Some in city hoping for more choices in mayor's race

On Facebook, there's a "Draft Jill Carter For Mayor" group with more than 2,000 members. City residents are getting telephone calls asking whether they'd support Councilman Nick Mosby for mayor. And both state Sen. Catherine Pugh and Councilman Carl Stokes say they are seriously considering getting into the race to become Baltimore's chief executive.

Even though the campaign for Baltimore mayor includes two well-known candidates — incumbent Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former Mayor Sheila Dixon — who won the office handily in the past, others are still considering a run. Some business and political leaders are hoping voters will be offered another choice, saying Rawlings-Blake and Dixon are both weighed down by political baggage.


David C. Troy, a software developer from Bolton Hill and frequent critic of Rawlings-Blake, said some in the business community have lost confidence in the mayor's ability to run the city after rioting broke out in April following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody.

"A lot of business people are kind of at their wits' end with the present leadership," Troy said. "That community is definitely looking for someone else, but I don't think they want a Sheila Dixon. We need something better than what's presently on the table."


Several prominent city business leaders have quietly held meetings in recent weeks to discuss whether other candidates should be encouraged to enter the race, according to people who attended.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who once campaigned for Dixon, said he's hoping the field will grow.

"A variety of voices in the conversation is only a good thing for democracy in our city," said Ferguson, who is not planning to run. "The more visions we have competing, ideally the best vision for city residents will prevail."

Candidates have until Feb. 3 to file to run, but in political terms, time in short. The Democratic primary — which for decades has determined Baltimore's mayor — is April 26, just eight months from now.

Dixon and Rawlings-Blake were elected mayor in 2007 and 2011, respectively, in crowded fields. Each won more than twice as many votes as her closest rival. Each showed significant fundraising prowess, with Dixon spending $1.4 million and Rawlings-Blake more than $2 million And each counts a number of successes in office.

Dixon presided over a reduction in crime and implemented the popular Charm City Circulator bus service and an easy-to-use recycling program.

Under Rawlings-Blake, homicides dropped to their lowest level in modern history before rising recently, unemployment dropped by a third and property taxes have been cut by about 6 percent for owner-occupied homes.

But Dixon was forced to resign from office for taking about $500 in gift cards intended for needy families, and Rawlings-Blake has been weakened politically due to April's rioting and subsequent crime surge, political analysts say.


Dixon, who recently apologized for her crime, said she would prefer if more candidates didn't enter the race but argues that she will be the most qualified no matter what.

"I would not like them to, but it's a democratic society," Dixon said of other candidates. "They probably feel the way I feel: that they can do a better job. Despite what some people might think, my administration ran the city in a very positive way and created a lot of great results. There's no learning curve for me."

Rawlings-Blake has defended her handling of the riots, arguing that the unrest could have been much worse. Her campaign spokesman, David S. Kosak, said the mayor is proud of her record.

"She's looking forward to this campaign being a thoughtful, robust debate of the direction that the city should head in," he said. "We're proud of our record of building new rec centers and getting money for new school construction."

One candidate has already filed to run against Rawlings-Blake and Dixon: Mack Clifton, a minister and author who has written about the plight of homeless veterans in Baltimore.

On Thursday, both Pugh and Stokes said they would announce their intentions shortly.


"Business people and community leaders have approached me and asked me to run," said Pugh, who finished second to Rawlings-Blake in the 2011 race. "I'll have an announcement coming soon."

Stokes, who in 1999 ran for mayor and was favored to win before losing to Martin O'Malley, said he's close to making a decision, too.

"I feel very strongly that many aspects of city life are broken and disappointing to everyday residents and business owners," Stokes said.

Tony DeFranco, a state lawyer who lives downtown, said he recently was called for a telephone poll and asked questions about Mosby. The pollster asked DeFranco to rank Mosby against other candidates, and then provided biographical information about the councilman.

DeFranco, who worked for former mayoral candidate Keiffer Mitchell's campaign, said he voted for Rawlings-Blake in 2011 but was considering other candidates this year.

"I've always liked her," he said of Rawlings-Blake. "I think she has a very nice personality. But I don't feel she has attacked the city's problems with a sense of urgency."


Mosby on Thursday declined to comment on the poll or whether he was running, but said he believes people in Baltimore are hungry for change.

"People are eager to hear ideas that address the entrenched poverty that we see in certain parts of the city in a way that's not business as usual," he said. "Folks are desperately eager to see to change."

More than 2,600 people have joined a Facebook group encouraging Carter, a state delegate, to run for mayor. She ran and lost against Dixon in 2007.

A favorite of activists, Carter said she's "encouraged" by the support — and argued that only she represents a real alternative to Dixon and Rawlings-Blake.

"We can't expect to make progress in the future by looking backwards," she said. "The current mayor, the former mayor and the mayor before that, they're triplets when it comes to political policy. They all were invested in the policing strategies that resulted in the current completely dysfunctional relationship the police have with communities."

Also considering runs are Councilman Brandon Scott, businessman David L. Warnock, and author Wes Moore.


Scott said he would likely make a decision about his future steps by September. "There's not a day that goes by where people aren't asking me to run for one thing or another," he said.

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Warnock said he's still mulling a run, adding that polling suggests the race is open for a new candidate to win.

"There isn't a poll that doesn't suggest that voters are restive and hungry for change," he said.

Moore, who runs an educational program that helps high school students prepare for college, had categorically ruled out running in the past. On Thursday, he left the door open — slightly.

"I am humbled that my name continues to stay in this conversation," he said. "For now, I am focused on the good work of BridgeEdU and its mission."

The mayor's job pays $167,000 annually.