How Did Brooke Pinto Win the Ward 2 Council Primary?

Originally published in Washington City Paper with Mitch Ryals on June 11.
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Brooke Pinto had no business winning the Ward 2 Democratic primary race.

The 28-year-old Greenwich, Conn., native has only lived in D.C. for six years. She’s never voted here and only registered to vote in D.C. in 2019. Her campaign signs said she was running for “city council,” a semantic mistake typically met with jeers from entrenched local politicos.

She has little, albeit relevant, professional work experience. After law school, Pinto joined the Office of the Attorney General through a fellowship program, working in the tax and finance division. She later transferred to work on policy matters directly under AG Karl Racine, who enthusiastically supported her campaign.

Pinto jumped into a field of seven opponents, three of whom—Patrick KennedyJohn Fanning, and Kishan Putta—are advisory neighborhood commissioners with deep community connections. Another, Jordan Grossman, had support of local progressive groups and many labor unions. And then there was ex-Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who came into the race with a longer record, more name recognition, and more ethics violations than any other candidate.

And yet, on June 4, two days after Election Day, Pinto declared victory with a lead of fewer than 300 votes. On June 6, after Pinto’s lead grew, Kennedy, her closest opponent, conceded.

The Board of Elections will hold a special election June 16 to fill the seat for the remainder of the year. Pinto is expected to win, as most other campaigns have suspended their operations.

Pinto will become the youngest D.C. councilmember in history and join a body that just traded two moderate, male members—Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, 37, and Evans, 66—for two younger female members in Pinto and the Democratic nominee for the Ward 4 Council seat, Janeese Lewis George, 32. (George and Pinto still have to win the general election in November, but in heavily Democratic D.C., they’re expected to coast to victory.)

“She literally ran a perfect race,” Racine says. “Anything short of perfection there, she loses.”

So how did she do it? And what does Pinto’s victory mean for the future of the D.C. Council?

On a good day, Pinto says she made 500 calls to Ward 2 voters. That’s in addition to the calls a small army of about 70 volunteers made—among them, her mother, Dale Pinto, who phoned D.C. voters from her home in Connecticut.

“Our philosophy was ‘yes to everything,’” Pinto says. Yes to requests to meet individually, yes to invitations for meet-and-greets, yes to writing out policy positions in emails.

Early poll numbers had Pinto at just 2 or 3 percent, but the tides appeared to shift when the Washington Post editorial board announced its unexpected endorsement of her campaign.

“The Post [editorial board] has been so discredited that everyone wrote it off as an important validator,” says At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who endorsed Grossman. “But clearly, in Ward 2 it still is.”

Pinto’s phone call strategy and select prominent endorsements were amplified by her fundraising haul.

On the campaign trail, Pinto emphasized her opposition to “outside interest group[s]” that try to buy elections, and praised the city for having  “progressive campaign finance limits and a public financing system to empower voters, not dollars.” Yet she was the only candidate in Ward 2 to decline participating in said public financing program, a decision that allowed her to personally contribute $45,000 to her campaign.

When asked how a 28-year-old with two years of work experience, earning public servant salaries that ranged from $56,000 to $101,000, was able to do that, she told City Paper she used “savings” from a personal brokerage account and some money she inherited from her grandmother’s passing.

Pinto comes from a wealthy family. Her father, James J. Pinto, has spent decades in private equity, and currently leads the firm MVC Capital, Inc. In 2015, while Brooke was attending Georgetown Law School, James and Dale Pinto endowed the school with an annual fellowship in their name for alumni.

Pinto says though her parents kindly maxed out their donations to her campaign, they did not contribute beyond that. Over the last decade, though, James Pinto has donated $12,800 to Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, and $7,800 to Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Both men endorsed Pinto, and on the campaign trail she emphasized that she’s “the only candidate in this race to be endorsed by sitting Senators & a Congressman.”

Early on in the campaign, it looked like Pinto’s parents were set to help their daughter establish a campaign headquarters, too. While Pinto lives on Q Street NW near Logan Circle, and put that address on her campaign lawn signs, her parents started renting a house down the street shortly after Pinto announced her bid.

That property, at 1300 Q Street NW, hit the market in late January, and on February 18, a new LLC entitled “1300 Q Street NW LLC” formed. The house was sold to this LLC on February 27, and less than a week later, Pinto listed it as her campaign’s address on her AFL-CIO questionnaire. She tells City Paper she was “intending to initiate a sub-lease,” but changed her plans when the pandemic worsened and her campaign went remote. Her mother returned to D.C last week to stay in the house she’s still renting, and put up large balloons outside that stated “Brooke4Ward2.”

Pinto tells City Paper she does not have any information on the LLC, and says her parents “of course put yard signs up” because they stay when they visit. Dale and James Pinto did not respond to requests for comment.

Pinto’s stance against outside money also rubbed up against the realities of her fundraising haul. She had the lowest percentage of D.C. donors and the most money coming from out of state among Ward 2 candidates. Pinto also had the second fewest donations coming from Ward 2. While she says she “understands the desire for people to go down the road” of looking at her own contributions, Pinto stresses that her campaign, which raised about $136,000, was outspent. “It’s just not true that we bought this race,” she said. “Other candidates had much more money.”

