Baltimore's New Progressive Mayor Is Ready To Tackle The City's Biggest Problems Brandon Scott is the city's youngest mayor in more than a century. The 36-year-old campaigned on an unprecedented platform of curbing mayoral power.

Baltimore's New Progressive Mayor Is Ready To Tackle The City's Biggest Problems

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This morning, Baltimore will swear in a new mayor. Brandon Scott is a 36-year-old Black progressive, and he's going to face issues that existed long before a pandemic. They include inequity, a high homicide rate and the legacy of redlining. Emily Sullivan from member station WYPR has more.

EMILY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The pandemic has widened longstanding health and income gaps in majority-Black Baltimore even further. And in less than a decade, two mayors have left office amid corruption scandals that left some Baltimoreans unable to trust their government. Brandon Scott won by positioning himself as a young person uniquely qualified to step up amid demands for systemic change, coupling his decade of experience at City Hall as a councilman and council president with his independence from the older establishment Democrats who ran against him.


BRANDON SCOTT: Our city has voted for a new way forward. I stand before you tonight a son of Baltimore and the next mayor of our great city.


SULLIVAN: That's Scott speaking at his election night party. His priorities include racial equity and police reform. Scott says his progressive policies stem from his early life.

SCOTT: Baltimore, like every major city, has problems. But what Baltimore is getting ready to have now is leadership that will not shy away from those problems as someone who has lived and grown up through them.

SULLIVAN: Scott grew up in Park Heights, a once-robust neighborhood that declined after white flight. There, he witnessed firsthand the violence that plagues Baltimore. He saw his first shooting before his 10th birthday. Scott attended schools with no heat or air conditioning and watched mandatory minimum sentencing tear apart families.

ROGER HARTLEY: It's hard to say that he's not an insider because he's been around.

SULLIVAN: That's Roger Hartley, a dean of the University of Baltimore.

HARTLEY: But he was part of a very important wave of bringing new energy to a city, a different type of progressivism.

SULLIVAN: Hartley says Scott's win reflects a changing Democratic electorate nationwide.

HARTLEY: It represents a change in sort of Democratic policy and politics nationally, a millennial generation with different views on things like climate, housing and being willing to really change old ways of doing things.

SULLIVAN: Lawrence Brown says the business-as-usual attitude from establishment Democrats allowed the legacy of redlining to flourish. Brown is a visiting sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He cites laws that locked different racial groups in different neighborhoods.

LAWRENCE BROWN: Baltimore really was the pioneer for urban apartheid policies and practices, really starting in 1910, when Baltimore passed the first residential racial zoning law in American history.

SULLIVAN: Afterwards, that shifted funding away from Black communities, leading to deep-seated educational and income disparities.

BROWN: Baltimore never really wrestled with the demons of segregation.

SULLIVAN: And in a pandemic that disproportionately kills Black Americans, Dr. Leana Wen, the city's health commissioner, says leaders must redouble their efforts to close gaps.

LEANA WEN: There needs to be a lot of work done over the medium and long term while we recognize that racism and racial inequity are public health issues.

SULLIVAN: Scott says he's not a savior but that you can't fix what you don't understand.

SCOTT: That means looking at how we deal with substance abuse, trauma, housing, opportunity, especially for those that we know are living in the neighborhoods where the violence is.

SULLIVAN: Scott's hopeful the Biden administration will send more pandemic relief money to cities like Baltimore. And at City Hall, newly elected progressive politicians are ready to help implement his policies.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Sullivan in Baltimore.


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