Asking Baltimore to help him "write the greatest turnaround story in America," venture capitalist and philanthropist David L. Warnock officially announced his campaign for mayor Monday night.
Warnock, 57, a wealthy partner in one of Baltimore's largest private-equity firms, described himself as a political outsider with the business acumen and nonprofit experience the city needs in what he called "the most important election in a generation."
The former chairman of the Center for Urban Families, which has helped thousands of ex-offenders find jobs, and the Greater Baltimore Committee, a business group, said the April unrest inspired him to step down from those positions and throw his hat into the crowded 2016 mayoral ring.
"The people involved in the uprising were looking to be heard, they were looking to have a future, they were looking for some economic stability, they were looking for a place to work," Warnock said. "When I saw our city erupt last spring, I knew I had to do more."
He said he wants to build a government that will earn the respect of its citizens by undertaking the first audit of every city agency since William Donald Schaefer was mayor.
Warnock hopes to leverage Baltimore's technology and start-up companies to better innovate, and create a "modified Red Line" that would run aboveground from Baltimore County to Lexington Market to improve access to jobs. He said he'd also like to see police living in the city.
"We must be proud to be from the most unique, edgy — and let's admit it — the coolest city in America," he said. "Baltimore holds great promise."
He founded Green Street Academy, a West Baltimore charter school, and the Warnock Foundation, which primarily funds improved education and job creation.
He said he would continue his work toward automatic expungement of charges that resulted in no conviction, which could allow more ex-offenders an opportunity to enter the workforce.
Warnock faces several challenges in his bid, most notably a relatively low profile, in the crowded Democratic field seeking to replace departing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. That field includes former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, and City Councilmen Nick J. Mosby and Carl Stokes.
He told the roughly 200 people at his Lexington Market rally his story of driving to Baltimore in 1983 in a Chevrolet pickup, weighed down by student loans, for a job at T. Rowe Price.
When he was 30, Warnock said, he mentored an East Baltimore teenager whose mother had drug problems and father wasn't around. The boy ended up in the drug trade anyway and went to prison after a shooting, Warnock said, which taught him a lesson about the extent of the city's challenges.
"I learned from him just how hard and how complicated it is to truly change lives," he said.
Afterward, he acknowledged the struggle his campaign will face: a long, uphill battle to introduce him — a white, wealthy businessman — to thousands of Baltimoreans who have never heard of him.
"If you think about the programs I'm talking about — economic inclusion, creating jobs, focusing on education, the things I've dedicated my life to — those aren't black or white issues," Warnock said. "Those are issues that are driving Baltimore forward. I think people are hungry for change. And I think people have a keen eye for authenticity."