Will Anyone Challenge the Mayor?
TRNN’s analysis of Baltimore’s critical upcoming election
STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m a reporter for The Real News Network in Baltimore.
It’s an event less than a year away with major implications for Baltimore that has received little, if any, attention. I’m talking about the Democratic primary for mayor slated for April, which would in all likelihood decide who will run the city for the next four years. But despite one of the most tumultuous five months in the city’s history, no one besides current mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has indicated clearly they are interested in running. It’s a surprising lack of interest in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and resulting unrest which has put Baltimore’s deep divide and economic woes on the world stage. Add to that an historical spike in violent crime this year, and it all looks like easy fodder for a challenger.
So what is going on? Well, my next guests are going to help me try to answer that question. Luke Broadwater is an award-winning investigative reporter for the Baltimore Sun. His extensive work in Baltimore has exposed corruption and wrongdoing inside a variety of government agencies, most recently a lengthy investigation of the city’s error-prone speed camera program was forced to shut down after it ran. I’m also joined by Real News Network reporter Taya Graham. Taya has been covering social justice issues throughout the city, where she’s been delving into how the community views our current mayor, and the city’s stubborn penchant for violence.
Both of you, thanks for joining me. Thank you.
Well first of all, Luke, you had a pretty interesting story last week about the mayor’s efforts to run and her political base. Tell us a little bit about that.
LUKE BROADWATER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: So one thing that happened last week that’s really not a good development for Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is she lost her long-time fundraiser, a woman named Colleen Martin-Lauer, who’s a big fundraiser for the Democratic party. She’s run Martin O’Malley’s campaign, she’s run Anthony Brown’s, in terms of the fundraising efforts, and how she has Chris van Hollen who is running for Congress.
She and the mayor have parted ways. The mayor has now gone with a different fundraising firm, but she’s lost someone who raised more than $2 million for her last time, when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake outspent the competition by more than two to one, three to one.
JANIS: Is there any indication of what might have happened, or what might have precipitated this?
BROADWATER: There’s been some conflict or dissatisfaction there for some time on both sides. And I understand that Ms. Martin-Lauer called up and said she wanted to go in a different direction.
JANIS: And this is, Martin-Lauer was also O’Malley–I mean, this is a big, like sort of, the connection between the mayor and O’Malley, presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, this is part of that nexus, right, with Martin-Lauer?
BROADWATER: Oh, very much so. She was the big fundraiser for O’Malley when O’Malley became mayor and O’Malley became governor, and is now seeking the presidency. So the political connection between the O’Malley camp and the Rawlings-Blake camp is, very much runs through Colleen Martin-Lauer. So it’s going to be interesting to see whether that divide–and we’ve seen bits of a divide between them, whether it will widen now with this latest development.
JANIS: So Taya, you’ve been covering some of the violence, some of the things that have surfaced over the past couple months that have been sort of historic. We had an historic month. What does the community think about the mayor in terms of her understanding of these problems and dealing with them?
TAYA GRAHAM, CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: Well, I think–there was a community walkthrough last week that Mayor Rawlings-Blake participated in. She walked through Barclay-Waverly area. She started her walk at Barclay and walked down towards 25th Street and Greenmount Avenue. And during that walk I noticed she had only about 19 or 20 people with her. There was only one African-American with her. And even though during that walk he stopped and spoke to residents I could really tell that not only did she seem somewhat beaten down, somewhat–her energy was very low during this. The community also, I didn’t see any smiles, I didn’t see the same type of energy and greeting that I’ve seen when Sheila Dixon has walked through a neighborhood.
JANIS: Well, and also we did sort of a report on the community’s sense of the mayor’s understanding, her grasp of the [inaud.] What was the basic sense of the community of her understanding or grasp of this problem?
GRAHAM: Well to be–honestly, people in the community said, we don’t think she understands. We don’t think she gets what’s going on. And they really feel that she doesn’t have the compassion and concern that she should be showing. They really think she’s dropped the ball.
JANIS: So from your perspective, you’ve covered City Hall for years. Are you surprised that no one has sort of thrown their hat into the ring or said they’re going to challenge her at this point, or is this normal course of events?
BROADWATER: One could argue that it’s surprising. We’re less than 11 months away from the mayor’s race. To win in an election as important as mayor you need to have a campaign apparatus set up, you need to have fundraising in the coffers already. And frankly people aren’t doing that yet. Now, it’s not a presidential election, right. You don’t need to run a nationwide campaign. So could somebody run a successful campaign starting after Labor Day? Perhaps. Is six months enough to win a mayor’s race? We’ll see.
I mean, every indication right now is that Ms. Dixon, the former mayor who Taya just referenced, will run. She said she’s considering it, she’s been talking about it for two to three years. I would be surprised if she doesn’t run, at this point. But it may be just a, a Stephanie Rawlings-Blake versus Sheila Dixon race. It might be a two person race.
