Antonio Hayes, a first-term state delegate from West Baltimore, says he’ll challenge Sen. Barbara A. Robinson for the seat formerly held by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh.
Hayes said he will return Saturday to his old neighborhood in Penn North to lay out his plan to take on Robinson in next year’s June 26 Democratic primary, which is tantamount to election in the 40th District.
“I want to bring new energy to the district,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “I think I have enthusiasm, a vision and accomplishment.”
The race amounts to a generational challenge in a city that could see several of them next year. Hayes is 39. Robinson, who served 10 years in the House of Delegates, declines to reveal her age, but public records show she is 79.
Four of the senators who represent Baltimore are over 70, and all are likely to face primary challenges from younger rivals. Besides Robinson, they are Sens. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, 78; Nathaniel McFadden, who turns 71 Thursday; and Nathaniel Oaks, 70. Oaks, a former delegate who was appointed to his seat this year, could be especially vulnerable because he is under federal indictment on corruption charges. Among his possible rivals is former Mayor Sheila Dixon, 63, who says she undecided but not ruling out a race.
The second-youngest senator in the delegation is Joan Carter Conway at 66. Conway, who as a standing committee chairman is Baltimore’s most powerful senator, could face a challenge from Del. Mary Washington, 55. Washington said she has been urged to consider a race and is thinking about it whether Conway runs again or not. Conway, who raised doubts at the end of this year’s session about whether she would return to the Senate, now says she’s “99.9 percent sure” she will seek re-election.
Nathan-Pulliam, whose district lies mostly in Baltimore County, has filed for re-election but has been in poor health, prompting colleagues to speculate she might not run. She has already drawn a younger challenger in Aletheia McCaskill, a child care provider and union activist who said she’s dismayed by Nathan-Pulliam’s votes to weaken the paid sick-leave bill that passed the General Assembly this year only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Nathan-Pulliam insisted Friday that she’s in the race to stay.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, who represents South and Southeast Baltimore, is the only Baltimore senator who is ineligible for Social Security. He is 34. Like all members of the city’s General Assembly delegation, he is a Democrat.
Robinson was appointed to her Senate seat by the 40th District Democratic State Central Committee in December after Pugh resigned to become mayor. She won over a field of applicants that included Hayes and Councilman Nick Mosby, who was later appointed to Robinson’s House seat.
Robinson said she’s “absolutely, completely” in the Senate race to stay. She said she found the challenge from one of the district’s three delegates “disappointing.”
“I kind of wished we had stayed on as a team to run together, but he's learning and I would be a great teacher,” she said.
Robinson discounted age as a factor in the race.
“We didn't get here overnight," she said. “We have experience. We have wisdom. We have know-how.”
Her challenger is one of several young city delegates sent to Annapolis in the 2014 election. At least one other member of that class, Del. Cory McCray of the 45th, who is 34, said he is about 90 percent sure he will challenge his senator, McFadden.
“My senator was first elected in 1982 to the City Council,” McCray said. “So my senator has held elected office as long as I’ve been born.”
Hayes said he will provide a contrast with Robinson on issues including bail reform. Robinson voted for the Senate bill favored by the bail bond industry. Hayes supported the Legislative Black Caucus’ successful effort to kill it in the House.
Robinson said she did not want to discuss that bill, saying her record could not be defined by one piece of legislation.
More than issues, Hayes said, he plans to emphasize a broad message of change.
“Folks are frustrated with the status quo,” he said. “They want to see folks who are responsive to the issues that they care about.”
Among those issues is crime in a city that appears on track to set a new annual record for homicides.
Hayes said he was an assistant mayor with responsibility for overseeing public safety in 2010-2011, when the the city’s homicide rate was much lower than it is now. He said he is qualified to advocate for changes at the state level to help the city.
“If the governor were to provide those resources again, we could see some positive results,” he said
Other challengers could still emerge. Mosby said this week that he is “authentically undecided” on whether to try for a Senate seat or to run for his House seat.
“I’m just focused on learning the district,” Mosby said.
Del. Curt Anderson of the 43rd District, who supports Conway for re-election, said there can be a downside to any voter purge of the city’s veteran senators. He noted that some the incumbents have accumulated a lot of seniority.
“We only have five full-time senators in Baltimore, and they’ve all got to be sharp and be in the back room when the deals are cut,” said Anderson, who is 67.