Maryland Senate candidate Donna F. Edwards called Thursday for Baltimore’s housing commissioner to resign following a sex-for-repairs scandal in public housing -- injecting a charged city issue into the high-profile race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, noted a recent $8 million settlement of a case involving public housing tenants in Baltimore who alleged they were sexually harassed and abused by maintenance workers, and also cited concerns about lead poisoning and forced evictions in the city.
The city's longtime housing commissioner, Paul Graziano, has been under fire for months for both the settlement and the deteriorating condition of public housing units. Edwards is only the latest to call for his ouster.
"The stories of Baltimore women who were sexually assaulted by public housing employees in order to receive basic repairs to their homes are horrifying, shocking and tragic," Edwards said in a statement. "They are the stories of our city's most vulnerable, forced to choose between sexual abuse and the safety of their homes and their families."
Edwards added "we will not do these women justice, and Baltimore will not be able to move forward, as long as Paul Graziano is in office."
The move by Edwards' campaign marks the first time a candidate for Senate has delved directly into an issue confronting Baltimore, which along with its suburbs has become a battleground in the Senate race. Both Edwards and her opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, have spoken broadly about improving the economy, police relations and gun violence.
It also comes as Edwards' is speaking out more on issues facing communities of color, including poor neighborhoods in the city. Edwards, who is black, has repeatedly suggested that she would use a perch in the Senate to discuss issues that she says receive little attention in the Senate. She recently criticized the media for using the word "thug" to describe those who protested in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.
Edwards met Thursday with Deray McKesson, a civil rights activist and Baltimore native who has become a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement. Edwards, McKesson noted on Twitter, "was an organizer before she ran for Congress. We really had a great convo today. More folks should meet & talk to her."
But Edwards' statement came just hours after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake offered an impassioned defense of Graziano. Rawlings-Blake, once considered a possible candidate herself, has yet to offer an endorsement in the contest.
She said those calling for Graziano to step down are playing politics with the issue.
"There's not one person that talks about firing Graziano that has any plan for how to make the lives of people in public housing better," Rawlings-Blake said in a WBAL radio interview. "But they know if they say 'fire Graziano,' that somebody will put a mic in front of them...and they'll get some attention."