JANIS: Is there anybody else who might join in? That you think–like City Council president Jack Young, for example. Are they, do you think they would run? Or I mean, I get the feeling they’re not, but I mean, what have you heard?
BROADWATER; Right. So I did a piece a couple weeks ago, maybe a month ago, where I explored a lot of different possibilities, and I called a lot of these people up and talked with them. I talked with Jack Young. He said he’s focused on his current job. He meets very regularly with Sheila Dixon. I would be surprised if Sheila ran if Jack ran. I just don’t, I think they’re too close, too good of allies.
JANIS: What about Wes Moore, the author or the writer, you wrote a story about him about a year and a half ago about the possibility of his career. You know, he’s famous now and he lives in Baltimore. Any thoughts on whether he might run?
BROADWATER: Yeah, I think a lot of people want Wes Moore to run. I mean, I get calls all the time, like, why isn’t Wes running? And all this. But you know, Wes Moore is famous, he’s financially very well off. He’s too–he would have to take a pay cut to run for mayor, and he’d have a very, very–I don’t know. It seems like a job that would be–.
JANIS: A step down?
BROADWATER: Perhaps. Perhaps, perhaps for him. And so, he’s told me categorically I’m not running, stop calling me.
JANIS: Well, you had a very interesting–before we started, it was very interesting, you said, about the city. Like, maybe the job doesn’t look that appealing. Kind of explain what you were–because I thought it was very interesting what you said.
BROADWATER: Yeah. As I was doing that story I talked with a woman from Goucher College who works on some of their polls. And she actually said, she thinks after the unrest and the Freddie Gray case and what happened there, this job is–she thinks it’s less likely that more people will run instead of more likely. You know, most people had thought, well, the mayor took a big beating, she’s weaker politically, now lots of people want to through their hats in the ring.
It could be the opposite is true. Many people look at that and say, how do you fix those problems? You know, what can a mayor really do? If I jump into that now I’m going to be blamed for everything from police brutality to crime to long-standing poverty, and what can I really do to fix it other than spin my wheels? So there’s a, you know, there’s a conflict there.
GRAHAM: I absolutely agree with Luke. It’s not only that people initially didn’t want to come forward, because they didn’t want to appear opportunistic, taking advantage of all the cameras that suddenly appeared in Baltimore. But also, I think people are extremely cautious. They’re worried if they come forward that they’ll be connected essentially to the blowback that’s been hitting Mayor Rawlings-Blake.
JANIS: Well we had someone, a politician, say to us sort of off-camera, don’t put us in the same fame as Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
GRAHAM: Yes. That’s very true.
JANIS: Remember that?
GRAHAM: Yes, and it was–it was definitely off-camera. But this politician said no, no, no, no, please make sure she’s not in the frame with me. Very telling.
JANIS: So you think to a certain extent that anyone who steps forward now is simply going to be caught up in that continuum or look, in a sense, be held responsible?
GRAHAM: I think that’s the fear. I think that’s the fear, that if they step forward now that they will be caught in her wake and any of the negativity that’s being directed at her will also be directed at them. So I think that’s part of the reason for the caution there.
JANIS: Well, just–and you have so much experience. You’ve been at City Hall for years. And I’ve already said that, but–in terms of like, a Dixon-Blake showdown, what does that look like? I mean, what are we, what kind of issues, what kind of contrasts are we talking about? If literally Sheila Dixon steps forward given the history that she was indicted, that she sort of was rushed out of office, Blake comes in–and we know there’s tension between the two of them because I think, Dixon has said to me, well, I took care of her. I brought her along, and she showed me no loyalty. So what’s that kind of matchup, what are the contrasts we would see in a race like that?
BROADWATER: It’s interesting, because they were partners at one time. They campaigned together–.
JANIS: They would appear in everything together.
JANIS: And she told me that Pete Rawlings told her on his deathbed, who was her father, a very famous politician, take care of my daughter. And she promised to do it. Anyway, so what kind of race are we talking about?
BROADWATER: Yes, yes. Sheila worked for her dad. Yeah. So but I think that what–they’ve obviously had a bad falling out, right? I mean, there’s trash talk in the media, there’s–I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love lost there, at this point.
Sheila has a number of things going for her, and she also has the major thorn in her side, which is the criminal conviction. And so she, it’s going to–she’s a flawed candidate in some ways. I mean, she has this, this case where she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were intended for kids. Right, that’s a thing that’s going to bring you down. At the same time she can, she can argue, she can point to a reduction in crime under her. She can point to the creation of the circulator under her. She can point to single-stream recycling under her.