With Evans officially off the Council and Todd likely to be gone by the end of the year, Chairman Phil Mendelson will lose two significant supporters of his moderate priorities. While George, a Democratic Socialist, will ostensibly fit in alongside Silverman and the Council’s progressive wing, it’s less clear who Pinto will end up aligning and voting with.

Racine describes her as a cross between Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen and At-Large Councilmember Robert White. According to the attorney general, Pinto has Allen’s organization and thoughtfulness and, like White, is progressive in areas around social and racial justice, with special attention to criminal justice reform, but can be “more center in areas around business.”

“My guess is that she’ll have a positive working relationship as well with the mayor,” he adds.

Silverman largely agrees. She spoke with Pinto by phone Sunday evening to offer congratulations.

She says she expects Pinto to generally support her priorities for working families, and is holding her breath when it comes to economic issues.

“Where the real rubber hits the road is on the economic issues,” Silverman says. “You can’t do restorative justice without progressive economic policy. ”

Meanwhile, Mendelson says he’s not concerned about losing control of a Council that appears to be drifting further to his left. By the time he talked with LL Monday afternoon, the chairman hadn’t spoken to Pinto, but said he intended to call.

Asked what Pinto’s victory says about potential changes in Ward 2, the chairman notes that “the ward is not as far to the left as some said it would be, but more importantly, the bigger message is the ward resoundingly rejected ethical lapses, to put it politely.”

The full effect of the 2020 election cycle on the Council will become clear after the general election in November. Ultra-progressive policy wonk Ed Lazere, who Mendelson thumped in 2018, is one of more than a dozen declared candidates running for At-Large Councilmember David Grosso’s seat.

LL will note that Racine is likely counting himself among the winners in the primary election. Both of his endorsed candidates, Pinto and George, will likely join former Racine staffers Robert White and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White on the Council dais in 2021.

For now, Pinto says she wants to restore faith in the ward. “I take very seriously the responsibility … that everything be … 100 percent above board and followed through on,” she tells LL.

Still, she’s off to a so-so start with some aspects of her campaign finance reports. Stickers she used to feature her Post endorsement were not included on her May 26 filings, and she tells City Paper “we are working with our compliance officer to determine why” that was.

“Please always feel free to ask if you have questions,” she adds. “I am confident that every question has an answer.”

 

What’s Behind the Recent Plague of Shootings in Baltimore?

Originally published in VICE on May 20th, 2015.
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While the national film crews have packed up and left Baltimore, losing interest in the place now that there are no more burning pharmacies and vandalized cop cars, Charm City residents are left to reckon with one of the most violent months they’ve seen in years. As the Baltimore Sun reports, homicides are up nearly 40 percent compared with this time last year, and nonfatal shootings are up 60 percent. From mid April to mid May, 31 people were killed, the Washington Post reports, with 39 more wounded by gunfire. The Sun adds that, as of late Tuesday, there had been 170 nonfatal shootings so far this year.

To put all this in perspective, the last time Baltimore saw 30 homicides in one month was in June 2007.

The spike in violence has received less attention outside of Baltimore than Freddie Gray’s death, but within the city, leaders, police, and community members are struggling to figure out what exactly is going on.

One theory floating around is that the weeks of unrest after Gray’s demise in police custody have daunted cops, leaving them unable or unwilling to control violent crime. The police union and some legal experts are upset at the criminal charges that the city’s top prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, has leveled at six members of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD)—among them murder and manslaughter. This, coupled with a formal Justice Department investigation launched in cooperation with local officials to examine police practices, has left the BPD in a state of agitation.

Lieutenant Kenneth Butler, a longtime BPD veteran and president of the Vanguard Justice Society, a group for black officers, told the Washington Post that rank-and-file cops feel alienated, vilified, and afraid to do their job. “In 29 years, I’ve gone through some bad times, but I’ve never seen it this bad,” Butler added in comments to the Baltimore Sun, referring, in part, to officers who feel as though Mosby “will hang them out to dry.”

While beat cop reticence could be a factor, Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, points out that homicides and shootings in West Baltimore were on the rise before the Freddie Gray unrest, though the pace has since accelerated. Webster thinks that among other things, the protests just strained the cops’ capacity.

“The police have been less active in proactive policing, less likely to engage individuals on the street,” Webster says, adding that resources were diverted to addressing the riots and in turn disrupted patrol and detective work. Leads from residents that detectives use to make arrests—though already quite difficult to come by—were further reduced during this time, he said, citing conversations with officers. Moreover, Operation Ceasefire, an anti-violence initiative begun by the city early last year, has been running without a program manager for the past several weeks. (The mayor’s office has indicated a new program manager will be hired soon.)

Webster believes another factor at play here may be that the Freddie Gray protests emboldened criminals. “We just had a huge display of lawlessness and disrespect for law and law enforcement,” he explains. “That mindset can spread easily and affect behavior.”

