Presumptive Mayor Brandon Scott On Impact Of COVID-19 On Baltimore Sports And More

Baltimore City Council president Brandon Scott won the city’s Democratic mayoral primary, making him the presumptive mayor after the November general election. He will be sworn into office in January 2021.

Scott joined Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 24 to discuss issues related to sports in Baltimore, such as the future of Pimlico Race Course. He appeared June 18 after his victory in the primary to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on sports in Baltimore and more.

This has been edited for clarity and content.

Glenn Clark: Obviously when we talked the last time, we talked so much about how you truly were at the center of this agreement to figure out the long-term future of the Preakness and make sure we kept it right here in Baltimore. It officially became law without the governor’s signature. It’s the reality now. As someone from that neighborhood, have you had a second to reflect on what that means to you in the middle of an election, and what are your priorities now as mayor to make sure that the new Pimlico and the future of the race benefits everyone in the city?

Brandon Scott: For me, I haven’t really had time to reflect on everything because we went straight from the election into budget. But also understanding … how we’re going to have to re-imagine sporting events due to COVID-19. While we’re very pleased that we’re going to keep the Preakness, as I said to you guys the last time, reimagining Pimlico and the Preakness is much bigger than one day. It’s about how we can make sure that facility is used consistently throughout the year and also that the neighborhood and the people who have been living there – like my friends are still there, my grandmother, my parents, my family who all live in that 1-mile radius around that race track – that they benefit from that investment and that we build a complete neighborhood that has that centerpiece of not just Pimlico and the Preakness, but Sinai and all the other great things, being a neighborhood that is one of the few that has access to both the subway and the light rail. We have to build on that investment, the investment that the city has made in the area by renovating Pimlico Middle School and Arlington Elementary School in that neighborhood. Seeing that kind of investment, now we have to do the tough work of making sure that we’re having it happen and happen in a way that benefits everyone that lives there.

GC: How does that work, Brandon? Obviously there’s a private-public thing that’s happening with this, which is part of what makes the agreement so great is that this private company has given you guys the land and said, “Look, this is yours to work with.” It’s still their track, that’s the way it goes. What does that look like between the two to make sure this benefits everyone?

BS: You have to do the tough work of coming up with plans and action plans of how it’s going to be redeveloped, how the track is going to be situated, what kinds of things will go on there. I know I talked to you guys before COVID-19, thinking about how concerts and some of the biggest events that tend to happen there, seeing if that kind of stuff can be re-imagined. We actually just approved just down the street development projects for the first part of the master redevelopment area. All of that stuff has to be done in synergy, and when we’re there, once we’re sitting in the seats, we can help guide that to make sure that those things are not happening on their own island but they’re happening together, like funneling it all together so it’s working together for one common goal and that’s building up that neighborhood.

GC: You mentioned obviously it’s not just that the last time we talked to you COVID-19 hit, but the world has changed and there’s been a significant movement in the fight for justice and the fight for civil rights. I want to talk about all that, but let’s start on the COVID-19 front. If baseball comes to an agreement, without fans at all or perhaps a minimal number of fans at some point, how comfortable are you with the idea of baseball this summer and even moving toward football in the fall? I know you won’t necessarily be mayor as this is occurring, but how comfortable are you with the idea of there being major sporting events in the city of Baltimore in the coming months?

BS: Well, as of right now, I am not comfortable, and this is what I think we’re going to have to do. I know the leagues are doing their due diligence. We are going to have to make sure they are listening to public health advice, which is the most important thing that anyone can do right now – follow the advice of public health professionals and what the data tells us, but also they can learn what’s happening in the leagues in other countries to see what happens there. We have to protect our fans. We have to protect the players, the people that work there. … My personal opinion would be leaning toward games without any fans like the NBA has decided and putting them in the bubble just because it keeps people protected. But we have to make sure that whatever they do is based on public health advice and not just arguing over money, which has proven to be extremely hard in MLB.

GC: There’s been this conversation about a second wave. Baseball’s talked a lot about it, but it would run right into football season. How much are you keeping your eye on the idea of a second wave that at this point it’s clear we haven’t even gotten through the first wave yet?

BS: That’s a big concern to me. I’ve been telling everyone if you look at the history of these kinds of pandemics, the second wave is always more deadly than the first. When you’re talking about NFL stadiums that typically have 50, 70, 80 thousand people in it in one place – not including the workers and the players, all of those numbers of people – that’s extremely dangerous, and that’s why I think we have to work and understand that the NFL is going to make a decision and just hope that that decision is guided by public health advice. Because listen, you know I am an avid sports person. The hardest thing for me about COVID has been that I can’t play sports, that I can’t go watch sports, I can’t coach sports.

But before anything else, we have to consider peoples’ public health and safety. Players are concerned, you can see that in all the leagues. You talk to staff members, they are concerned. We have to make sure that we’re taking this very seriously and not just rushing back to try to have our normal life. You can even see some of the college football players who have started to go back and people have started to be sick. We have to make sure that we’re protecting everyone as much as humanly possible.

GC: We’ve heard from a number of basketball players who have said, “You know what, I don’t really know if I want to play at all right now. Beyond COVID-19, I don’t want us playing sports to distract from the real work that needs to be done and the messaging and the attention that needs to be put on the fight for civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.” What do you think about the idea that sports can potentially hurt because it allows us to stop talking about things that really matter and instead complain about whether they should’ve run the ball on fourth-and-1 when they went for it? What do you make of that conversation?

BS: I love Kyrie Irving. I love him. He’s one of the best ball-handlers, one of the best clutch shooters, clearly. He saved LeBron James in Game 7 of the Finals to bring a championship to Cleveland and in my opinion was the Finals MVP that year, and I understand his viewpoint. But I also understand the viewpoint of other players, too, that think and know that if they do play, it actually can provide a bigger platform, especially in the NBA. Basketball players have the largest platform, in my opinion, of any athletes in the world because they’re the ones that everyone sees.

When you think about athletes in the world right now, the No. 1 person that people are going to say is LeBron James. The world just stopped for [five] weeks in a row on Sunday nights to watch a documentary about the Bulls because of Michael Jordan. What I would hope for them as they go to play that they use that as a way for them, as they always have in the NBA, to bolster this movement, to demand more, to do things on the court, to talk about it in their post-game interviews because they can answer questions any way they want — to talk about how they’re dedicating games to those victims, they’re dedicating it to changing policy. That’s what they’re going to be doing with their time. I think they could choose to do it his way, but in my opinion it would be a lost opportunity.

And also knowing what many people will be reaching out to basketball for, it’s also a much-needed getaway, mental health break from everything that’s going on, from what they’re dealing with with COVID-19, from dealing with the fallout of not having their job. I think that some of the players have to think about the whole and complete issue. I know that folks like LeBron and Chris Paul and others are going to push them to understand global impact and the voice that they have. When you think about that voice – and in the NBA where you know that this isn’t the NFL where you’re going to be cast out as a castaway for saying things that are absolutely true even though it makes people mad – it gives them a leg up … to do more. I just hope that they actually do that and take it and turn it more into action.

To hear more from Scott, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore City Council

Luke Jackson

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