Shannon Wright, the Republican Party nominee for mayor of Baltimore, says she played a major role in litigation aimed at desegregating the city of Yonkers, New York, just north of the Bronx, years ago.
On her personal website, Wright calls herself “one of the lead negotiators” in the landmark Yonkers case.
In her application to be a 2016 Trump convention delegate, she leaves out the “one of.”
In an interview with The Brew, she repeated the claim.
But Wright wasn’t nearly as pivotal as she says she was, multiple sources say.
“This is an outrageous lie,” attorney Michael H. Sussman stated in an email after reviewing Wright’s personal website.
“She had nothing to do with winning the case – which I did in November 1985 – or the settlement negotiations referenced above,” he said.
Sussman, a partner at Sussman & Associates (and a 2018 Green Party candidate for New York Attorney General), was frequently referenced in media reports on the controversial litigation.
In the 2015 HBO mini-series on the case, Sussman (played by actor Jon Bernthal) has a pivotal role, as the attorney for the Yonkers branch of the NAACP, which brought the lawsuit.
The Brew couldn’t find any mention of Wright, whose last name was Mitchell at the time. Sussman said he didn’t remember her at all.
A paralegal and office manager during the period in question, Wright in part defends her claim, saying, “I spent a heck of a lot of hours on that case.”
But she has now removed mention of it from her campaign website (though not from her Shannon Wright Ministries page) and has admitted another bio exaggeration.
“I should have proofread it”
On wrightformaryland.com, Wright originally said she worked with then-NAACP president and current U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who preceded and succeeded the late Elijah Cummings in Congress.
“I don’t recall her,” Mfume said, asked about her claim.
Wright acknowledged misrepresenting her relationship with Mfume and other top NAACP officials, and said she should have proofread the website more closely as it went through different drafts.
“It should not have read to say I worked closely day-to-day with any of them,” she said.
It now says she worked “under the organizational leadership” of Mfume, former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and activist Hazel Dukes.
The Yonkers NAACP did not respond to a request for comment.
Much More Minor Role
The discrepancies surfaced after the candidate told The Brew she was a major player in the NAACP’s 27-year court battle – from 1981 to 2007 – over segregation in housing and education, helping to secure a $300 million settlement in the case.
But Wright was only active with the Yonkers NAACP for a few years during that period, as branch vice chair from 1997 to 2002, and her role was much more minor than that of a negotiator.
Her boss at the law firm where she worked, Leonard Buddington, served as counsel for about a year. Buddington also served as the Yonkers NAACP chair. He said Sussman was the “principal attorney and sole lead negotiator” in the case.
Sussman, reached by The Brew at his Goshen, New York office, said he had already negotiated the settlement by the time Wright says she became involved.
Wright defended her resume references to the case, saying she did much of the legwork. She differentiated between the words “litigator” and “negotiator.”
“I never claimed to be a litigator,” she said. “It’s usually the one with the law degree that gets the credit but it’s the folks on the ground who do the bulk of the work.”
Wright, an unsuccessful GOP nominee for city council president in 2016, says equity is at the center of her agenda.
A pastor, she is promoting a “family first, business friendly [agenda] to move Baltimore forward.” She wants to cut “red tape” to attract businesses to the city.
She says taxes are too high and schools are not accountable and argues that her background will make her more responsive than others on those issues.
“My perspective, my experience makes me more in tune,” she said.
But in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1, Wright is not likely to be elected mayor.
She won the Republican mayoral primary in June with 1,630 votes and 29% of the vote.
On the Democratic side, Council President Brandon Scott won the mayoral primary with 30% and 43,927 votes.
With far less campaign money than Scott, Wright has had to find ways other than campaign literature to reach a citywide audience.
Last week she testified at a City Council hearing and spoke at a pro-Trump “Rescue America” rally. Behind her, a sign said, in all caps, “It’s time to take our country back from radical leftists.”
The bible, she told the crowd, preaches that “all lives matter.”
Behind Wright, a sign said, in all caps, “It’s time to take our country back from radical leftists.”
In her latest report, submitted to the State Board of Elections in May, she reported raising and spending less than $1,000. Scott said he had $230,389 on hand in May.
Asked about her opponent, Wright faults Scott for stalling a bill that would decrease the mayor’s power over the Board of Estimates after he won the primary. She also says he lacks the necessary experience.
“We need leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say,” she said. “You can’t say you want to create a business-friendly environment when you haven’t worked for one or owned one.”
Frederick Douglass Republican
Born in White Plains, N.Y., and moving as a child to New Jersey, Wright says she was raised in public housing by a single teen mother and rose out of poverty thanks to good schools.
She said she was proud to work on the Yonkers desegregation case because it meant progress toward educational equity.
“I understand where people in Baltimore are,” she said. “I understand what it means to fight to change your circumstances. Good quality public education is the only true way to get out of poverty.”
She came to Baltimore in 2013 with her husband after Hurricane Sandy snapped trees and destroyed their New Jersey home.
“The trees weren’t on the outside anymore,” she said.
Since then, speaking as a member of the city’s small GOP contingent, she frequently describes herself as a Frederick Douglass Republican.
Asked to explain, she said it means standing for “basic core values that build up, not tear down.”
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