Four years ago, Republican Larry Hogan got 22 percent of the vote in deep-blue Baltimore — a jurisdiction he failed to gain traction in during his successful run for Maryland governor.
This year, Hogan’s campaign team thinks he can do better in Charm City.
The first-term governor opened a Baltimore campaign office Saturday on North Avenue in what was once a vacant bank over which a billboard read, “Whoever Died From a Rough Ride?” in reference to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015.
Today, the billboard shows Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford with their wives and says, “Hogan Rutherford Stands With Baltimore.”
More than 100 supporters greeted the governor as he opened the office with some chanting, “Four more years! Four more years!”
Despite criticism from Democrats that Hogan’s policy decisions have been harmful to Baltimore, the governor cast himself as a friend of the city, citing his administration’s work on tearing down vacant homes and seeking tougher sentences for violent offenders.
“Don’t let anybody tell you you have to vote a certain way because you happen to be black or you happen to live in Baltimore City,” Hogan told the crowd. “You get to make those decisions for yourself. And guess what, some people have not been delivering for you for decades. But we have been for four straight years.”
Hogan said his administration had “brought $5.5 billion in aid to Baltimore City, more than any [other one-term] governor in the history of the state.”
In his remarks, Hogan referenced Gray’s death and the protests, unrest and rioting that followed.
“We had the worst violence break out in our city in 47 years,” the governor said. “And the city was overwhelmed. But we came in and we brought some help, and we moved our entire operation to the city. And we stayed here all week long walking the streets.
“I was in Sandtown in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood,” Hogan said. “I was at North and Penn the next morning while the smoke was still clearing. We said we were going to keep coming back and we have.”
Baltimore, Hogan said, is “the heart and soul of our state.”
Across the street, though, some Democratic officials took a dim view of Hogan’s leadership.
City Councilmen Brandon Scott and Zeke Cohen and State Del. Brooke Lierman warned Baltimore voters not to be fooled by Hogan’s rhetoric.
“Just because you put up a billboard in Baltimore doesn’t mean you know Baltimore and doesn’t mean you care about Baltimore,” Lierman said.
Lierman emphasized Hogan’s killing of the planned $2.9 billion Red Line light rail project in the city and the stalled development at the State Center complex as evidence of the governor’s lack of support for the city.
“We need to make sure we have a governor who is supporting us at the state level,” she said.
During his speech, Hogan spoke of his support for city schools and said the state had provided money for Baltimore schools to be the “fourth-highest-funded large school system in America.”
But Cohen pointed to analysis done for a state commission studying school funding that showed Baltimore and some other large jurisdictions in Maryland need hundreds of millions more annually to be adequately funded.
“This governor has failed,” Cohen said. “You can’t call our school system a complete and total disaster when you’re underfunding it. To me, that says your education agenda is a disaster.
Inside the Hogan campaign headquarters were a battery of phones to call voters and supplies for a door-knocking operation.
Hogan campaign spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor has about 250 active volunteers in the city who have already knocked on about 14,000 doors.
Several Democrats were on hand supporting the governor.
“As a student of Maryland politics for a very long time, I can’t remember a Republican governor setting up a headquarters like this in Baltimore City,” said Keiffer Mitchell, a former Baltimore City Councilman and mayoral candidate who is now one of Hogan’s top aides. “Look at the diversity of the crowd. You have Democrats, Republicans, independents. This governor will not concede any jurisdiction.”
Former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector said she wouldn’t be supporting Hogan if Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker or the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz had won the Democratic primary race for governor. But she said she views Democratic nominee Ben Jealous as too far to the left.
“I am very concerned about the way the national Democratic Party is going,” Spector said.
Meanwhile, Jealous joined leading Baltimore Democrats on Saturday morning to start a coordinated campaign to get out the vote in Baltimore.
While Jealous has not opened his own campaign headquarters in the city yet, he has been running operations out of local union offices.
Along with Mayor Catherine Pugh, U.S Congressman John Sarbanes, State Sen. Bill Ferguson and State Dels. Mary Washington and Robbyn Lewis, Jealous said beating Hogan comes down to cold, hard numbers.
“Our path to victory is very simple: We turn out more than 1 million voters and we win,” said Jealous, the former president of the NAACP. “They can’t get to 900,000 votes; they certainly can’t get to 1 million.”
Jealous also addressed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads the Republican Governors Association has been running against him to benefit Hogan.
“This is what it looks like when we’re starting to win,” Jealous said. “We said if Larry Hogan starts running attack ads before Labor Day it means he’s scared. He started running them before the Fourth of July. That means he’s very scared.”