When U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris announced Monday that her Democratic campaign for president would locate its national headquarters in Baltimore, community and religious leaders, elected officials and political observers began speculating on which neighborhood the California Democrat might choose.
Downtown or inner city? Gentrified Fells Point or struggling Penn North?
For now, no one knows where Harris will open the headquarters for the campaign she is kicking off in a Sunday rally in Oakland, Calif., where she has a West Coast office.
But nearly everyone agrees that Baltimore provides both obvious logistical benefits as well as progressive political energy in a Democratic state.
Baltimore is close to Washington, but far less expensive. The city and Maryland — both Democratic strongholds — sit in the middle of the East Coast with easy access to Interstate 95 and the Amtrak line. And it’s close to the “well run, accessible” Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, veteran political consultant Larry Gibson added.
For Gibson and others, the neighborhoods closest to Penn Station are the most likely locales for the headquarters. Amtrak’s Acela express service provides quick, frequent service between Washington and Boston and every major city in between. Others say a location in Southwest Baltimore is possible since it provides MARC train service to Washington and the airport without the hassle of driving into the city’s center.
“It’s a matter of finding a cost-effective, convenient place to operate from,” Gibson said. “Quick access is critical for a national campaign office.”
Harris would not be the first to choose a spot close to Penn Station. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign was located on St. Paul Street across from the station. And Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker located his 2018 gubernatorial campaign’s Baltimore office just a few blocks away on North Avenue, right off Interstate 83.
“It’s not going to be a high-rise, it should have free parking for easy access for people coming in and out, and have some close and easy food options,” Gibson said. “People should not have to be going into a parking garage to pay money to stop in.”
The Harris campaign did not return a request for comment. But the campaign press secretary, Ian Sams, told the San Francisco Chronicle, that “Baltimore is a diverse, vibrant, up-and-coming American city, and we are excited to have our headquarters there and become a part of the community.”
Colm O’Comartun, a former O’Malley aide and former executive director for the Democratic Governors Association, said Baltimore would put Harris in the center of a state with well-educated, seasoned political staff members and volunteers.
“Baltimore gives her a base near the natural resource she needs — smart political people — in a city that is the opposite of Washington, D.C., in that that is earthy, with real people, real American problems, and in an East Coast time zone with affordable accommodations and a great nearby airport,” said O’Comartun, a city resident who is a principal at 50 State, a political consulting group. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have a champion in the White House if she wins and to elevate our issues on a national stage during the campaign and to have 100 young professionals come to the city.”
University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke, the former Baltimore mayor, agreed.
“People will flock to the headquarters to work on her campaign, consultants will come in to offer their services, national and international press will visit for extended periods,” Schmoke said. “There will be financial benefits if she is perceived several months from now as being a leading contender.”
Harris could also use Maryland to highlight how a majority-Democratic state can have cordial, bipartisan relations with a popular Republican governor and how the private and public sector have worked together to improve Baltimore and the state. Both messages, he said, “can be used to convey the message that working together works.”
Dylan Goldberg, who has started a Kamala for Maryland volunteer organization, said the energy for Harris is clear across Maryland.
Within 24 hours of Harris’ announcement Monday that she will run for president in 2020, more than 200 people have signed up to volunteer for her campaign and 225 people began following his group’s Twitter account. He is not officially affiliated with Harris’ campaign.
Choosing Baltimore and Maryland, Goldberg said, “means Harris recognizes the importance of what Maryland and Baltimore has to offer when it comes to capturing nearby battleground states like Virginia and Pennsylvania.”
“We’re only an hour’s drive away from those states and we are happy to pour our energies into those states,” Goldberg said.
Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt said “the logistics of having her headquarters 38 miles from Washington allows Harris and her senior staff to have easy access to its operations and to call attention to the opportunities and challenges facing major U.S. cities.”
“Many of Baltimore’s attributes and challenges are similar to her hometown of Oakland, California. The Senator is already familiar with the challenges facing historic, blue-collar cities,” Pratt said. “My hope is that she uses Baltimore as a platform to highlight and articulate the possibilities, give voice to the challenges and develop her platform to address moving cities forward for decades to come.”
State Sen. Cory McCray, an East Baltimore Democrat, was clear about his preference for where he hopes Harris will locate her headquarters.
“I’d like her to locate in my district in East Baltimore,” McCray said. “Right where folks need some hope.”
Howard County Councilman Opel Jones, who has endorsed Harris already, said he believes the former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, “wants to connect with a city that has the strength and resilience that she has.”
Some hope that means she will choose an inner-city neighborhood for her headquarters.
Rev. Harold A. Carter Jr., pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church, said Harris might be choosing a majority African-American city to account for criticism she is receiving about her positions on criminal justice issues such as sentencing reform and the death penalty.
“Criminal justice issues could hamstring her,” Carter said. “I want to believe that the African-American community will do its best to be open to hear her message and for the entire nation to hear her message and to give her a chance.”
Rev. Gregory Perkins, pastor of Historic St. Paul Community Baptist Church, said he assumed Harris would locate her headquarters downtown. But he hoped she would choose one of the city’s many stable, African-American communities to defy stereotypes about a crime-ridden Baltimore.
“It would be great if she elected an inner-city community in Baltimore, as opposed to corporate America,” Perkins said. “Baltimore has had its fair share of negative portrayals.”
But Annie Hall, president of the Penn North Community Association, warned Harris to be careful what neighborhood she chooses because Baltimore police are struggling to control violent crime with no permanent commissioner and a federal consent decree she says hampers their efforts. Hall said she thought Harris would pick a neighborhood like Fells Point.
“No matter where she goes it won’t matter,” Hall said. “Not until we get a police chief in here and the police start policing.”
She said Harris will not have to worry about crime like everyone else since she will have additional security associated with her job as a senator and a presidential candidate.
“We need to stop worrying about these politicians and start worrying about the people in these communities,” she said.