Baltimore's Best Hope is Thiru Vignarajah


By "Rikki" Spector and Wanda Heard

Former Baltimore City Councilwoman "Rikki" Spector

( is a former Baltimore City Councilwoman who served the 5th District in Northwest Baltimore from 1977 until 2016.

Former Chief Judge of Baltimore City Circuit Wanda Heard

Wanda K. Heard is the former Chief Judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court. A longtime resident of West Baltimore, she was first appointed to the bench in 1999 and retired as Chief Judge in 2019.

As two women, a retired judge and a recovering politician, we have devoted more than 80 years of our lives to public service. We have seen Baltimore’s brightest and darkest moments, though none darker than now. The chaos of a global pandemic has only made the upcoming mayoral election more critical, and as Baltimore residents it was already the most important of our lifetimes.

We do not, therefore, raise our voices lightly in support of a candidate. If there was ever a need for a “ once-in-a-generation” leader like Thiru Vignarajah to emerge, a time for a story like his to give us renewed hope and confidence, it is now.

We must raise expectations when it comes to our leaders. We need to hold them to a higher standard. We have seen Thiru as a prosecutor in the courtroom, a teacher of the next generation, a partner at a law firm, a candidate on the campaign trail, and as a colleague, family man, and friend.

His story is inspiring. Thiru is a person of color and the son of city school teachers. He went from local public schools, Edmondson Heights and Woodlawn High, to Yale University and Harvard Law School. Thiru served as a law clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, only to return home afterwards and dedicate himself to public service.

What makes his journey improbable are not just the obstacles blocking a person of color from humble Baltimore roots from ever unlocking such rare opportunities—it is also the powerful lure of money and prestige that typically prevent success stories like Thiru from coming back and toiling in the trenches of local government. To put his achievements and sacrifice in perspective, only two presidents of the Harvard Law Review have ever run for office. Thiru is one of them. The other was Barack Obama.

You get it: we believe in Thiru; we support his campaign without reservation; and we know he is our best hope—perhaps our only hope—to lead Baltimore out of crisis. Our enthusiasm for him is why we are so angered by the false and toxic narratives about a routine traffic stop from last September used by his opponents to unfairly attack him. They spin a tale so far from the truth that, as women who love Baltimore, we cannot bear to remain silent anymore as they peddle falsehoods to swing voters away from the best candidate for Mayor this City has seen in many years.

So, together, we’ve decided to set the record straight. In January, right after the news broke that Thiru was leading in the polls and had raised over $1 million, supporters of trailing candidates launched an ugly whisper campaign pushing false rumors and innuendo. (We know because some of those people are our friends.)

Thiru responded to the attacks as a true leader should. He accepted every interview, answered every question, never rushed away from a reporter, and exhibited a level of transparency rarely seen in our city. Truth be told, it is exactly what Baltimore needs in its next mayor: someone who can take the hits and handle the heat and remain committed to accountability and transparency no matter what. Often, under fire, untested candidates retreat. It is telling that Thiru never has.

Yet, undeterred by the truth, Thiru’s rivals continue to push scurrilous claims and misinformation to further their agenda. Who was in the car with him? What happened with the body camera? What was he doing on Greenmount Avenue? The implications range from the mild (“he could have been more polite”) to the patently false and offensive (“he was there for drugs and prostitutes”).

For most, the unfounded criticisms ring hollow. For some, however, the smear campaign is all they hear. No one takes the time to watch the whole tape, and Thiru’s attackers never tell the whole story. So, the misleading chatter and nonsense persist. Instead of debating who has the best strategy to fight crime, fix our schools, and rebuild the economy, shameless supporters of less qualified opponents distract us from the real issues and succeed in switching the subject.

That ends now.

With Thiru’s permission, the two of us reviewed the full body camera footage, his text messages that evening, and the relevant law, and have now spoken directly with Thiru’s friend who was in the car the night of the stop. (She’s asked us to respect her privacy and not use her name, and we of course agreed.) We would not be giving Thiru our unqualified support had we found anything inappropriate. Our credibility is unquestioned, reinforced by nearly 40 years as a lawyer and judge and nearly 40 years on the City Council. We have nothing to gain by presenting a false narrative.

