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Stephen H. Sachs: The most qualified candidate for mayor

Portraits of Attorney Steve Sachs in his home office. MF 8-15-08.Elizabeth Embry should be mayor of Baltimore — I am going to vote for her with enthusiasm.

As deputy state’s attorney, Elizabeth helped lower homicides to fewer than 200 for the first time in 40 years, and she has a plan to do it again. When the Baltimore Sun asked, “Who has the best plan to make Baltimore safer?” its answer was Elizabeth Embry.

Business executives and labor unions have endorsed her and said her plan to grow jobs represents “the best way to improve the lives of all Baltimoreans.” She has vowed to end the war on drugs and to fight for a free college education for every high school graduate in Baltimore City.

Second to none, Elizabeth has the integrity, vision and experience to stop the bloodshed, to revive our economy and to restore faith at last in City Hall. Most of the voters I talk to agree. But there are some who say: “She’s a first-time candidate who’s running third in the polls; I know she’s the best candidate by far, and I want to vote for her, but isn’t that a wasted vote?”

The answer is a resounding “No!”

I have spent most of my career in government and politics. I have seen many candidates who were behind in the polls but won in the end. And I have watched others lead in the polls throughout the campaign but come up short on Election Day. Most voters don’t pay close attention until the two weeks before an election; therefore early polls favor incumbents and career politicians.

Smart candidates save the best for last, and recently Elizabeth has been racking up the victories: solid momentum in the polls; dozens of favorable press notices that recognize her proven ability as an administrator and her career in public service: outstanding debate performances; and a growing list of important endorsements.

But there’s a more profound reason to simply vote for the best candidate: It is what good democracy demands. I believe that the franchise is a sacred trust and that the vote is a sort of political sacrament. Too often voters lean toward candidates they don’t like or trust because they are told those candidates have the best shot at winning. That kind of thinking benefits entrenched, status quo politicians, but rarely gives us the best leaders. Elections aren’t supposed to be parlor games where we try to guess who’s going to win and cast our ballot accordingly, where pundits and polls tell us who’s up and who’s down, and we the voters then help create that reality in a sad self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is what I believe: If everyone in Baltimore who thinks Elizabeth would be the best mayor voted for her, she would win in a landslide. So let’s stop picking the lesser of two evils and start voting for the mayor we really want. If Americans voted based only on who they thought could win instead of who they believed was the best, neither Barack Obama nor Abraham Lincoln would have been president.

Perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned. Perhaps my message is a bit preachy. But at root it is simple. Those who see Elizabeth Embry as the most qualified candidate for mayor should give her their votes. Doing otherwise is the real wasted vote.

Stephen H. Sachs is a former Maryland attorney general.