Baltimore mayoral candidate state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh has more than twice as much campaign money on hand for her mayoral campaign as frontrunner Sheila Dixon — a total she says makes her a serious challenger to the former mayor.
"Absolutely, I think we're within striking distance," Pugh said as campaign finance reports were filed Wednesday. "Our message is resonating: The city needs someone with honesty, integrity and experience. I know we can win this race."
With three months to go before the Democratic primary, Pugh reported $664,000 available to spend. Dixon reported $320,000.
Businessman David L. Warnock, who has been lagging in early polls, has $927,000, after lending his campaign nearly $1 million.
Lawyer Elizabeth Embry had $393,000 on hand. City Councilman Nick J. Mosby reported $203,000 on hand. Councilman Carl Stokes reported $155,000.
The Dixon campaign said the former mayor had received hundreds of small donations from supporters.
"This campaign is fueled by grass roots support within the Baltimore community," Anthony Jones, Dixon's campaign manager, said in a statement. "Forty percent of our donors — over 300 people — gave small-dollar donations below $50. This report confirms Sheila Dixon's strong base of support, and we will have the resources to grow that support and mobilize voters" before the Democratic primary April 26.
Dixon, who resigned as mayor in 2010 as part of a plea deal to resolve corruption charges, raised $420,000 in the past year. That included $6,000 from construction contractor Pless B. Jones, $4,000 from plumbing and heating contractor Robert E. Harrington and $1,000 from political kingmaker Richard O. Berndt.
A survey conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies from Jan. 11 through Jan. 17 showed Dixon leading the race with 27 percent of respondents saying they would vote for her. She was followed by Pugh at 18 percent and Stokes at 14 percent. Mosby was in fourth with 7 percent, followed by Embry and Warnock with 5 percent each. About 21 percent of those polled said they were undecided.
Gonzales' poll results were similar to a November survey conducted for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore that showed Dixon leading Pugh by 11 points.
Incumbent Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is not seeking re-election.
Pugh's $647,000 in donations came from a mix of donors in Baltimore, the state and places as far away as Texas, Vermont and Georgia. Among her contributions: $24,000 donated in one day last week from four people with the last name Cignarale: Arianna Cignarale and Michael Cignarale of TBA Marketing, Armando Cignarale of Cignal Corp. and Maria Cignarale, a homemaker from Lutherville.
Pugh received $2,000 from lawyer William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. and his firm, $2,000 from real estate developer the Woda Group and $1,000 from contractor Veolia.
Pugh also received $6,250 — above the legal limit of $6,000 — from Betty Clark, who listed an affiliation with the Baltimore schools system. Pugh opened a boutique in Pigtown with a retired special-education teacher named Betty Clark.
Pugh said the campaign has returned $250 to Clark.
Veteran political analyst Charles D. Ellison noted that much of Pugh's financial support comes from outside the city. She is the president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, and she was invited last year to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
The money "could potentially give Senator Pugh an advantage," Ellison said. "But some of her support seems somewhat establishment-based and non-grass roots. Dixon is viewed as more of the grass roots candidate."
Pugh, who helped found the Baltimore Running Festival and the Baltimore Design School, said her leadership experience is attracting the donations. She acknowledged raising money from out of state, but says that's simply part of a strategy to win.
"I will fundraise every opportunity I get. There is grass roots support, too," she said. "It's a variety. It's across the board."
With more than $1.3 million raised, including the $950,000 loan to his campaign, Warnock also has the opportunity to raise his profile considerably in Baltimore, said Sean Yoes, who hosts the "First Edition" radio show on WEAA. Warnock has begun running a television advertisement that depicts him arriving in Baltimore in an old pickup truck with student loans before he became a success in business.
"Money is the great equalizer," Yoes said.
"He can keep pounding ads with him and that truck," Yoes said. "I think $1 million is going to push him up past people who are ahead of him now."
Warnock's $360,000 includes contributions from Florida, Texas and Tennessee, but also from Baltimore, including a $1,000 check from developer Thomas S. Bozzuto and $250 from former school board president Shanaysha Sauls.
Embry reported raising $415,000, including a $6,000 transfer from former Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, $1,000 from former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs and $1,000 from anti-lead-poisoning advocate Ruth Ann Norton.
Mosby raised $320,000, including a $6,000 transfer from his wife, State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, more than $8,000 from 13 political action committees and a $500 donation from actor Josh Charles.
Many of Mosby's donations came in small denominations: $10, $25 and $50. He collected a couple of dozen from Georgia and some donations from other out-of-state locations including New York City and Boston, his wife's hometown.
Among his notable contributors were $2,000 from lobbyist Frank Boston and donations from members of the state's attorney's office in Baltimore. Janice Bledsoe, a lead prosecutor on the Freddie Gray case, gave $1,400.
Stokes, who raised $180,000 in the past year, received $2,000 from the Baltimore police union and $2,000 from businessman Ken Banks.
Several other city races were turning into expensive affairs, reports filed Wednesday show.
In Southeast Baltimore's 1st District City Council race, two Democrats — Zeke Cohen and Scott Goldman — each reported more than $100,000 on hand. A third, Mark Edelson, reported $90,000 on hand.
In North Baltimore's 4th District, challenger Brian Hammock has nearly five times as much cash — $100,000 — as incumbent Bill Henry, who reported $20,000. In East Baltimore's 13th District, challenger Shannon Sneed has about twice as much in campaign funds as incumbent Warren Branch: $44,000 to $21,000.
In South Baltimore's 11th District, incumbent Eric T. Costello reported $96,000 on hand, more than challengers Dea Thomas ($32,000) and Greg Sileo ($29,000) combined.
Bernard C. "Jack" Young, the incumbent council president, reported $722,000 on hand. Comptroller Joan Pratt has $217,000, and a slate of incumbent Baltimore circuit judges has $182,000.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the council president donated $3,000 to Stokes' mayoral campaign. That transfer was made during Stokes' race for City Council last election cycle.
Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.