By Richard E. Vatz
Tuesday night’s debate for those running for mayor of Baltimore was the last lap; and no one took a home run swing, so the evening was peppered with good arguments by a generally well-prepared group of candidates but lacked excitement.
There was no standout performance, but Catherine Pugh and Carl Stokes were the most aggressive and impressive substantively by a small margin.
Pugh, the leader in recent polls despite Sheila Dixon’s holding that position in February, stressed cooperation with Gov. Larry Hogan, referenced allegiance to the former state schools chief Nancy Grasmick and made some commonsense proposals to make the city safer.
Stokes was the realistic curmudgeon who pointed out the Jayne Miller (WBAL) question should not have been about improving the PR for the city but should have focused on real and measurable improvement. He also forthrightly castigated the sad state of schools and student failure.
WBAL Radio’s C-4 asked excellent substantive questions, as is his wont, and elicited solid, substantive answers regarding his queries on city financial solvency and urban development.
The only accusatory questions were directed by MPT’s Charles Robinson III at Sheila Dixon and Nick Mosby, with the former asked about her criminal record and the latter asked about the relevance to his candidacy of his wife’s serving as States Attorney of Baltimore.
Arguably, the latter was unfair and irrelevant, but the former didn’t go far enough. Candidate Dixon not only was convicted for embezzling gift cards purchased for needy children, but corrupted the ethics of city government by influencing Comcast to direct business to a dubious concern benefiting her sister as well as other questionable acts.
She was asked but not pressured about the gift cards and her candidacy, but there was no follow-up, and the format led to an unfair circumstance wherein there was an announced debate rule that disallowed responses when a candidate was attacked. But when Elizabeth Embry, articulate and prepared throughout, attacked Pugh’s accepting donations from those on whom she made decisions, she (Pugh) was allowed a response.
No one was asked about changing the culture of Baltimore City, a city with 72% of single parent homes. Among this group of candidates, there is little charisma that is necessary for social change.
Mosby and Warnock were contributory, but nothing made them stand out.
Conclusion: Pugh and Stokes tied for the best debate, as Pugh heads toward the nomination.
Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt: 2013)