[Baltimore Sun] Ivan Bates: Baltimore’s ‘Profiles in Courage’ prosecutor | READER COMMENTARY

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Leaders who have courage, per John F. Kennedy’s famous book, “Profiles in Courage,” are those who act in service of honorable principles at personal risk against friends’ advice and political supporters’ counsel with risk being the critical, though insufficient, criterion. Leaders without courage care only about themselves and not the overriding good of their country or state or city.

The Kennedy exemplar was Kansas’ Edmund G. Ross whose decisive vote against Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was what Kennedyophiles called “the most heroic act in American history.” Ross himself predicted that “millions of men cursing me today will bless me tomorrow for having saved the country from the greatest peril through which it has ever passed, though none but God can ever know the struggle it had cost me.”

Today in Baltimore there is a candidate for a Democratic profile in courage: State’s Attorney Ivan Bates.

I have been an admirer of Bates since 2022 when I asked and secured him to speak to my political persuasion class. I had had a wide array of admirable and diverse politicians and political partisans speak in my class over more than four decades of teaching including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., then-soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Gov. Larry Hogan, Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley (husband Martin O’Malley did not come, but he would have been quite welcome), state Sen. Jim Brochin, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Del. Kathy Szeliga, Baltimore Sun sports columnist Mike Preston and several others. They were all politicians (save Preston) whom I revered ethically, all well-prepared and all who had served admirably in my opinion.

Bates was one of the very best. There were no questions he considered out of bounds. He made it clear that he shared my longstanding claim that one of the major causes of city violence was the breakdown of the family with 80% of fatherlessness as a direct cause of violence, education deficits and general poverty in the population therein but also relatively in the rest of the country.

As a professor, I have, in the immortal (and slightly paraphrased) words of Ernest Hemingway, an excellent “crap detector.”  As much as any other speaker, Bates avoided no questions and was sincere and straightforward throughout. When I asked him about the importance of incentivizing the nuclear family as a major part of the solution to the explosion of criminal and anti-social behaviors, avoidance of educational competence and lack of wealth, I provided the questions, but he assented to all of it.

No tricks, no evasions no cute changes or evasions of topics.

Bates recently announced his support of Sheila Dixon for mayor while U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a decent man to be sure but a chronically unsurprising long-term politician, and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, equally unremarkable except in how consistently he is unremarkable, endorsed incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott.

Meanwhile, Bates pursues what he has promised: holding parents — most often single parents — criminally and financially responsible for their children’s law-breaking when they can be shown to be aware of that criminality. His endorsement of Dixon was not exclusively related to a recent public conflict with Mayor Scott, in which Bates raised concerns about Scott not being supportive of criminal justice initiatives; the two men have since quelled their feud. Scott has, to my knowledge, not given one speech on the importance of intact families in bolstering the quality of life in Baltimore. Bates defeated Marilyn Mosby who was never publicly criticized by Scott for her indolent leadership as Baltimore state’s attorney.

Thus, Bates’ “Profile in Courage” nomination comes at a propitious time for Baltimore. No doubt there will be clear or hidden retributive acts against Bates for endorsing Dixon. Courageous politicians are concerned but undaunted by such pending retribution.

There are other candidates for mayor but courage does not come into play in supporting candidates who cannot win. It requires the possibility, nay, probability, of success. Edmund Ross would not have been one of John F. Kennedy’s favorites had he not won the day in opposing the conviction of the president.

— Richard E. Vatz, Towson

The writer is a Distinguished Professor at Towson University and Professor Emeritus.

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