By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor
Sen. Mary Washington, who recently declared her candidacy for Mayor of Baltimore, concedes she took a slightly circuitous route to finally settle in the city she now wants to lead.
“I was going to be an elementary school teacher,” revealed Washington during a wide-ranging conversation with the AFRO. The Philadelphia native first came to Baltimore in 1989 to begin graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, after earning her teaching degree at Antioch University in Philadelphia (she was certified to teach K-8). She also earned her PhD from Hopkins, before leaving the city to take an assistant professor position at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. She finally returned to the city in 2000 to work as a Census consultant and she’s been here ever since.
“I came back because I love the city,” Washington said. “It is home.”
But, the city she says she loves is also a city she, like many others, believes has suffered from failed leadership. “For more than a decade Baltimore’s mayors have failed our communities,” said Washington during a 30 second commercial launching her campaign. But, according to the State Senator, who currently represents the 43rd District of East Baltimore (Washington first served the 43rd in the House of Delegates from 2010-2018, then was elected to the Senate in 2018), many of the city’s most vulnerable residents have endured decades of neglect, which has compounded ubiquitous and daunting challenges.
“We have a lot of good people in this city, who have gotten caught up in some very difficult situations, some of which has a lot to do with the economy, some has to do with the trauma associated with the violence in the street,” Washington said. “What’s not talked about is that we have those 300 murders, but we also have…the families of those 300 people, the communities of those 300 people, and there’s trauma associated with that, that makes them not able to be their full selves,” added Washington, who as the oldest of six children sometimes watched her parents (her mother was a nurse and her father was a respiratory therapist) struggle financially in the 1970’s when they lost jobs. But, she says the values and work ethic she witnessed in them helped inform an important facet of her approach to governance; turn to the residents of the very neighborhoods, most adversely affected by the city’s seemingly intractable problems.
“I have absolute confidence in the people of Baltimore City to be a part of and to define and to structure the way that we address our problems,” she said. “There’s a role for the large non-profits…they’ve been good partners, but we are leaving so many assets on the table by not fully engaging everyone.”
Washington also identified the clear nexus between many urban ills.
“I believe a mayor can make a difference in terms of being a leader and giving a bully pulpit…to our issues around crime, (which) are related to our issues around poverty, are related to the divestment in our housing market, are related to the lack of access to jobs,” she said.
“That it’s all related and you just can’t focus on one thing, you have to do it simultaneously.”
However, there continues to be a singular focus by a large swath of city residents on the beleaguered Baltimore Police Department (BPD), in the minds of many one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the United States.
“We have to be open and honest about who we are as a city. Our police department has to be open and honest about its history, not just what we want to be,” Washington said.
“I support the vision of being more engaged and looking forward. But, you cannot turn your back to the past. And I absolutely on day one (would) sit with the FOP, the police commissioner, the council and key leaders in the city, who have been about this work. Let’s put it on the table and be honest about where we are. I won’t be an apologist for the Baltimore Police Department, I also won’t be their executioner. They are a part of the solution,” added Washington, who also outlined a vision of grassroots organizational support.
“I would appropriate some of the money in the budget to build teams that are in line with the crime plan. I would have a peace plan, I talk about a peace plan. It’s about violence reduction, violence interruption, getting ahead of it through…Ceasefire, Safe Streets. And frankly, the barber who is well-respected, engaging him,” Washington explained. “It doesn’t have to be just these formal non-profits. But, then adding to that these systems that we know are informed, that we know can help make things better.”
Further, Washington talked about a plan to “revitalize” the city’s network of Community Action Centers (CAC).
“A strategic investment from my administration would be in these Community Action Centers, that are already there, and make them more than just a place to sign up for weatherization,” she said. “They would be the hubs. And the thing is, I value the neighborhood orientation of Baltimore. So, our solutions aren’t going to really be just top down. It’s not the mayor dictating what happens.”
If elected, Washington would be the city’s first open member of the LGBTQ community to lead the city as mayor.
“I think what it says to the public (is) that you have an elected official that you can trust to be open and honest about who they are,” Washington said. “And that I’m not hiding anything. And that I bring a unique perspective of having these different parts of my identity and being part of different groups that are stigmatized…I have always been open and honest about who I am and that they can trust me.”
Washington is also open about those who only want to focus on Baltimore’s sparkling attributes.
“Thy say, `I don’t want to see the poverty, I don’t want to see the crime. I don’t want to be reminded of that,’” Washington said. “But, you know what? We need to look in the mirror and be reminded that we’ve allowed generations upon generations of children to live in poverty and crime and violence, and we’ve not done enough to fix it. That’s on us,” she added.
“I love everything about Baltimore, I love what’s beautiful, and I even love it’s scars… And I feel that’s my work…to allow us to see that beauty even through that difficulty. Because I have to do that as well for myself as a Black woman in this country. To know my worth and to know that worth even when others don’t,” Washington said.
“And to be one of the leaders, the leader of this city that I identify with in so many ways. To me, I couldn’t imagine a more humbling yet, powerful contribution to the people that I love and care about.”