Griffin Baltz, UMBC:
In September 2015, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake decided to not run for re-election in the 2016 mayoral race, citing a need to work on the city’s livelihood in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. Reactions to her announcement ranged from sorrow to relief, but the most striking aspect of her decision was its impact on the 2016 Democratic race to replace her position.
The race has been crowded since it began, with 13 Democratic candidates vying to win the April 26 primary. Initially, the entrance of Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson into the fray gained national attention, but recent polls conducted by the Baltimore Sun show that his campaign is struggling to gain support as he polls at less than one percent. Instead, the race has shifted into a struggle between State Senator Catherine E. Pugh and former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon.
Pugh is a Democrat serving her third term in the Maryland State Senate and has been involved with several notable organizations throughout her career including the Maryland Center for Arts and Technology and the Need to Read campaign. Dixon is known for assuming the mantle of mayor when Martin O’Malley resigned after his election as Maryland Governor in 2006. She later became infamous for resigning in 2010 amid charges of felony theft and embezzlement.
Despite Dixon’s controversial term in office, her campaign has performed strongly against Pugh’s. According to the Baltimore Sun, only 33% of Dixon’s supporters are willing to consider other candidates, while over half of Pugh’s supporters are more open to other options.
The platforms of the candidates are quite similar, particularly in terms of their plans to fight crime. In the aftermath of Gray’s death and the protests and riots that followed, candidates were pressed to move away from traditional anti-crime tactics in favor of methods more focused on alleviating the root causes of drug-related crime. Pugh and Dixon’s platforms both advocate increasing Baltimore Police foot patrols instead of squad car patrols as well as encouraging the police to partner with neighborhood leaders and organizations.
Recently, Pugh is polling ahead of Dixon by a margin of six percent. However, many analysts note that the race still has room to significantly change, as fourteen percent of prospective voters remain undecided, and many more future voters are open to changing their mind about their candidate of choice.
It is crucial that the winner of this election learns from the trials and tribulations that Baltimore has experienced over the past several years. Even though Mayor Rawlings-Blake was able to significantly drive down crime rates during her time in office, the city still experienced one of its most violent months in history in July 2015, when 45 people were killed. Regardless of which candidate makes it to office, they will undoubtedly be tasked with the difficult job of balancing the rising need for police accountability with new methods to keep crime rates down in the city. However, crime is not the only issue with which the future mayor will have to contend.
Baltimore is at an awkward stage in its growth. The people and leadership want to see a declining rate of crime and drug use in the city and generally improve the quality of life, but the development that recently occurred threatens the identity of the city as a whole. These developments include the Horseshoe Casino, which was praised by Mayor Rawlings-Blake as an economic driving force for tourism, and the Harbor East community of high-end apartments, restaurants, and stores.
Local news outlets like the Baltimore City paper have criticized these developments for aggressively gentrifying lower income neighborhoods and overpowering smaller businesses in the area. Fortunately, the economic development plans of both Pugh and Dixon include plans to enact city-wide neighborhood development and help small businesses thrive.
However, it may be difficult to prevent further economic disparity and gentrification from occurring throughout the city. Even well-intended efforts to revitalize communities such as the establishment of the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District have come under fire for being more of a vanity move that fails to truly help the artists and businesses in such areas.
The mayoral race will likely continue to be a close call for the foreseeable future. While it is clear that Pugh and Dixon have established themselves as the Democratic favorites, voters must be vigilant in ensuring that their candidate of choice is true in their aims in not only assisting the people of Baltimore, but also listening to what they have to say.