Otis Rolley is scrambling up porches in a quiet West Baltimore neighborhood, undaunted by a steady drizzle. He leaps over baby gates, dodges yapping poodles and asks voters to support him in the primary election.
A few years ago, few outside City Hall and local urban-planning circles were familiar with Rolley. Today, his purple campaign signs dot neighborhoods throughout the city, and supporters include young professionals and technology leaders.
In this neighborhood of tidy brick rowhomes just south of Mondawmin Mall, residents say they have gotten to know the 37-year-old candidate through his dogged campaigning.
"I like him because he's honest. He's a family man and he cares about the issues that affect families," said Denise McNeil, a makeup artist. "He seems like he has a kind heart."
Rolley has mounted an aggressive campaign, rolling out detailed position papers that underscore his background in urban planning.
"If you need medical attention, you should go see a doctor. If you need legal help … go see an attorney," Rolley said at a recent candidates' forum. "It's time that we had a mayor who was not a career politician, but that understood cities, that has studied cities. We need someone who … will face those challenges, not with political rhetoric, not with campaign slogans, but with real plans and concrete ideas."
Rolley says frequently that growing up in Jersey City, N.J., has helped him understand the problem of persistent poverty in Baltimore. He cites his own experience attending a program for talented students as evidence of the transformative power of education.
Rolley came to Baltimore in the late 1990s to work in the city Department of Housing and Community Development. He served as the city's planning director for four years under Mayor Martin O'Malley, and then helped lead Sheila Dixon's transition committee and served as her chief of staff for her first year in office.
Rolley sees a path to victory in reaching out directly to voters. He says his campaign has knocked on 45,000 doors, and he believes that he could win with as few as 30,000 votes — assuming the voter turnout is as low as it was in 2007.
One of the more colorful emails from his campaign included a photo of his battered shoes, showing holes worn from long days of canvassing.
"We knew from the beginning that we weren't going to have as much money as the incumbent," said Rolley. "But if I win, it shows I can do a lot with limited resources."
Family: Married, three children.
Education: Lincoln High School; B.A., Rutgers College; Master's in City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Occupation: Senior manager, Urban Policy Development Consulting
Public Offices Held: Chief of Staff to Mayor Sheila Dixon, 2007; Baltimore Director of Planning, 2003-07
Why are you running for mayor? I'm the only candidate who has real plans to improve our schools, create jobs, make us safer and cut property taxes for every homeowner.
What is the greatest challenge facing Baltimore? Our biggest challenge is our continued loss of population.
How do you intend to address it? I will focus on the reasons people leave Baltimore or never come here in the first place: crime, underperforming schools, and a lack of investment in our neighborhoods. I will ask voters to hold me accountable for results.