During her first year of life, the daughter of Baltimore City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed has napped, laughed and gurgled from the dais through votes, budget work sessions and public hearings.
Baby Rae accompanied her mom to support legislation in Annapolis and slept through Mayor Catherine Pugh’s inauguration. She’s known to cry out during testimony against bills her mom supports. Some people joke she should have her own City Hall ID. Sneed’s colleagues refer to the baby as the 16th member of the City Council.
“She’s a part of our family,” says City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “If you notice, everybody around tries to pitch in and help out with the baby. When Councilwoman Sneed tries to take her home, I say, ‘Where you taking her?’”
Baby Rae recently turned 1 and Sneed, a freshman council member, is reflecting on a whirlwind year in Council Chambers with her daughter often in tow.
Sneed decided that she would take her daughter to work with her when she learned how expensive child care is in Baltimore. Serving on the council, a part-time job, pays $67,000. Sneed worried she wouldn’t be able to make it work.
“A regular family can’t afford day care,” she lamented. Child care typically costs more than $16,000 in Baltimore — nearly 30 percent of the median family’s income, according to the Maryland Family Network.
Sneed says former Mayor Sheila Dixon and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young supported and encouraged her. Dixon told her that she brought her own kids to City Hall, and Young suggested where to put a crib.
“I thought no way they’re going to allow this baby in City Hall,” Sneed recalls. “The Council President asked me, ‘Where’s the playpen? …. You can have her here.’
“That’s what made me feel comfortable. I thought, ‘You can do this.’”
Sneed says having her daughter by her side has caused her to advocate strongly for policies she thinks will help working families. She supported a bill requiring a $15 minimum hourly wage in the city and an investigation into a whether female city government workers were being paid equitably. She recently submitted a bill requiring many City Hall supervisors to live in Baltimore, which she hopes will keep more tax dollars in the city to pay for better schools.
Although fellow council members have been supportive, Sneed sometimes feels people are judging her for taking a baby to work meetings.
“Outside of the City Council and my community, folks look at me like: ‘Why is she bringing her baby? Why is her baby there’?” Sneed says. “I’m like, ‘Are they looking at me weird because I have my baby at a meeting?’ To me, it’s like, ‘C’mon, I have my vote sheet set. Let’s go.’”
Martha McKenna is board chairwoman of Emerge Maryland, which encourages and trains women to go into politics.
She says Sneed might be at the forefront of a nascent trend of women taking their children into the workplace.
“I give Shannon a ton of credit,” McKenna says. “It’s one thing to have moms on the council. There have been many moms on the Baltimore City Council. But I can’t think of another baby in almost any other workplace who is around as much as Rae is.
“Shannon is really kind of a pioneer. She’s in the early years of bringing her child to work with her every day. I think she deserves a lot of credit for forging her own path.”
Sneed is, of course, not the only young mom — or young parent — in Maryland politics.
Del. Ariana Kelly, chairwoman of the Maryland Women's Legislative Caucus, credits mothers such as Sneed with being role models for younger women — just as an earlier generation of women politicians were for her.
“We’re all standing on each other’s shoulders,” the Montgomery County Democrat says. “I used to knock on doors and be told by so many people, ‘Why aren’t you home with your kids? Women have been fighting for this since the 1970s. Role modeling is very important for the next generation of little girls.”
State Del. Brooke E. Lierman has a 5-year-old son, Teddy, and recently gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. The Baltimore Democrat, who has been campaigning to retain her seat in Southeast Baltimore, knocked on doors in the summer heat until the day before she gave birth.
Lierman says having young children has encouraged her in her work on child care affordability.
“Having a small inquisitive child has made me hyper aware,” she says. “I have this increased sense of urgency about making our neighborhoods safer and cleaner and our schools worthy of every child in the city, including mine.”
“Little Rae and Teddy and my new little girl will all be really proud of their moms someday,” she says. “Even though we may miss some of their soccer practices.”
Sneed learned she was pregnant soon after she was laid off from her job at the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, and while campaigning for the City Council. After she won, she and her husband agreed that they would take turns watching the baby.
That wasn’t too hard when Rae was a newborn and slept frequently during council meetings. When Rae would cry during an important meeting, someone would always step in to help.
“It always seems like someone in the community or audience says, “Can I take her? Can I hold her?’ ” Sneed says. “It’s always worked out. She starts squirming and someone will volunteer to hold her.”
City Council members sometimes compete to hold Rae.
“Baby Rae has better attendance than some previous council people for sure,” says Councilman Brandon Scott.
“Having Bay Rae around is great,” he says. “I’ll often take Baby Rae and have her walking around City Hall. For me, there’ll be days when I get frustrated or angry but when I see Rae all that goes away. She’s always happy to see you; she smiles and she brightens up your day.”
Sneed says she hopes her experience will encourage other young moms to run for office.
“Give it up to our husbands who hold it down,” she jokes.
Now that Rae is talking and walking Sneed says she’s starting to look for regular child care. The cost of day care is lower for older children.
“This probably cannot last,” she says.
Sneed says juggling her first year on the job with her daughter’s first year of life has been difficult, but worth it.
“It’s perseverance,” she says. “The day may start a little earlier and the night goes longer, but we’re making it through.”