Dan Rodricks: Brandon Scott’s mayoral campaign sharply counters councilman’s criticism | STAFF COMMENTARY

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In Wednesday’s column, state Del. Sandy Rosenberg and Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello explained why they won’t support a second term for Mayor Brandon Scott. They each have endorsed Sheila Dixon, the former mayor who left office amid a scandal.

Rosenberg and Costello say city services have been poorly managed during Scott’s first term. My mailbox hasn’t exactly been swelling this week with citizen affirmation of that claim. I frequently hear complaints about the state of the city, though so far not at a volume that shouts, “Bring back Sheila!”

Still, Costello, in his third term on the council, had a long list of grievances — high turnover in the mayor’s staff; a general feeling that Baltimore is not safe, despite a significant drop in homicides; recycling collections are biweekly when they should be weekly.

The mayor’s reelection campaign sent me a seven-page, point-by-point response with some sharp barbs.

“Mayor Scott does not engage in the petty politics of the past that Councilman Costello and Sheila Dixon want to take us back [to],” it reads. “The Mayor looks forward to continuing to deliver for the councilman’s constituents despite these false claims and misrepresentations that are attempting to revive the career of a failed politician who violated the public’s trust time and time again.”

On the subject of crime, the Scott campaign called Dixon the “co-architect of Baltimore’s zero tolerance policing,” though, with Fred Bealefeld as police commissioner at the time, the department embraced a more targeted approach to arrests following the high-arrest years of the Martin O’Malley administration. The Scott campaign noted that, during Dixon’s three-year tenure as mayor (2007-2010), the department formed the Gun Trace Task Force, which became notoriously corrupt.

The Scott camp claims that Dixon’s current run for mayor, her third since 2016, offers no substantive plan for further reducing crime.

Scott, his campaign backers say, has a clear strategy that “has yielded the most significant results this city has seen in nine years and produced the largest year-over-year decline in more than 50 years.”

Regarding Costello’s complaint that the mayor does not communicate well with council members, even on issues in their districts, the campaign said: “It is well documented where [the Scott] administration has stepped in to resolve multiple community challenges for Councilman Costello. These allegations reek of a clearly dishonest politician attempting to mislead his own constituents into supporting another dishonest politician.”

To Costello’s charge that city services are “horrific,” the campaign said Scott, who took office during the pandemic, made improvements to several municipal functions: “The mayor invested in traffic optimization that has brought our traffic signals into the 21st century, stabilized solid waste services and will sustainably restore weekly recycling. [The Department of Public Works] has moved away from paper maps [for trash routes]. We’ve digitized timesheets for the first time while updating permitting systems to allow online payments.”

The campaign added this shot: “Dixon never confronted a global pandemic … her biggest crisis was self-inflicted.”

On the high rate of turnover among Scott’s executive staff and the accusation that the mayor made bad or poorly vetted hires, the campaign was less pointed: “Ultimately, management of the city is the responsibility of the Mayor — not staff. Turnover is a fact of life in city government.”

Well, more of a fact of life in some administrations than others.

Costello claims city officials mismanaged and misled the public about E. coli contamination in West Baltimore’s drinking water over Labor Day weekend 2022. The campaign says Costello should apologize for making such a “false and scurrilous” accusation: “Questioning the integrity of our workforce in an attempt to revive the career of a failed and corrupt politician does not advance the public’s interest.”

When I mentioned the recent progress in getting squeegee guys off the streets and into jobs or back in school, Costello said the “cash” element of Scott’s strategy — paying boys and young men to stop cleaning car windows at busy intersections — was “not fiscally sustainable.”

While cash incentives for squeegee workers were originally recommended, the program was never implemented, according to the Scott administration. “Mayor Scott reduced squeegee-related incidents by 85% in one year by connecting nearly 50 squeegee workers to jobs and enforcing disallowed zones,” his campaign said.

During debates on squeegee workers, Costello came down on the side of more enforcement of the city ordinance banning the activity. On that point, the Scott campaign asked: “Why does [Councilman Costello] believe that providing young black boys jobs isn’t sustainable but spending millions of dollars to have police officers police poverty is?”

Regarding complaints about the recycling schedule, the campaign said: “A key component of getting the department the fleet equipped to [collect] weekly recycling was the need to order a significant number of vehicles and trucks, for which delivery has been delayed due to ongoing supply chain issues. These vehicles should have been ordered long before the Mayor took office, which highlights the disinvestment of past administrations.”

The campaign said the addition of 79 new vehicles for DPW represents “the most significant investment in the city fleet in decades.”

Scott has pledged to restore weekly recycling in the first quarter of the year. “And that,” the campaign said, “is a promise he will keep.”

I hope someone else is taking notes. The first quarter ends March 31, Brandon Scott’s deadline for keeping that promise in the middle of a reelection campaign. We’ll be watching.