Craig A. Thompson: Baltimore deserves a clean fight
by Craig A. Thompson
Published: March 24th, 2011
Over the weekend, I watched the documentary “Street Fight,” the Academy Award-nominated film that chronicled the 2002 race for mayor in Newark, N.J.
The stars of the movie, Cory Booker and Sharpe James, were embroiled in a heated race and pulled no punches in their efforts to lead the city. Unfortunately, the campaign took on an extremely ugly tone and split the city along racial, ethnic and economic lines.
Ultimately, the James camp prevailed after engaging in a series of blistering attacks on Booker and his supporters. Some say the city has never recovered from the divisiveness of that campaign. Although Booker won the seat four years later and is now entering his second term, the long-term effects of that race — along with the subsequent conviction of Sharpe James on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy — still grip the city today.
Baltimore has entered the initial stages of what promises to be an intense and complex fight for the top seat at City Hall. With several names being mentioned as possible challengers to the incumbent, the summer of 2011 has the potential to play out the famous saying about politics by Mao Zedong and show us “war without bloodshed.”
Problems still abound
At this point in its history, Baltimore doesn’t need a war. It needs leadership. Although the number of homicides has decreased over the last year, the 223 homicides in the city still produced a rate higher than the national average. Although schools have improved, many communities are still suffering from a lack of quality education. Unemployment remains a significant barrier to the quality of life that many desire and seek, and morale in the city generally is at a standstill.
Several years ago, the U.S. Census reported that Baltimore lost almost 85,000 residents between 1990 and 2000, one of the largest population reductions in the country, alongside those in Washington, D.C., and Detroit. The prison population is growing at an alarming rate, with a startling number of juvenile offenders getting locked up for adult crimes.
Baltimore politics has long been known for its focus on people, not platforms. The grassroots efforts to build and serve communities by elected officials like Victorine Adams, Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro, Bea Gaddy and countless others over the years have done much to make this city great.
Indeed, many current members of the city government are committed public servants working hard to ensure that the city progresses from good to great.
A chance for transformation
That is why this summer is so important. Baltimore simply cannot afford a political campaign season that divides the city or focuses on personalities instead of issues.
The youth of this city are being asked to refrain from attacking and bullying each other — let us challenge those who wish to represent them to do the same.
Business leaders are being asked to invest in the city to keep it vibrant — let us demand that our prospective leadership make the necessary sacrifices to maintain the vitality of this city.
Parents are being asked trust the schools — let us seek a commitment from the leadership that any and every fight will be made to protect every child’s human right to a solid education.
This year can certainly be a year of transformation in Baltimore and present it with a chance to the territory. I read a great quote recently that advised that “It is not what you lost but what you have left that counts.”
No matter what the city has lost over the years, it still has a great deal left, and we must encourage our leaders to work with each of us to protect and enhance it. The politics of “war without bloodshed” has no place in the city — it has experienced too much war with bloodshed, and it is time for a change.
Craig A. Thompson, who writes a monthly column for The Daily Record, is a partner at Venable LLP, and represents clients in the areas of commercial litigation, products liability, and personal injury. He is the chair of the firm’s diversity committee. He is also the host of a weekly two-way talk radio show, and the author of a series of children’s books on African-American history. His email address is CAThompson@Venable.com.