And because only facts can dispel gossip, here are the facts:

Thiru’s friend is a respected privacy lawyer now at a Fortune 100 company who was in Baltimore that evening for the American Health Lawyers Association Fraud & Compliance Forum. This attorney, whom Thiru has known for many years, contacted Thiru around 9 p.m. the evening of the stop to let him know she was in town. Thiru asked (over text in messages we have reviewed) whether he could give her a tour of the city. Thiru drove to get her after she finished a work-related dinner at the Renaissance, where she was staying and where the conference was being held.

This tour around Baltimore, a drive we have confirmed Thiru has given many times to friends (and friends of friends) from out of town, includes some of the most inspiring and challenging parts of Baltimore. Even as a prosecutor — with a grittiness reminiscent of William Donald Schaeffer — Thiru was that rare supervisor who was never afraid to go out to the scene, no matter the neighborhood or hour, to better understand what happened. Police respected Thiru not just because he was a force in the courtroom, never losing a single trial, but also because he was always ready to climb into an abandoned house with police to see for himself a vantage point key to the case.

During the drive, Thiru pulled over at a safe place on Greenmount Avenue a few car lengths directly behind a marked police cruiser. This block of Greenmount was the location of a high-profile gang murder Thiru successfully prosecuted as Maryland’s deputy attorney general. It is a case and community he often cites and shows as an example of what drugs and violence can do to a neighborhood and what a difference city leadership can make.

After a few moments describing the area, Thiru resumed driving and passed the police car that had been there the whole time, only to then be pulled over for not promptly turning on his lights as he entered the lane of traffic. The officer acknowledged he had seen Thiru park behind his patrol car and first said he would simply issue a warning. The officer advised, however, that the car had to be towed once he learned that paperwork for a completed repair order had not been mailed in, even though the repair had been done.

Thiru called “Triple A” to request a tow and elected to stay with the car. About a half hour into the traffic stop, Thiru and his friend agreed she should get back to her hotel since she had conference meetings in the morning. Contrary to the story opponents have shamefully told, his friend did not jump out of the car at the beginning of the stop. She waited with Thiru and spoke with the officer. Later, after asking permission from the officer, she called an Uber, exiting the car only when the Uber arrived to return to her hotel.

Over 45 minutes in, a sergeant came to the scene as Thiru and the original officer waited for the tow truck to get there. When he arrived, the sergeant first asked Thiru whether he wanted the cameras to remain on. Thiru replied he was happy to talk either way and the cameras remained activated. Only later, when the sergeant came back a second time did Thiru respond to the officer’s earlier offer and ask for the camera to be turned off. As officers, sergeants, and a former county police chief have confirmed to us, because Thiru was already free to leave and only waiting for the tow, both the officer and Thiru acted appropriately, following city rules that ask the officer to advise a person who is free to leave that the camera does not need to remain on.

Officers need to have that discretion in the field, and citizens deserve that right once they are free to go. Nothing apparently was discussed during the 90 seconds when one camera was off that was any different than the rest of the encounter. We know this because the other cameras remained on the entire time; we see the officers continue to discuss and verify that the tail light had in fact been fixed and the sergeant speaking by phone with state police. This is when he learns that, because the tail light was repaired, Thiru could be permitted to drive home instead of everyone having to wait for a tow truck that had already been called but yet to arrive. In the end, the matter was resolved, and Thiru apologized for getting frustrated and thanked the officers. He and his friend checked with one another over text that each had gotten home safe.

That’s it, that’s all. Yet that is what Thiru’s opponents have used to assail his character, question his judgment, and viciously attack a man who is prepared to leave his job as a partner at one of the world’s most respected law firms and do what he has done his whole career, work tirelessly to help make Baltimore better, safer, and more just.

