Candidates rally backers

The Baltimore Sun

Heading into the final stretch of their campaigns, the leading candidates for mayor and City Council president rallied their volunteers and worked the crowds yesterday as the strategy shifted from putting out a message to getting out the vote.

With mere hours to go until Tuesday's Democratic primary, candidates kept tight schedules - darting from Ashburton to Pigtown to Cherry Hill - and rallied their strongest supporters so they would be energized in the waning days of the campaign.

Many of the state's most powerful leaders - including Gov. Martin O'Malley - shared a dais in Ashburton to support City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who is running for a full term against community activist Michael Sarbanes and Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

"We've got to work through tired," Rawlings-Blake told a large crowd of union volunteers who gathered in front of her childhood home on Sequoia Avenue. "Tuesday is too important."

After months of pitching ideas, attending candidates forums and pressing the flesh, the campaigns now want to drive turnout in their favor. That effort includes calling on potential supporters - either by phone or in person - to ensure they will vote. Seniors will be offered rides. Sample ballots will be distributed.

The ability to encourage residents to vote will be crucial in the City Council president's race. Polls and fundraising figures suggest that Rawlings-Blake and Sarbanes are running neck and neck. Both candidates are expected to use their volunteers - including many union members - in the effort.

Rawlings-Blake has been endorsed by a number of influential unions, including 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the AFL-CIO council, both of which were represented in large numbers at yesterday's rally. Sarbanes has received the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Baltimore firefighters union.

Rawlings-Blake and some of her supporters used yesterday's event to take a few potshots at Sarbanes, arguing that because he does not currently hold the position, the city's progress would be slowed as he learned how to do the job.

"It's going to take all of our feet, with whatever kind of shoes we have on, to walk the streets this weekend - one, to get voters out to vote ... but two, to vote for those of us who know what needs to happen in this great city to take it to the next level," said Mayor Sheila Dixon, who is also running for election.

"We can't take four years for somebody to learn where the bathroom is," Dixon said.

O'Malley - using several lines from his stump speech in last year's gubernatorial campaign - said Rawlings-Blake would be a strong partner of his administration. He, too, used the opportunity to take a dig at Sarbanes.

"A big part of leadership is being able to listen," O'Malley said. "Stephanie is not someone who in their first race for office wants to be the speaker of the House without ever having served in Congress. She's done hard work in the trenches."

Sarbanes, less than an hour later, was campaigning with a sole staff member at the Pigtown Festival on Washington Boulevard. As several large pigs ran along a fenced-in course in the middle of the street - the festival's signature Running of the Pigs - Sarbanes shook hands with residents.

He said he was confident in his campaign's ability to drive turnout, and he brushed aside suggestions that he would struggle to learn the job if elected.

"In addition to 15 years of working with neighborhoods to know what'll make a difference on the street level, I also have a lot of experience working in government to make government work," said Sarbanes, who worked for the state. "I think there would be a pretty quick learning curve."

Though yesterday's rally included Dixon, it was focused on Rawlings-Blake, an indication that the candidates believe the City Council president's race may be significantly tighter than the mayoral contest. Dixon, who many believe is the front-runner, is expected to shift at least some of her resources to help Rawlings-Blake, whom she has endorsed.

In addition to the rally, Dixon attended a ribbon-cutting in Cherry Hill and a meeting of a Bolton Hill homeowners association, a campaign aide said. One of Dixon's leading opponents, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., went on a six-hour "caravan" ride.

Mitchell stood on the back of a red pickup truck as his motorcade wound its way from South Baltimore to Edmondson Village. Though his schedule indicated that he would attend the Pigtown Festival, by 5 p.m. - an hour after the event had concluded - Mitchell had not appeared.

Del. Jill P. Carter and schools administrator Andrey Bundley, who are also running for mayor, did not release campaign schedules.

Mitchell said he was not intimidated by the large get-out-the-vote resources Dixon has at her disposal. He said his cadre of volunteers - including members of the public safety unions - was also focusing its full attention on getting voters to the polls.

"We're going to be able to match it in terms of support from the firefighters and the police," Mitchell said by phone. "We're going to match them in terms of energy."

An article in yesterday's Maryland section included incorrect information about which City Council president candidate was endorsed by the Baltimore firefighters union. The union endorsed Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake. The caption of a photo accompanying the story misidentified her opponent, Michael Sarbanes.The Sun regrets the errors.
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