The thrill of victory and agony of defeat on election night: Inside Pugh and Dixon's parties
By KAREN HOUPPERT AND LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY
Apr 28, 2016 | 4:58 PM
On Tuesday, a teary-eyed State Sen. Catherine Pugh addressed her volunteers and supporters after squeaking out a narrow victory against former Mayor Sheila Dixon in the Democratic primary for mayor.
"Nobody gave this campaign a chance," Pugh said. "I couldn't even get a campaign manager until Feb. 1."
Pugh, who beat Dixon by less than 3,000 votes, referenced her years as a City Council member and State Senator saying, "Everything I have done to this point has prepared me for this moment."
She spoke to a diverse crowd of well-wishers in the Harbor Hotel ballroom. There were cabals of middle-aged people in power-suits, school children in "Vote for Pugh" t-shirts playing tag between camera crews (including Sonja Sohn's HBO team with its lurking boom-mic), local politicians like Councilman Brandon Scott working the room, and a slew of firefighters from Local 734 downing some brews after volunteering at the polls since 6 a.m.
Pugh's house-cleaner, Samuel Johnson, was there, holding his cell phone camera high to capture his boss at this historic moment as she stood on the stage surrounded by Del. Jill Carter, Rep. Elijah Cummings, activist Kwame Rose, and a collection of other supporters.
"It is wonderful that we are seeing change come to our city," Cummings told the audience. "We have been through a lot already."
Clearly, he was referencing the uprising and multiple challenges that were finally getting some attention in Baltimore, but it was also a nod to the mayoral race (and council races) that drew and unusually large crowd of candidates. Voters had 13 candidates to choose from in the mayor's race alone on Tuesday and votes cast ranged from a high of 46,036 for Pugh and a low of 68 for Wilton Wilson.
It was also an expensive race with, $5.6 million spent by the top seven candidates as of the latest April 15 filing, according to The Baltimore Sun, which crunched the numbers to find that Pugh spent $25 per vote compared to Dixon's $20, while millionaire David Warnock spent $240 per vote for his 10,094 votes. The last two months were a slog for candidates who had one or two mayoral forums or debates or town halls nearly every night—and faced a tough fight for attention and votes.
Pugh took the opportunity to urge unity in the days ahead. "We can do this and we will do it together."
Earlier in the night, over at Dixon's party at Game Sports Bar near the Horseshoe Casino, it was easy to see how much people loved her.
Did her past bother a supporter named Tina, who was standing outside of Game with a stack of Dixon literature?
"Oh heck no," she said. "There's worse things going on in the city than that." She said that Dixon had formed a connection to the city that no one else has.
Two women—Tonya and Debbie—sat at a table near the DJ booth. "It's her time. Sheila is such a people person and the people are going to put her back in office," Debbie said. "Sheila is trying to get back into office for us, for the people," Tonya said.
People partied and ate well into the night. It wasn't until Pugh appeared on the bar's large television screens that things started to take a turn for the melancholy. Dueling media reports said that Dixon had either called Pugh to concede or was waiting to see what the final election numbers would be—either way, she didn't make an appearance at the party until around 11 p.m.
"I'm not through yet," she told her supporters when she finally spoke.
After the speech, a large throng of Dixon faithful formed a semi-circle around her as she made her way to each media outlet that was there. One woman interrupted her conversation with City Paper to step toward her with her arms outstretched.
"I just want a hug," she said, embracing Dixon. Earlier that night, that woman was overheard saying, "Sheila got it. In the name of Jesus."
Dixon said that she already has another project in mind.
"I live in this city, I'm committed to this city, and I'm going to continue to work here in this city," she told City Paper. "I'm working on an initiative right now, an empowerment and wellness center in zone 17 so I'm going to put some emphasis and energy into that because it's about empowering people. I'm not going to go away, I'm not moving."