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C. Fraser Smith: The campaign’s unfortunate ending

Is it simply ironic – or deplorable – that this year’s mayoral primary election campaign ends in a cloud of wrongdoing or misjudgment or tone deafness?

With most of the 28 or so candidates heralding a new day when one of them is elected, closing arguments are drowned out by charges of campaign trickery.

Some voters were driven to early voting locations by the Catherine Pugh campaign, which allegedly offered them jobs and a free lunch. The candidate and her campaign says everything was legal.

Pugh said the essentially the same thing about campaign contributions she received when her colleagues are prevented from fundraising during the legislative session – lest the giver be giving to win votes.

Pugh is running for mayor, a local not a state office, so perhaps the restrictions do not apply. Perhaps, but taking the money does not seem like the decision of a real reformer.

On the matter of free rides and lunches, one of Pugh’s  opponents in the Democratic primary, Sheila Dixon, called for the state to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. Dixon, running with a record of fraud to overcome, found herself running with a gift, a Pugh-generated issue.

Well, rides to the polls are not illegal. Various other emoluments may be OK as well. So, did anything illegal occur?

Almost doesn’t matter.

What about bad judgment? What about the judgment of someone who’s judgment as mayor we will need every day for four years?

Why would the Pugh campaign even think about such a maneuver? If she’s still ahead in the polls, why would she jeopardize her lead? She’s been running on an honesty-and-good-government platform, after all.

Another of her Democratic opponents, Elizabeth Embry, says she doesn’t know if the Pugh gambit was legal.

“But, it’s not just whether it’s illegal,” she said, but whether it shows good judgment. Did the Pugh campaign know “right from wrong,” or right from harmful.

“Voters have a right to know,” Embry said.

There was a larger question, she said:

“The city desperately needs a mayor who can get the work done and move the city forward.”

Campaigns run on for weeks and months as voters try to get an idea of who will provide the leadership any city needs – particularly this one. Baltimore struggles with the issues laid bare during and after the death of Freddie Gray.

Amid that struggle, the city’s residents will – for all intents and purposes, given the huge advantage Democrats enjoy in party registration in Baltimore — elect a new mayor next Tuesday. Catherine Pugh was asking voters to see her as the herald of a new day – and then the questions. To be expected when you’re leading, but still. …

Dixon and other candidates could have been expected to make an issue of the above. And so they did. And so the final week of campaigning may have significantly clouded the voters’ most important hours for making considered judgments.

Who knows how many of them might now give Elizabeth Embry another look?

She hopes many will, to be sure.

“There’s real hunger and desire out there for leadership,” she said. She heard it over and over during the 40-plus forums she attended, she said.

If she were elected, Embry said, she would meet with people and organizations already at work on dozens of important projects. She said she would attempt to maximize the many admirable but silo-limited efforts under say in Baltimore.

Many volunteers and program directors say greater, faster progress could be made if people were working together.

The person who can make it happen is the mayor.

“Baltimore has suffered by a lack of strong leadership for far too long,” Embry says on her website. “As a lifelong Baltimore resident, I have spent too many days frustrated by the broken parts of our city’s infrastructure: agencies that don’t respond to citizen complaints, and yet don’t get audited; failing public schools; 911 calls that go unanswered; violence around the corner from my home.”

She is wrong about one thing, I think. She says she is not a politician. But she has to be. Politics is problem-solving.

We need a problem-solver, a leader with good judgment and passion and with confidence in us – a conviction that we will turn out to vote on our own or find a legal way to do so.

All we want is good government.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.