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Police union won't endorse candidate in Baltimore mayoral primary

FOP Lodge No. 3 President Gene Ryan speaks during a news conference following the announcement of charges against six police officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. The union is not endorsing a candidate in the upcoming mayoral primary.
FOP Lodge No. 3 President Gene Ryan speaks during a news conference following the announcement of charges against six police officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. The union is not endorsing a candidate in the upcoming mayoral primary. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

The union that represents thousands of current and retired Baltimore police officers will not endorse a candidate in the city's mayoral primary.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 said Monday that its leadership team and election committee spent much of the last month meeting with candidates, and that "the dialogue that ensued was both important and worthwhile." However, it will not be endorsing a mayoral candidate or a candidate for City Council president in the April 26 primary.

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Kim Deachilla, an FOP spokeswoman, said "it just is not in our best interest right now to endorse a candidate" in the races, though it is "definitely a possibility" that the union could endorse candidates in the general election.

The FOP's endorsement in years past has been highly sought by candidates seeking to craft tough-on-crime reputations. However, after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray last April from injuries suffered in police custody, the most prominent mayoral candidates have been critical of the Police Department and focused their crime proposals as much on police reform and accountability as on crime initiatives.

None publicly sought the FOP endorsement, though Deachilla said that several of the candidates "jumped on" the opportunity to chat with the union as it went about vetting the candidates. She declined to name those candidates.

"There were some who were definitely seeking to have a conversation with us," she said. "They weren't all turning their backs on us."

Candidates expressed mixed thoughts.

DeRay Mckesson, a nationally known police reform activist who is running for mayor, said he did not seek the FOP's endorsement and that such an endorsement would "only hurt the candidate, given the FOP's lack of acknowledgment of the seriousness of police reform."

Businessman David Warnock said he had sought the FOP's endorsement because the city's next mayor "must work collaboratively with law enforcement to make Baltimore safer."

Other candidates did not respond to a request for comment or avoided the question of whether they had sought the endorsement.

"The police need to stay focused on the task at hand, which is keeping the streets of Baltimore safe," said former mayor Sheila Dixon in a statement.

There are 29 candidates running for mayor. The candidate who wins the Democratic primary would be the heavy favorite to be the next mayor, as Democrats far outnumber Republicans among registered city voters.

The union also did not endorse a candidate in the last mayoral election in 2011, which was won by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. They have supported Rawlings-Blake financially in past years but also clashed with her over certain issues, including pension benefits.

More recently, the union has slammed city leaders for their handling of the unrest after Gray's death, and the mayor has responded by accusing the union of contributing to tensions in the city rather than to its recovery.

In October, Rawlings-Blake said she had tried to nudge the organization toward supporting reform, but union officials had resisted.

"I don't know, based on the rhetoric they've been spewing in Baltimore, who would want the endorsement of the FOP," Rawlings-Blake said then. "I think the actions of our police union, and many across the country, have really devalued the power of that union."

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Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local union, responded at the time by saying the union had discussed reforms but didn't feel it had a partner at City Hall. He declined to comment on the new endorsement decisions.

Deachilla said although many union members don't live in the city and can't vote in the city elections, the union's input is still valuable and important. "What it does is signal to those residents who have an interest in the public safety platform where we are coming from."

The FOP has not made any financial contributions to candidates in the mayoral race, but could moving forward, Deachilla said.

In other races, the FOP endorsed Joan M. Pratt for comptroller and every sitting incumbent on the City Council who is up for re-election, except for Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and 4th District Councilman Bill Henry. It made no endorsement in the council president race, and endorsed Brian Hammock, a Democrat and resident vice president for CSX Transportation, over Henry. Henry said the union has never endorsed him, in part because he has been critical of the Police Department's budget.

It endorsed labor organizer Jermaine Jones in the 3rd District; Betsy Gardner, a neighborhood liaison for Young, in the 5th District; and community organizer Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th District.

It made no endorsements in the 1st, 7th and 12th districts, and did not endorse any judges.

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