David L. Warnock, the Baltimore venture capitalist and philanthropist, is entering the mayor's race — arguing that his business background and political inexperience are positives for a city in desperate need of job growth and a fresh start.
"We are going to have another uprising if we can't figure out how to create jobs and economic opportunity for the people who are the least fortunate among us," said Warnock, a partner in one of Baltimore's largest private equity firms whose charitable work includes helping ex-offenders.
"I'm the one guy that's been in the business of creating jobs over the last 15 or 20 years. I really think that can distinguish me."
Warnock, 57, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that he plans to formally file to run for mayor as a Democrat Tuesday. He will join a crowded field seeking to replace Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is not seeking re-election.
With his wealth and business connections, Warnock's entrance could put pressure on the field to ramp up fundraising efforts. He also represents an outsider among politicians.
Other announced candidates include former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, and City Councilmen Nick J. Mosby and Carl Stokes, all Democrats.
The Democratic primary, which has decided who becomes Baltimore's mayor in recent elections because of the party's 10-to-1 advantage over Republicans in the number of registered voters, is scheduled for April 26.
That's about one year after the unrest that gripped Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.
Warnock said his experience in the city has given him insight into the city's social ills; he is the founder of a West Baltimore charter school, Green Street Academy, and the Warnock Foundation, which funds efforts to improve education, create jobs and other initiatives.
Nina Therese Kasniunas, a political science associate professor at Goucher College, said Warnock has low name recognition in Baltimore but could increase that through advertising and campaigning.
"He is someone who has significant fundraising potential," she said. "We know about his own deep pockets and his connections to the foundation world and the business world."
She also said race could play a role in the election because Warnock, a white man, is running in a city where a majority of residents are African-American. She noted the other high-profile candidates are all black, which could play to Warnock's advantage.
"As most Baltimoreans probably realize, race matters, even if we don't want to admit that," she said. "You have several strong African-American candidates who could split the vote."
Catalina Byrd, a Baltimore political consultant who worked for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's gubernatorial campaign, pointed out that former Mayor Martin O'Malley was able to win as a white man in a majority black city. But she said O'Malley was helped by the endorsement of Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings — father of the current mayor.
"Who would be his black ambassador?" Byrd asked of Warnock. "I'm not sure he has one."
Even so, Rawlings-Blake's departure from the field creates a "void that everyone is running to try to fill," she said. "It's anybody's race."
Warnock said he believed voters would judge him by his qualifications, not his skin color.
"I would rather be looked at as the most qualified candidate," he said.
Warnock, who has three children, lived in Baltimore in the 1980s and 1990s before moving to Baltimore County. He returned to downtown in December, buying a $1.7 million condominium at the Ritz-Carlton Residences.
While the median income in Baltimore is far below the national average, Warnock said he does not believe city voters will hold his personal wealth against him.
"I think Baltimore likes winners," Warnock said. "I've made a lot of money. It's time for me to make a lot of change."
Since 1999, Warnock has been a trustee and board chairman for the Center for Urban Families, which has helped thousands of ex-offenders find jobs. He also is chairman of the board of the pro-business Greater Baltimore Committee. Warnock said he is stepping down from those positions to run for mayor.
Kevin Shird, a Baltimore-based youth advocate, said he met Warnock in 2008 when he was feeding ex-offenders recently released from prison.
"I said to myself, 'Why is this white guy in West Baltimore feeding guys who are just out of prison and their families?'" Shird recalls. "I can definitely support him, because I've seen him in action."
A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Warnock holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware and a master's from the University of Wisconsin.
Warnock says he drove to Baltimore in 1983 in a Chevy pickup, saddled with an array of student loans, to work for T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based money management company.
"The student loans are paid off, but I still have the pickup truck," he said.
He began mentoring a young man in East Baltimore, who ended up going to prison after a fatal shooting. That experience shook him, he said, and he began exploring ways to have a bigger impact in the city.
Warnock helped found the Green Street Academy in 2010, and it now serves about 650 students. Many of them face challenges such as learning disabilities or impoverished upbringings. The school — where students raise tilapia and chickens and grow vegetables in a greenhouse — is in high demand, Warnock said.
"We're one of the highest-chosen middle schools in Baltimore City," Warnock said.
If elected, Warnock said, he would fund immediate audits of all city agencies, demand developers build recreation centers if they want city subsidies — such as tax-increment financing deals that have drawn criticism — and advocate for a modified Red Line light rail project to connect the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn with Lexington Market.
"The mayor's office needs to be not where great ideas go to die, but where great ideas go to flourish," Warnock said.
Warnock said he is planning his campaign kickoff for Nov. 23.
Other Democrats in the race include Richard Black, Mack Clifton, Joshua S. Harris, Mike Maraziti and Calvin Allen Young III. One Republican, Brian Charles Vaeth, has filed to run.
David L. Warnock
Job: Senior partner at Camden Partners, one of Baltimore's largest private equity firms; former president of T. Rowe Price Strategic Partners
Experience: Co-founder Green Street Academy, chairman and founder of the Warnock Foundation. Also served as chair of the board of the Greater Baltimore Committee and board chairman at the Center for Urban Families.
Education: Bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware and a master's in finance from the University of Wisconsin
Residence: Inner Harbor
Family: Separated, with three adult children