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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Thiru Vignarajah’s selfless endorsement of Sheila Dixon for Baltimore mayor

PUBLISHED: May 1, 2024 |

Thiru Vignarajah has run for citywide office four times in six years in Baltimore. On Tuesday, he dropped out of the mayoral race, endorsing Sheila Dixon. FILE (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Baltimore will soon decide whether Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott deserves four more years. The decision could be swayed by a move Wednesday by former deputy attorney general Thiru Vignarajah, a late entrant in the Democratic primary. His is a tale of rare political selflessness.

Some early dismissed Vignarajah as a featherweight candidate. But in just three short months, Vignarajah parachuted into the role of potential kingmaker. On Wednesday, he dropped out of the race, endorsing competitor Sheila Dixon in the process, providing her with a tailwind. It is a headwind for the incumbent Scott, who is nonetheless a formidable candidate.

The mayoral race remains too close to call, with a recent poll by The Baltimore Sun, FOX45 and the University of Baltimore finding support for Scott and Dixon neck and neck at 38% and 35% respectively — within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 points. Vignarajah’s endorsement could make the difference. In the same poll, Vignarajah had 10% of the voters’ support, with his fans saying overwhelmingly that Dixon was their next choice.

Whatever the outcome, Vignarajah has elevated the political discourse of the campaigning.

The choice to exit was painful. Vignarajah speaks to the people of Baltimore with animation, eloquence and profundity. He expounds on universal pre-K, free college, slashing property taxes and opposition to Harborplace with signature clarity and persuasiveness.

Two years ago, Vignarajah placed second in the state attorney’s race (edging out Marilyn Mosby) with 30% of the vote, winning a significant number of the city’s predominantly Black precincts. In the mayoral race, he significantly raised his profile and support among white voters, but displayed the courage and judgment to realize it was not yet his turn.

Vignarajah has singlehandedly proven the viability of public financing in Baltimore, raising over $600,000 in just 12 weeks — more than his two main opponents combined. Notwithstanding his enviable political assets, he stepped aside for Ms. Dixon.

He is a politician right out of central casting, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He’s an immigrant and son of Baltimore City public school teachers. From local public schools, he attended Yale University and Harvard Law School. He was elected president of the Harvard Law Review and was a law clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court.

With this pedigree, Vignarajah has had countless doors open for him. But, as he said on the campaign trail, Vignarajah returned home to serve.

He was a formidable federal and city prosecutor, never lost a trial, and was named a deputy attorney general of Maryland in his mid-30s. Vignarajah then moved to the private sector as a litigation partner at DLA Piper (Baltimore’s oldest law firm and today one of the world’s largest), was later named CEO of one of the country’s largest community development financial institutions and now is managing partner of the Baltimore office of one of the nation’s largest civil rights firms.

Despite his luster, Vignarajah’s prior political runs have been thwarted by well-financed ad hominem campaigns run by PACs and opponents. They screamed that he was an excessively demanding and abusive supervisor with poor judgment. In this race, Vignarajah acknowledged difficult times and real mistakes, but emphasized his growing maturity through professional development and personal counseling. To err is human. To confess error is divine.

When he endorsed Ms. Dixon, Vignarajah explained that redemption is a journey not an epiphany. He discerned in her a public servant seeking redemption through public service. But his support for Dixon was a vote of no confidence in her resilient opponent.

By suspending his campaign, Vignarajah exhibited the selflessness that Baltimore dearly needs.  Too many politicians are driven by ulterior motives. I am confident that with his many talents, Vignarajah will soon be back on Baltimore’s political stage with a second act more exciting and dashing than the first.

Armstrong Williams (; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun.

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