Baltimore mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah discussed his platform and internship opportunities with Hopkins students at HomeSlyce Pizza Bar on Monday. Thiru for Baltimore and College Democrats hosted the event.
Vignarajah began by speaking about Baltimore’s high rates of violence. He cited the shooting that had, less than two hours earlier, left one dead and two seriously injured by Patapsco Elementary Middle School in Cherry Hill. This marked Baltimore’s third murder of the afternoon.
“There’s a national tragedy of historic proportions unfolding in your backyard,” he said. “If [this many] people were killed in any other place that you know… it would make national news. In Baltimore there will be a couple of tweets about it, the stations will cover it and we’ll host a press conference trying to make people appreciate the sense of urgency, and then we will move on with the rest of our week.”
Vignarajah told students that he aimed to cut the City’s murders down from over 300 to 200 per year, while avoiding tactics like mass incarceration, zero tolerance, mandatory minimums or cash bail. Now Vignarajah plans to rebuild parts of the police force and launch gang investigations.
“I can’t count anymore the number of times I was going on television to talk about a plan with respect to the schools or... bringing more immigrants to Baltimore, when instead I had to talk about crime. But I want to fight crime as mayor in ways that no city ever has,” he said.
Vignarajah explored other policies, including fixing the City’s education system, providing free college to public high school graduates and universal pre-K, cutting property taxes in half, legalizing and taxing marijuana, building a high-speed rail between D.C. and Baltimore and improving transportation.
Vignarajah also recounted the story of his parents, who had fled Sri Lanka with him and his siblings. He attended school in Baltimore and expressed a desire to help the city reach its full potential.
“Baltimore gave us a chance. Baltimore gave [my parents] a chance,” he said. “I want to be a city that is not just a place that you guys come to for college, but is a place you want to stay to build a career, to start a family, to grow old.”
In an interview with The News-Letter, sophomore Mary Sulavik said she appreciated Vignarajah’s plans to improve public education.
“Thirus’s talk made clear his passion for the City of Baltimore,” she said.
Several students who intern for Vignarajah attended the event, such as sophomore Jeremy Hoffner. He stated that he was drawn to Vignarajah’s ideologies over those of other candidates.
“I really wanted to get engaged in Baltimore City to learn more about what it means to actually live here, and I felt that the vision he puts forward is the vision I wanted to see,” he said.
Hoffner is especially supportive of Vignarajah’s plans to implement universal pre-K and free college for public school graduates.
Vignarajah is currently the leading mayoral candidate in the polls.
Jessie Koch, Vignarajah’s deputy director of community engagement, told The News-Letter that one of the goals of the evening was to recruit interns from Homewood campus.
“We’ve had a dozen or so interns that have just been phenomenal from Hopkins, and I think that being able to recruit amazing talent from such a staple school in Baltimore would be great. Thiru’s bigger point is that he wants to recruit good talent to stay in Baltimore,” she said.
Vignarajah agreed in an interview with The News-Letter, saying that he respected Hopkins students’ passion about politics.
“The students at Hopkins are energized about so many topics that matter, and having them be part of a campaign that is trying to rewrite the story of Baltimore in positive, progressive ways is something that I’m really excited about,” he said.
According to Vignarajah, it is impossible to overlook Baltimore’s relationship to Hopkins.
“I very much think that Hopkins is one of the reasons that Baltimore is on the map. I don’t like thinking about what Baltimore would look like without Hopkins,” he said. “Hopkins is one of the anchoring institutions in Baltimore. Its fate is tied to Baltimore, and Baltimore’s fate is tied to Hopkins.”
Will Edmonds is affiliated with Thiru Vignarajah’s campaign. He did not contribute to the writing, reporting or editing of this article.