Maryland's Democratic candidates for governor focused much of their second televised debate Wednesday on painful recent events in the state, including the death of a Baltimore County police officer and devastating flooding in Ellicott City.
Panelists in the debate hosted by Sinclair Broadcasting asked the nine candidates about what they think needs to be done to ease tensions between police and communities in the aftermath of last week's death of Baltimore County Officer Amy Caprio, who was killed as she investigated a report of a suspicious vehicle. Sixteen-year-old Dawnta Harris is accused of running her down in a stolen car.
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said he has worked to improve police-community relations with training during his two terms in office.
"I've buried too many police officers as a county executive, but I've also seen young people who have been killed in my community, and so we have to move forward with leadership at the top, at the governor's level, that understands that and moves it forward, and that's what I'll do as governor," Baker said.
Valerie Ervin, a former Montgomery County councilmember, said top leaders need to do more to improve relations between the police and the communities they serve.
"This is a really important time, especially now," Ervin said, for top leadership to put themselves in front of the problem.
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous said it's about trust.
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"It's clear that we as a state finally have to act to end the killings of unarmed civilians by officers," the former head of the nation's oldest civil rights group said.
Many of the candidates also mentioned increased education funding and better schools would help restore hope and prevent people from heading toward crime.
"You've got to invest massively in education," Alec Ross said. "The very simple fact of the matter is that a lot of the problem we have with crime right now is fueled by people who got bad educations.''
Jim Shea, the former chairman of the state's largest law firm, said the state needs to stop an epidemic of violent crime, create a restorative justice system and increase trust in authorities.
"We're failing in all three areas and we need to attack each of these simultaneously or we won't have a solution,'' Shea said.
The candidates in the crowded primary also took turns criticizing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno said the governor has been absent from addressing the problems in Baltimore, when what's needed is a leader who can bring hope back to struggling parts of Maryland's largest city.
"Look, we need a governor who doesn't seek to erase Baltimore city, avoid Baltimore city,'' Madaleno said. ``That's been the Hogan administration.''
Scott Sloofman, a Hogan campaign spokesman, said the governor has invested record funding in K-12 education in each of his four years in office.
"Thankfully for Maryland voters, there are only two more debates left for them to be subjected to blatant falsehoods about the governor's incredibly strong record,'' Sloofman said.
James Jones, a Baltimore police pastor, said it's time for police and residents to re-establish the relationships that were lost years ago.
"I think that there just needs to be something done on each side of the track," Jones said.
Krish Vignarajah said she would focus on root causes of the social ills that led to crime, including public health and educational opportunities. She also said policies of mass incarceration and the war on drugs must end.
"Second, I want to make sure that we institute true community policing reform, such that law enforcement officers look like, live with and engage with the communities that they are tasked with protecting,'' Vignarajah said.
Ralph Jaffe, who is running as a political reformer, said that without trust in politicians, there can't be much meaningful progress.
"We don't have politicians that can be trusted,'' Jaffe said.
The candidates got 20 seconds to answer how they would address whether they would use tax dollars to rebuild Ellicott City, which was hit be devastating flooding Sunday for the second time in less than two years. They all said yes.
"A thousand-year storm now comes every couple years. We have to have a mindset where we will rebuild in a way that is resilient, that is smart, and not simply give up, because if we give up, we have so much coastline, we have so many tributaries we will see this challenge in other places,'' Jealous said.