Cory McCray spent his 18th birthday in a Baltimore jail cell. Antonio Hayes was raised by his grandmother when his mother's drug addiction got too bad. Brooke Lierman grew up in the affluent suburbs of Montgomery County, the daughter of a renowned political family.
The three 30-somethings from disparate backgrounds are the new faces of Baltimore politics.
Lierman, 35, was the top voter-getter in Southeast Baltimore's 46th District in last month's Democratic primary. Hayes, 36, took in more votes that any sitting delegate in West Baltimore's 40th District — ultimately ousting incumbent Shawn Z. Tarrant. McCray, 31, defeated five challengers to join Dels. Talmadge Branch and Cheryl D. Glenn in Northeast Baltimore's 45th District.
"It's a new day in Baltimore," said Lierman, daughter of former Maryland Democratic Party chairman Terry Lierman. "There's a new generation that's excited to step up and be leaders for our communities. We love this city, and we want to make sure that its future is bright."
With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by about 10-1 in Baltimore, the city's primary election typically decides who will serve in the General Assembly.
McCray is filling the seat formerly held by the late Hattie Harrison. Oliver community leader Nina Harper was appointed to the seat but didn't run in the election. Lierman is filling a seat now held by retiring Del. Brian K. McHale.
Baltimore's House delegation will shrink next year from 18 members to 16, thanks to population loss and a state redistricting. In Southwest Baltimore, three sitting delegates — Keith Haynes, Keiffer Mitchell and Melvin Stukes — were forced to compete for one seat. Haynes edged Mitchell by about 150 votes.
Even with the loss of city influence, the new delegates say they're excited about what they see as a new wave of young elected officials ready to make an impact.
Hayes, the chief of staff at the city's Department of Social Services, grew up in the Baltimore neighborhood of Penn North, where he held anti-drug rallies after seeing what chemical dependency had done to his family.
"I was moving from relative's house to relative's house," he said. "When my grandmother took me in, it was the first time in my life where I had some sense of stability."
Hayes enrolled in Polytechnic Institute, where he and future City Councilman Nick Mosby were wrestling teammates. Hayes had a rebellious steak, though, and got kicked out. He graduated from Walbrook High School and then Frostburg State University.
"I always excelled in academics, but because of confusion in my family life, I had some behavioral problems," he said. "I always challenged authority."
As he was nearing graduation from college, Hayes landed a job with then-state Sen. Salima Siler Marriott, who remains a strong supporter. He went on to become an assistant deputy mayor under Sheila A. Dixon. The former mayor made a robocall to support Hayes with only days to go in the election — a move Hayes said helped him win.
Bolton Hill resident Doreen Rosenthal said she's known Hayes through his government work for 15 years and was thrilled he won the election. "Antonio's got integrity, and he's smart and he's a hard worker," she said.
McCray, a community leader in Northeast Baltimore's Overlea neighborhood, spent his teenage years as a drug dealer.
"I turned 18 in the city jail. That life was all I had known," he said. "I always had a lot of hustle. I just needed to prioritize in the right way."
Out of jail and determined to turn his life around, McCray signed up for an apprenticeship program with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where he currently serves as an organizer. It gave him enough money to start investing in real estate. He bought his first house at 20. By age 25, he owned seven houses.
The union, he said, "saved my life."
In 2012, McCray and other community leaders formed the BEST Democratic Club, which encourages young people in East Baltimore to get involved in politics. The group now has more than 500 members.
As he ran for office, McCray acted as though he were getting a trial run at the job — providing constituent services to residents he encountered while knocking on 16,000 doors. An 80-year-old woman had no heat? A school needed a fence repaired? McCray got on the phone to Councilman Brandon Scott, 30, his friend and supporter.