Senator Mary L. Washington is running in Baltimore’s 2020 Democratic mayoral primary. Washington, who was first elected into the Maryland House of Delegates in 2010, made history becoming the first openly LGBTQ African American elected official in Maryland. Now she’s trying to make history as Baltimore’s first openly LGBTQ mayor.
Baltimore OUTloud sat down with Senator Washington to ask her for her plans on issues faced by the city.
Charles Smalls: You’ve spent over 20 years working as a legislator and an advocate for public policy in the state of Maryland. What’s driving you to seek the mayor’s office?
Mary Washington: I started as an organizer, registering people to vote, when I was in college and got more involved in my community from there. I like to be a part of making it better. That’s kind of a corny answer, but it’s being able to expand my opportunity to make change, to turn a page from the past.
As a state delegate, I was able to be a part of learning more about my neighbors and us having them learn more about each other.
I enjoyed that work and I did it for eight years, fighting for more funding for education, fighting to improve conditions for our young people, ending homelessness, working for our returning citizens and incarcerated women. I was still going back to Baltimore and seeing that our city still needed so much help, and that the systems were still broken.
Everything that I did in Annapolis was good from a policy perspective, but it still was difficult to come back to a system that wasn’t getting the basics right. I decided to run for state senator so that I could have an opportunity to move the needle, to help collaborate and provide honest leadership, hardworking leadership.
In light of recent scandals, faced by the city’s leadership, how do you view accountability and transparency, and where do you see opportunities to improve?
That’s number one. You have to lead with integrity and you have to value that. The citizens are the ones that we are accountable to. It’s not your donors. It’s not your friends. It’s not the people you went to school with. It’s the people. It’s the voters and the taxpayers. The residents and the business owners are your primary responsibility.
We have systems that we can utilize. We have an ethics department, but we don’t invest in that. That should be uplifted, and in my administration, the ethics department would be something that would be a part of the cabinet. We have audits and that currently resides in our comptroller’s office, but it’s not really being utilized as a tool to help us keep things on track.
I want to push back on audits because a lot of people think of audits as something that you do in a couple of days and then that’s going to solve it. A true audit really takes a lot of time. An audit looks to the past and we have to stop looking to the past. We have to diagnose what happened, but we have to look to the future, and that’s what my candidacy is about.
Also, I’ve begun to really focus on risk management and not simply auditing: what is our risk for waste, fraud, and abuse? What if there’s a police car or a police van that has had three accidents, or it has broken down three times? It’s likely that it’s going to break down again. What we need to do is get ahead of it and then we make an intervention there.
The other accountability process is the CityStat process, which is where all the different agencies have performance measures and they have to be measured against those performance measures every couple of weeks.
In 2019, three big-city mayors who identify as LGBTQ won election. That said, if elected, you and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be the only two openly LGBTQ African American female mayors of top-100 cities. As an African-American woman, in what ways do you think Baltimore could become more inclusive and progressive?
As the mayor, I would be saying to the rest of the world that we accept who you are. Come to Baltimore. I frankly think it’s a way for us to really promote our city as an open and welcoming city. We’ve done that in the area of immigration reform. We have maintained that we’ve been a welcoming city.
We do still have a very racially segregated city. There are communities that are racially and economically integrated. What we can do is look at the parts of our communities that have been systemically denied investment because of race and income and be aggressive, assertive, and honest about that failed history and that we’re willing to take that on.
One of the benefits of being who I am is that I’m a walking coalition. I embody all of the ways in which systematic racism, sexism, and homophobia have really kept us from being the best that we could be as a city. I’m a good messenger for that. I can speak with legitimacy about ending sexism, about ending racism, about ending homophobia, and then also all of the other “isms” that are strangling our city. I will never be happy with just lifting up one group over another group and that all struggles are worthy of our concerted effort. For me, stronger together isn’t just some fake chant. It’s my life. Yes, I am that. I am all those things and I refuse to be diminished by any one of them.
What would be your plan to ensure that the city is using an equity lens to improve planning, decision-making, and resource allocation to make sure that there are more racially equitable policies and programs?
I would be making sure the city uses an equity lens in its evaluation because we’re not doing that now. We integrate it throughout my administration. Everything we do would have a race equity lens.
I would work very closely with city council and we would develop joint agendas, particularly when it comes to these areas. This would be something we should do collaboratively.
There are many great researchers, advocates, and analysts in the city right now that have the answers and they need to not just be brought to the table for some big meeting, but really be a part of that process.
The other lenses that we need to do is look at a youth lens that I haven’t heard anybody talk about. We must invest in our young people – they have to be a part of the solutions.
You’ve fought to help unaccompanied homeless youth get the services and support they need. Where do you see an opportunity to further address the needs of LGBTQ specific homeless youth in Baltimore?
I have a track record of already demonstrating work legislatively from a budget perspective and in my personal life being engaged on these issues and ending youth homelessness and expanding opportunities to provide shelter and housing for unaccompanied homeless minors, is really key.
What we need to do is invest in our educational system. I would fully fund and implement the community school strategy across all of our schools. When you do that, you are addressing not just the academic needs of the children and the young people in the school, but you’re also addressing their housing needs, and their food insecurity.
Our community schools, our schools can be the nexus and these hubs of opportunity. Also working with nonprofits at the academic and medical institutions and bringing them in to be part of the solution.
Do you have specific plans to promote economic well-being among the LGBTQ community in Baltimore?
I also just think in Baltimore in general, there’s a lot of small businesses that are, or the owners identify as a part of our communities and often they are disproportionately small businesses because they’ve not had that success in the traditional corporate world. We face discrimination, so are more likely to have our own business so that we’re dictating the standards and we’re in control. The more we invest in all small businesses, the more we invest in the LGBTQ businesses.
Very specifically, I’m a member of the community and I see opportunities, where groups are pitted against each other. Women-owned and minority businesses are pitted against each other, and now there’s this attempt to kind of pit LGBT community businesses against the traditional minority business. That is just a setup for failure for all of us. Because I am in all of those communities, I very much see that if we all work together, instead of fighting for this smaller piece of the pie, we can advocate as a community of small business owners who are black and brown and women and same-gender loving or trans or any of those things. As a community, we’ve all experienced discrimination and stigmatization from the dominant structure.
If we work together to change that structure and to create our own systems that’s where that success is. Just like a mayor with a race equity lens on those issues, a mayor who has a lens about equity when it comes to economic opportunity, the city will also benefit.
What will success look like for you at the end of your term, if elected?
I would like people to look at Baltimore and say, wow, that city addressed the challenges and are taking it head on, and a black woman can be a mayor of Baltimore city. In the end it’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do.
- Charles Smalls is a technical writer, artist and content creator with a strong passion for multimedia and storytelling. If you would like to connect with him follow him on twitter (@OnwardThought).