My take-away from the Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll on the candidates who have lined up to succeed Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as the city’s next mayor: If the young voters of Baltimore want to see new and dynamic leadership at City Hall, they need to identify and rally behind a candidate who represents real change.
Unless, of course, they think Sheila Dixon represents change enough.
Right now, Dixon, the former mayor, is the strongest candidate in the crowded field because she’s the best known and because many older Baltimoreans, those who reliably vote in primary elections, apparently have a positive memory of her, despite the shameful way she left office in 2010.
Seventy-five percent of likely primary voters surveyed for the poll were 50 or older, and more than half of the voters in that group were 65 or older.
Why? OpinionWorks president Steve Raabe, who conducted the poll, says the sample represents his best estimate of what the voter age breakdown would be in a low-turnout primary.
Baltimore’s primary will be on April 26, the same day of the statewide and presidential primaries. That’s almost a year to day from the rioting that broke out in West Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray.
Raabe might be correct that voter turnout will likely be low for a city primary never before held in April. But my instinct tells me a lot of people are going to want to have a say in who gets to lead Baltimore out of one of the worst periods in the city’s history.
Certainly a lot of Democrats are interested in being mayor — 13 so far.
Dixon, who turns 62 next month, has the edge, according to the poll. She was in City Hall for more than two decades. She was a City Council member from West Baltimore from 1987 until 1999. She won a citywide election as City Council president in 1999 and served in that position until 2007.
In those 20 years, Dixon had plenty of opportunities to make lasting impressions with constituent service, which is the primary thing people remember about their council representative. A lot of 50-and-over voters — those who lived in Dixon's old council district in West Baltimore and those who regard her 2007-2010 run in the mayor’s office as a pretty good one — appear likely to vote for her again.
As for the offense that ended Dixon’s career, it’s apparently not a deal-breaker.
Those who have a positive memory of the pretrial Dixon seem to be willing to overlook her ethical lapses and give her another chance. They might also regard Dixon’s theft of gift cards as no big deal, or at least a forgivable offense. In Our City of Perpetual Recovery, second chances are valued and promoted; redemption is not merely a concept, but something real in people’s lives. That works in Dixon’s favor, too.
So, based on the poll, people in this town want someone familiar as their next mayor; they want someone who already has held the office.
But the poll shows a big chunk (27 percent) of Democrats to be undecided.
The primary election is less than six months away but, aside from announcing their candidacies, the others in the field have so far done little to distinguish or brand themselves.
If younger voters want someone new and different, they will have to come out in force and rally behind one of the other candidates, someone they perceive as a change agent. That person has not yet identified herself or himself. Is it Nick Mosby, still in his first term in City Council? He does well among voters younger than 35, but overall garnered only 10 percent of voters in the survey, behind state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (13 percent) and fellow Councilman Carl Stokes (11 percent).
The freshest faces in the field, former prosecutor Elizabeth Embry and businessman David Warnock, pulled only 12 percent between them. They all have a long way to go to catch Dixon, who was favored by 24 percent of those surveyed in the poll.
Recently, Ben Jealous, the 42-year-old former president of the National Association of Colored People, sat down for a wide-ranging interview for my Roughly Speaking podcast. Last summer, Jealous told me he had decided not to run for mayor, preferring to stick with a job in “social impact investing” with Kapor Capital in Baltimore. The founders of the company, Silicon Valley power couple Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, pledged $40 million to make tech entrepreneurship more inclusive of women and minorities.
Jealous loves the job, but people in Baltimore are still talking to him about running for mayor.
In this month’s interview, which will be available to listeners on Monday, Jealous said he had not fully ruled out a run. He also said this: “When I look at the [mayoral] primary and who’s likely to come out of it, I just see an extension of the status quo, and this is a moment when we can’t afford the status quo.”
Interviews with candidates Pugh and Stokes also will be available soon in upcoming episodes of Roughly Speaking.