Dayvon Love, the co-founder of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a grassroots organization that advocates for the interests of black people in Baltimore, doesn’t buy the connection between the protests and violence—one he calls an “easy deflection” of systemic issues.

“This [surge in violent crime] is a natural outgrowth of the conditions in which shooting and violence occurs,” Love says. Scapegoating the protests and the Mosby charges, Dove thinks, is particularly convenient for those unenthused with critiques of law enforcement and institutional racism. And it’s true that high rates of poverty, unemployment, and drug addiction all consistently correlate with high homicide rates. Love also argued that Baltimore’s had all kinds of violence for a long time—including sexual abuse and discriminatory housing policies—though it’s only when guns are fired that leaders start to panic.

Perhaps a simpler explanation for the increase in shootings is just that it’s getting hotter outside. Baltimore Bloc, another local grassroots organization, say that they don’t think the protests had anything to do with the recent violence, and that in their experience, violence always surges in the city as summer approaches. Lester Spence, a Johns Hopkins political scientist, agrees that homicides usually rise and fall significantly with the seasons, with the fewest occurring during the winter. “It’s no coincidence that homicides are spiking right now when the weather is getting warmer,” Spence says.

The violence that occurs when competing gangs fight over turf to operate their drug operations also generally escalates in the warmer weather. “People are suggesting that the spike we’ve witnessed over the past few weeks represents something new, but summer is just starting,” Spence adds. “It might be a blip or it might continue. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Baltimore PD Spokeswoman Sarah Connolly told VICE in an email, “We are investigating each incident as a singular incident while examining any trends and patterns to ensure that we are deploying our officers and resources effectively while being proactive and engaging the community. While we have developed investigative leads in a number of cases, we continue to ask the community’s assistance in calling with any information they may have.”

Meanwhile, some Baltimore community groups are taking the opportunity to organize anti-violence demonstrations. Coinciding with the 90th birthday of Malcolm X, the NAACP held a “Stop the Violence ‘By Any Means Necessary'” rally Tuesday night at their office in the Sandtown neighborhood. Another group committed to decreasing gun violence in Baltimore, the 300 Men March, is holding an “Occupy Our Corners” anti-violence rally on Thursday evening to honor the recent homicide victims.

“We the PEOPLE, are not blaming anyone but ourselves for failing to create a safe environment within our city,” their rally flyer reads. “Recognizing this, WE STAND, as a community of all people, regardless of RACE, RELIGION, SEX, CULTURE OR BACKGROUND.” According to the Sun, Munir Bahar, one of the group’s founders, is calling for 30 men in ten Baltimore neighborhoods to become block leaders in the fight against crime.

Love doesn’t expect the organizing work that LBS, Baltimore Bloc, and other grassroots groups are doing will change much in light of the increased violence. “Because doing that,” Love explains, “would take away from the larger objective, which is ultimately about systemic change.”

AP makes ‘illegals’ illegal

Originally published in the Baltimore Sun on April 5th, 2013.

This week the AP Stylebook, the standardized style guide for newspapers and other publications across the United States, announced that no longer, under their rules, will it be acceptable to use the term “illegal immigrant.” AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explained that the term “illegal” is incorrect when labeling people and “should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

The change, proponents argue, is necessary because labeling individuals as “illegals” or “illegal” is an unfair designation that no other criminal or civil offender in this country receives. Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter and immigrant activist, has called the term “illegal immigrant” dehumanizing. In a Fox News Latino survey conducted last year, nearly half of Latino voters responded that they find the term “illegal immigrant” offensive.

About two months ago a similar political AP Style debate played out with regard to same-sex marriages. An internal memo was leaked that said the AP would use “couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages” as opposed to the terms “husband” and “wife.” This separate-but-equal discourse for legal same-sex marriages drew the ire of the gay community, causing the AP to change its position within the week.

These questions of language have real ramifications; the way that ideas are presented in the press impacts how people understand and relate to the issues, and the effort to avoid potentially loaded terms is never-ending.

For example, in the case of immigrants who enter the country illegally, the AP also now advises journalists to avoid the term “undocumented.” AP argues that often these individuals do hold some sort of documentation, therefore it’s inaccurate to assert otherwise. And in the case of the gay community, in November AP editors advised the press to avoid the term “homophobia” because, in their view, homophobia implies that anti-gay sentiment is based in irrational fear. AP now encourages journalists to use the term “anti-gay bigotry” instead.

(At The Baltimore Sun, the terms “illegal immigrants” and “homophobia” are still acceptable.)

The AP is not alone in revising its language related to immigration; New York Times officials have also said they also want to revise their style book to promote a more nuanced immigration discourse. But nuance may be the enemy of brevity. The AP’s new guidelines say, “Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?”

Certainly it’s important to find ways to describe such divisive political issues that is both accurate and neutral, but it can also lead to language that is clunky or, worse yet, not easily understood. Moreover, the effort to avoid potentially freighted language is almost inevitably viewed by those involved in the debate as taking sides. The AP’s effort to avoid controversy in its stylebook has often only courted it instead. In a highly polarized society, it may simply be impossible to find terms that please everyone.