines and make them available to affordable housing organizations and small developers through land banks and other mechanisms, and 3) restart the Dollar Homes Program, gearing it toward teachers, first responders and social workers. I will partner with local banks, guarantee the loans, and co-invest to make up any difference when the loan amount does not cover the costs of renovation.

A: As mayor, I will start with an independent forensic audit of every agency, believing there is significant waste and diversion of resources throughout city government. The aim is to counteract mounting costs by identifying and rectifying sources of waste and inefficiency. In addition, I will lobby the state and federal government for increased spending on Baltimore; confident our bond rating is secure, I will also issue municipal bonds to support infrastructure investments and upgrades that currently come from annual agency budgets. In effect, Baltimore is a failing multibillion-dollar corporation in need of a turnaround CEO. Each turnaround story is different, but they tend to include rooting out waste and inefficiency, recruiting strong fiscal managers who set and meet strict budgets, and borrowing against the company’s intrinsics to weather a storm. Baltimore will bounce back but not without leadership.

A: The revival of Harborplace does not require luxury apartments on the Promenade, and I am the only candidate who has pledged to block them. That is certainly not because I do not want to see the renaissance of the crown jewel of Baltimore. A pedestrian bridge, more waterfront dining and retail space and an epic performance venue should all be part of a reimagined Harborplace. But none of that requires allowing a developer to turn priceless waterfront park space into exclusive apartments for the ultra rich. The Inner Harbor’s decline has been fueled by safety fears, inadequate programming and a lack of city investment and oversight. Fixing that is a start. As mayor, we will also create a master plan ratified by the community, followed by an international design competition among the best architects and urban designers in the world. That is what Vancouver did with Coal Harbor and how New York City devised the High Line. As one commentator said, if we want to be a world-class city, we have to act like one.

A: Complete Streets is a commitment to designing, building and upgrading our public streets to make them safe for everyone, especially pedestrians, cyclists and the disabled. It enables Baltimore to move toward comprehensive public transit with less reliance on cars. The main thing we need to change is actually making good on these commitments. In 2017, we ratified a plan to build 77 miles of new bike plans. So far, 12 miles have been completed. Because of poor planning, inadequate communication with the community and spotty execution and follow-through, this mayor has made into bitter debate a topic that four years ago was uncontroversial. As mayor, I will complete the 77 miles of proposed bike lanes by collaborating with local communities, providing options and incentives for residents to weigh, and establishing a concrete timetable for everyone to follow.

A: Baltimore deserves better. There is no city in America with a bigger distance between where we are and where we could be. Our public schools are failing; crime is out of control; property taxes are too high; and there is more trash, graffiti and potholes than ever. But Baltimore also has unrivaled strengths: a crucial deep-water port, an international airport, pioneering hospitals, peerless cultural institutions, two major sports franchises, a rich history of music and art, a gritty workforce, countless Ph.D.s, and a location between the political and financial capitals of the world. Instead of unleashing our potential, politicians have squandered it. My opponents had their chance. They left Baltimore in disgrace and disarray. And Baltimore shouldn’t have to choose between corruption and incompetence. This election, we don’t have to. I am the son of city schoolteachers and a product of public schools myself. I went to Yale University and Harvard Law School. I was president of the Harvard Law Review and a law clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer and came home to serve — as a federal and city prosecutor, deputy attorney general and a CEO. I am asking for your vote because we need change, and we need it now.

Correction: This article was updated to correct personal details.