Thiru isn’t perfect. There is no question he let his frustration show. He shouldn’t have, he realized it, and he apologized for it at the end of the encounter. One of us was the first female Chief Judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court; she is also Black. A few months ago, she was pulled over after midnight for a tag violation, driving a brand-new luxury car (a well-deserved retirement gift to herself) in West Baltimore close to her home. Like Thiru’s, it was a classic pretextual stop of a person of color in a place where nice cars stick out. It’s an investigative tactic that prosecutors sometimes defend and judges sometimes approve. That does not make it any less frustrating for the person, whether they are a former prosecutor or a former judge, when they get pulled over.

We’ve heard individuals—ironically, mainly from folks who are not people of color—criticize Thiru’s tone as evidence of privilege. To be clear, Thiru did not announce who he was, and the officer did not know he was a former prosecutor or a current candidate; Thiru was not acting out of entitlement, he was acting out of frustration. We know this because, aside from his tone of annoyance, you see Thiru obey all the rules and guidelines people of color teach their children. Do not curse. Do not yell. Cross your hands on the steering wheel with your fingers showing. Ask permission for the passenger to exit the car. Provide your license and registration. Ask permission to retrieve your license and registration. Clearly Thiru knew the rules of DWB and followed them.

For those of you who were never told the whole story, we hope this puts the issue to rest and lets us focus on issues that really matter. For those of you participating in this smear campaign, let’s be better than that. If you want to talk about who has the best plan on crime or schools or the economy, whose Baltimore story is most inspiring, or who is best prepared to clean house in City Hall, we would put Thiru up against your candidate any day of the week and twice on Sunday. If you are stuck defending your candidate by attacking Thiru on the basis of slanderous lies, maybe you should rethink the strength of your candidate in the first place.

In the meantime, let us remind you why such an incredibly qualified outsider is such a threat to Baltimore’s political machine. He is “unbought and unbossed,” as Shirley Chisholm would say. This is why, after all, the smear campaign began. He doesn’t presume he’s next in line, and he isn’t trying to buy the election. He is not white or black, and he isn’t attempting to divide Baltimore by seeking the vote of only black or white voters: in fact, every independent poll has shown he has the support of both. For candidates relying on divisiveness and money, let’s be honest: they can’t win—and even if they do, their questionable legitimacy will tear this city apart.

Thiru has relationships at the federal level and in the business sector ( earning the unprecedented endorsement recently of 85 major CEOs and business leaders), but he also knows firsthand how local city government works. He has never coveted media attention but isn’t awkward in front of an audience. He can be commanding in a Baltimore courtroom but is just as easy to talk with one-on-one on the street. Unlike anyone we’ve ever seen, he has the ability to bring together people from all parts of the city and from all walks of life. Indeed, during this campaign, he already has. Your authors are black and white, a retired city judge and a Jewish mother.

His campaign events have featured the former head of the NAACPand the former head of the FOP. He has unveiled important proposals from a two-day trash pickup pledge with a grandmother in Waverly to a diversion program with Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon, from an expungement policy with The Wire’s Felicia “Snoop” Pearson to a crime strategy with former County police chief Jim Johnson. He has stood up for senior citizens to protect their homes and has stood tall with squeegee boys and gotten them jobs.

He doesn’t owe machine politicians any political favors, but his work has earned him the support and trust of people like us. He is not using this as a stepping stone to higher office, and he’s shown the patience and wisdom to know when he’s ready. This is not a selfish exercise in personal redemption or a vanity project inspired by hubris and bottomless wealth.

It is the next natural chapter in a life of service, and likely for Thiru the most important one. Thiru may not be perfect but he is perfect for Baltimore. We could not be more proud to give him our support. We hope you will too.

Recent Deals

Interested in advertising your deals? Contact Edwin Warfield.

Connect with these Baltimore Professionals on LinkedIn

  • Edwin Warfield

    Editor in Chief, Warfield Digital

  • Jean Halle

    Independent Consultant

  • Larry Lichtenauer

    President of Lawrence Howard & Associates

  • Newt Fowler

    Partner at Womble Carlyle, LLP

  • David Crowley

    Owner at Develop DC

  • Carolyn Stinson

    Stinson Marketing Group