So she can point to a number of accomplishments she had in office. She also had what many people believe is a really good, competent leadership team. And people felt like government was running efficiently back then.
JANIS: And what about her connection to the community? Like, with [incompr.] that there’s a different way people receive the mayor, current mayor, and Sheila Dixon. Did you notice that at all?
BROADWATER: I think it’s very clear that Sheila is more of a natural people person. People relate better to her. Stephanie is a little bit more standoffish, you have to get to know her to really understand her. So that doesn’t always translate very well when you’re going door to door and meeting people for the first time if you have that introverted personality, which it’s obvious the mayor has.
JANIS: Taya, as the only woman here right now, I mean, how do you perceive the two different candidates and sort of, battling in an election? I mean, in terms of the styles. You’ve met both of them, you covered both of them. What do you see?
GRAHAM: Well, first I want to say that when I’ve seen Sheila Dixon interact with the community it is a noticeable difference. When she appeared at a church at the same date that Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did, she actually received great applause–.
JANIS: You’re talking about the Freddie Gray funeral.
GRAHAM: At the Freddie Gray funeral. Applause. People–you could really see them nodding their heads, responding to what she was saying. Whereas with Mayor Rawlings-Blake it was really kind of just polite applause and recognition.
So looking at the fact that it’s two women, essentially, that are going to be going head to head for the mayorship–honestly, I don’t think there would be this–I think in Baltimore City people recognize that women have a certain level of concern for the community, especially African-American women, that they wouldn’t perhaps see in a white male candidate. So they’re offering something to the community that they recognize, that they think is a kinship. However, with Mayor Rawlings-Blake, I don’t think people see that kinship. I think they recognize Sheila Dixon as one of them.
JANIS: So bottom line, Luke, do people have the, does anybody have the resources right now to challenge–I mean, now, Stephanie took a major blow. She’s gonna get a new–her fundraiser was canceled during the Freddie Gray–does anybody have the ability, does Dixon even have the money at this point?
BROADWATER: The only person that has the money right now is Jack Young. Jack Young actually has more money than the mayor. Now, like I said, I don’t think he’s going to jump in the race if Sheila’s in the race.
JANIS: I agree with you on that.
BROADWATER: But that said, you know, she has $100,000 in the bank. That’s nothing to joke at right now. We’re talking about former mayor Dixon. And will she have the ability to raise money to make this a competitive race? Because you don’t need to raise as much money as the incumbent to win. I mean, you look at Marilyn Mosby against Gregg Bernstein, you look at–.
JANIS: Yeah, she–she was outspent two to, three to one, almost.
BROADWATER: Right, correct. You look at Larry Hogan with his victory over Anthony Brown–.
JANIS: Not even close.
BROADWATER: So money just has to be enough to get you in the conversation, to get you up on TV, and to get people to listen to you. So you need to be competitive, but you don’t need to match dollar for dollar, fundraising.
JANIS: And they say in Baltimore it’s about $1 million, right?
BROADWATER: Yeah. So I think Catherine Pugh got second, spent somewhere around $700,000 last time around. And I mean, there’s another person we could talk about. Would Catherine Pugh be a more effective candidate if she jumped in this time.
JANIS: Good point. Yeah, Catherine Pugh, state senator, senate majority leader. Do you think she would give that up?
BROADWATER: Yeah. So she initially told me, I asked her three or four months ago if she was running, she said no, I think the current mayor is doing a good job. Then after the rioting, we asked her again and she said she didn’t know what she was going to run for anymore. So maybe that’s an indication.
JANIS: So she’s opening the door.
BROADWATER: Yeah. She opened the door back up.
JANIS: Well, so Taya, prediction. Dixon versus Blake, who wins?
GRAHAM: Well I would have to say right now as things stand, I think it would be Dixon. If Catherine Pugh went, though, I saw her out in the community, I saw people responding to her–.
JANIS: She was, she was very visible.
GRAHAM: –during the protests. So there is a chance that if Catherine Pugh had thrown her hat in the ring, perhaps.
But one thing, as Luke mentioned there were a lot of positives during Mayor Dixon’s term. However, there are a lot of people who do remember that the height of zero tolerance, the policy that unjustly put many African-Americans in prison, occurred underneath Mayor Dixon’s tenure.
JANIS: Well, I mean, and Stephanie was there, they were all there.
JANIS: Well anyway, I–both, appreciate it. We’re going to have this panel I think constantly over the next couple of months as we wait to see if someone gets in the race. Hopefully we’ll have a race, right?
Luke Broadwater, for the Baltimore Sun, thank you for joining me.
BROADWATER: Thank you.
JANIS: And Taya Graham, from The Real News Network, thank you for joining me.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
JANIS: And my name is Stephen Janis, and I’m a reporter for The Real News Network in Baltimore. Thank you for joining us.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.