Rawlings-Blake to enter race for council president today

The Baltimore Sun

Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, the three-term Baltimore City Council veteran who was the youngest person ever elected to the body, will formally announce her intention to run for council president today - solidifying the field in what has become one of the city's most animated races.

Rawlings-Blake, who has served as president of the council since Sheila Dixon became mayor in January, has the backing of the state's top-ranking Democrat, Gov. Martin O'Malley, and has recently used her position to push for more aggressive police recruitment and the ability to padlock homes with noisy neighbors.

Daughter of Howard P. Rawlings - the longtime state delegate and respected legislative leader who died in 2003 - Rawlings-Blake said she is committed to expanding the nonprofit Healthy Neighborhoods program, which assists communities on the edge of instability, and granting more autonomy to school principals.

"I wasn't raised in a household where doing what you were you supposed to do got you a pat on the back. The things that were expected - and really, service was expected - you just did it," said the 37-year-old, who lives with her husband and daughter in Coldspring in Northwest Baltimore. "I do what I do because that is the right thing, for me to be in service."

Rawlings-Blake is scheduled to announce her candidacy this morning at War Memorial Plaza near City Hall. Also in the race are City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. and community activist Michael Sarbanes, both of whom announced earlier this year. Because Baltimore is overwhelmingly Democratic, the president's race, like the mayor's race, will likely be decided by the Sept. 11 primary election.

One of Rawlings-Blake's greatest political assets going into this year's election is O'Malley's support. While O'Malley has largely stayed out of the mayor's race, he has been heavily involved in Rawlings-Blake's campaign and has attended her fundraisers. For seven years, Rawlings-Blake served as vice president under O'Malley - a position that, informally, made her the mayor's legislative floor leader.

Rawlings-Blake was 25 when she took office in 1995 as the youngest person ever to win a council election. Four years later, she encouraged her father to endorse O'Malley, then a colleague on the council, for mayor. The backing of the powerful African-American delegate boosted O'Malley's credibility as a white candidate in a predominantly black city.

Since then, Rawlings-Blake has helped secure funding for the Park Heights master plan, the city's most recent strategy to revitalize the neighborhood. In 2005, she sponsored legislation that added excessive noise to the city's public nuisance law, which would allow police to temporary condemn properties repeatedly cited for noise violations.

More recently, she introduced a resolution calling on Mayor Sheila Dixon to spend $2 million from a city surplus fund for police recruitment - a funding source that Dixon has objected to using. This month, she called for creation of a new fund that would allow homeowners in certain parts of the city to receive matching grants for renovation projects, an initiative the administration has agreed to fund.

Still, her opponents have questioned her commitment to dealing with the city's most pressing problems, including the city's school system and the rising violence this year. Harris, who announced his candidacy in January, argued that Rawlings-Blake hadn't been actively involved in those issues until this year.

"I'm going to be running on leadership and not legacy," said Harris. "My record is far better than anyone who has entered the race to date for the office of City Council president. We need someone who can hit the ground running."

As vice president, Rawlings-Blake represented the 6th District - a district in Northwest Baltimore that begins at Charles Street between Cold Spring Lane and Northern Parkway and curves southwest, reaching down toward Gwynns Falls Park. The district encompasses a wide range of neighborhoods, including upscale, mostly white Roland Park and the distressed, mostly black Park Heights.

Raised in the Ashburton section of Northwest Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake graduated from Western High School in 1988, Oberlin College in 1992 and the University of Maryland School of Law in 1995. Rawlings-Blake spent a year as an attorney at the Legal Aid Bureau. After seven years as an attorney with the city's branch of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, she left the position when she became council president.


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