Standing on the steps of City College High School, attorney Elizabeth Embry said Friday that she wants to put the lessons of "hustle and hard work" learned at her alma mater to work as Baltimore's next mayor, promising to work to end city violence, expand the economy and strengthen public schools.
Describing herself as a "daughter of Baltimore," the 38-year-old Waverly resident said she wants to continue her family's dedication to public service. Her father, Robert C. Embry Jr., was a city councilman, school board president and housing commissioner who now runs the Abell Foundation. Her mother, Mary Ann, has promoted arts education.
"I seek to serve the city I love because this moment is too important to lose any more ground," she said.
Embry becomes the 11th candidate to join the race in the Democratic primary, which for decades has determined the mayor thanks to the party's 10-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans. While her name recognition and political experience are limited, some observers said Embry could run as an outsider candidate in a year when voters may be looking for change.
The crowded field includes several Democrats with better name recognition or longer political resumes, including former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Councilman Nick J. Mosby and Councilman Carl Stokes. Businessman David L. Warnock brings deep pockets to the race.
Since January, Embry has been chief of the criminal division for the Maryland office of the attorney general. Previously, she was a top deputy to then-Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein. She also has served as a felony prosecutor, as acting director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice and as an assistant city solicitor.
Embry said she's worked "in the trenches" and never sought the spotlight before.
"Make no mistake: I am not a politician. I am a public servant who has spent my entire life earning and keeping the public's trust," she said.
Nina Therese Kasiunas, an associate professor of political science at Goucher College, said Embry's family name is well-known in some circles in Baltimore, particularly because of her father's work.
"People who have been around Baltimore for a while will recognize her last name because they recognize Bob Embry, who was a pretty important figure for a while," Kasiunas said. "There is an older demographic that will probably have recognition of the name Embry."
For younger voters, though, Embry will have to work to get her name and message out, Kasiunas said.
Embry acknowledged she's not well known across the city.
"Because I am not a politician, you may not know my name yet. You may not know my story yet," she said. "But you will."
Her experience in local and state government and family connections may help with fundraising and recruiting campaign volunteers, said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University.
"She'll be a strong candidate," Crenson said.
With government experience, Embry can say she understands how the system works and express ideas to make it better, Kasiunas said. But without previously having held elected office, she can also stake a claim as an outsider — taking advantage of a trend among voters.
"I do think there's a desire for something different," Kasiunas said. "We're seeing it not just in Baltimore, we're seeing it in all levels of government. She's an interesting addition to the race."
Embry cares deeply about Baltimore, said Bernstein, who recruited her to work in his office. He said she developed a diversion program for prostitutes to get them help instead of sending them to jail. She also oversaw animal abuse cases and worked to improve the juvenile system.
"She bleeds public service," said Bernstein, now in private practice. "She has spent her entire professional career working behind the scenes to improve the lives of all Baltimore citizens."
Stephen H. Sachs, a former state attorney general, said it took him "about 30 seconds" to decide to support Embry's campaign. He's known her family for years, but also has watched her legal career blossom. Sachs said Embry is "extraordinarily capable" and represents a new generation of leaders for Baltimore.
Embry sketched her platform in broad themes Friday during her campaign launch but provided few specifics. She said in an interview that she'd roll out detailed policy proposals later in the campaign.
Embry said she'd been weighing whether to run for months and finally decided she could make a difference in her hometown.
"Watching the way that things in the city have been going, it's been incredibly depressing," she said in an interview.
In her speech, Embry focused on city violence. She noted that when she was with the state's attorney's office, homicides had dropped to fewer than 200 per year, while arrests also declined— "proving that public safety does not require mass arrests or zero tolerance," she said to a round of applause.
"We must and we will end the daily killings on our streets," she said.
On Thursday, the city's 289th homicide victim was found in the 400 block of Grantley Road in the East Arlington neighborhood.
Embry also talked about economic disparities, saying that from one neighborhood to the next, residents have vastly different opportunities for education, job training and employment. She said some children born in North Korea or Syria may have better chances of success in life than children from some Baltimore neighborhoods.
Embry promised to "dismantle pockets of poverty," improve transportation and "rationalize" taxes.
She referred to themes of two previous mayors who were also City College graduates: Kurt L. Schmoke, who contends that the war on drugs failed, and William Donald Schaefer, who famously espoused a "do it now" philosophy.
The Democratic primary is April 26. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced in September that she would not run for re-election.
Other Democratic candidates include Richard Black, Mack Clifton, Joshua S. Harris, Mike Maraziti and Calvin Allen Young III.
On the Republican side, one candidate has filed to run, Brian Charles Vaeth.
With so many people running for mayor, it may be difficult for voters to choose which candidate to support, Crenson said. But the large field could make it easier for an outsider candidate to win because the vote will be splintered. He believes even more candidates could join the race for mayor.
"As the number of candidates increases, the number of votes needed to win the primary goes down," Crenson said. "The downside is that when a mayor comes into office with only a small minority in support, that may have some effect on the mayor's ability to deal with the City Council. There's no real mandate."
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Justin Fenton and Yvonne Wenger and researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
Job: Chief of the criminal division for the Maryland attorney general's office
Experience: Top deputy to then-Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, felony prosecutor for Baltimore City state's attorney's office, acting director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, assistant city solicitor
Education: City College High School, Yale University, Columbia University School of Law