Rawlings-Blake gets Democratic nod

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake glided to victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday, securing the nomination for a full four-year term in the office to which she ascended last year.

In her first campaign for Baltimore's highest office, Rawlings-Blake turned aside spirited challenges from a state senator, a former city planner and the vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, scoring more endorsements, raising more money and ultimately garnering more votes than the rest of the field combined.

Despite the competition, voter turnout was historically low. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than nine to one, the primary win all but assures Rawlings-Blake of victory in the general election.

"Thank you for your confidence and your vote to have me continue as your mayor during these times. It is a humbling experience," Rawlings-Blake, 41, told supporters at a post-election celebration Tuesday night. "I will work every day to make your lives better, to make our city better and to earn your confidence."

She wished her opponents well.

"This campaign was good for our city," she told the crowd at Soundstage Baltimore, a downtown nightclub." It was a good race about issues and that people deserve the best from their government."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a staunch ally, proclaimed Rawlings-Blake's win "a tremendous victory for Baltimore." Rep. Elijah E. Cummings spoke of his pride in Rawlings-Blake, who he said was "like a daughter."

In the Republican primary, Alfred V. Griffin held a 22-vote lead over Vicki Ann Harding with 288 of 290 precincts having reported.

Rawlings-Blake was elevated to mayor in February 2010 after Sheila Dixon resigned in a plea deal to settle corruption charges. The fact that she wasn't elected to the office inspired an unusually high number of serious challengers.

But Democrats said her calm demeanor in the face of crises — the pair of blizzards that greeted her arrival in office, followed by two years of budget shortfalls and, most recently, a hurricane and an earthquake — inspired their confidence.

"I want to give her a full term," Angela Lyles, 46, said after voting in East Baltimore. "She needs to get a fair chance."

Democratic voters also backed City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who was appointed by his colleagues after Rawlings-Blake became mayor. Young trounced a field that included Thomas Kiefaber, the former owner of theSenator Theater.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley, former Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers and Clerk of Court Frank M. Conaway Sr. sought to turn the mayoral primary into a referendum on Rawlings-Blake's leadership.

The challengers tried to paint her as the latest representative of an establishment that had been unable to make the city safe, maintain the public schools or grow the economy. They said she was too tightly allied with the wealthy developers who backed her campaign, and lacked the political independence to reverse decades of decline.

But the field split the anti-incumbent vote, bolstering Rawlings-Blake.

"It sort of chops up the vote into little slivers of the pie," said Lenneal Henderson, senior fellow in the William Donald Schaefer School of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

Pugh, who came in second to Rawlings-Blake, struck a defiant tone before a crowd of about 200 supporters.

"We believe leadership needs to listen," Pugh said. "We can do better, and the reality is we have to do better."

Pugh told reporters her campaign "didn't have enough time" to get out its message.

"We entered the race knowing we were climbing uphill," she said.

Pugh, who began her political career representing West Baltimore on the council, positioned herself as a candidate who possessed a vision for the city that she said Rawlings-Blake lacked.

Mike Perkins, 61, who voted West Baltimore's Hazelwood Elementary Middle School, said Pugh was the best alternative to Rawlings-Blake.

"We need some changes," he said. "Stephanie Blake is a rubber stamp."

Pugh retains her seat in the state Senate. She is due to head back to Annapolis next month for a special session on congressional redistricting.

Rolley, 37, finished third. During the campaign, he kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of Rawlings-Blake, and rolled out position papers detailing wide-ranging reforms for city government.

He told supporters that he was disappointed with low turnout. He called the end of his campaign the "beginning of a campaign to take our city back."

Dan Lozier, a 29-year-old software engineer in Canton, said he liked the plans Rolley presented on his website.

"He really detailed what he wanted to do," Lozier said. He said Rolley's website compared favorably to the mayor's campaign material, which he found to be "about as generic as it gets."

Landers made the city's property tax rate a central issue in the campaign.

The city rate is twice that of surrounding counties. Landers proposed a dramatic reduction, which he said could be offset in part by hiking taxes on vacant and blighted properties.

Winifred Pilachowski, a Landers voter, pointed to a cluster of overgrown weeds on the sidewalk at Fait Avenue and blamed the city for failing the keep the streets tidy.

"We are paying all of these taxes but we are not getting anything for them," she said.

Conaway said cutting the property tax rate was unrealistic, but the rest of the candidates proposed reductions. Rolley presented a detailed plan to slash the rate for homeowners in half over a decade; Pugh said she would accomplish the same in four years, but did not provide specifics.

Rawlings-Blake, who raised more than 70 taxes and fees in her 19 months in office, said she would use revenues from the proposed slots casino to cut the rate by 9 percent over nine years.

Conaway injected a touch of comedy into the race, slamming his opponents in a rap song and reciting nursery rhymes at campaign forums.

Wilton Wilson, a home health care nurse who made his first run for office, finished last among the Democratic candidates.

Henderson, of the University of Baltimore, credited Rawlings-Blake's challengers witrh sparking debate on issues central to the city's future.

"No matter how good the performance of an incumbent is, it's important to have different views and opinions," he said. "The fact that these other candidates stepped up to the plate and ran vigorous campaigns is healthy for Baltimore."

Linda Gross, a retired teacher, described Rawlings-Blake as "steady."

"I think she deserves a chance to see what she can do on a full term," Gross said. "I think she sometimes gets a bad rap. She's not effusive. I just think she's very realistic about what can be promised."

Kimberly Hendricks, 44, said she backed Rawlings-Blake because "she's a very intelligent woman."

"Because she's not very charismatic people have not given her a chance. She's good for the city," said Hendricks, who works in fundraising for Johns Hopkins University. "In politics sometimes we want all the bells and whistles. If you look past that, she's been a good leader."

Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker, Annie Linksey, Luke Broadwater, Nicole Fuller and Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.



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