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For Rawlings-Blake, a challenge, not a mandate

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appears likely to win the Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor with the fewest votes of any successful candidate since at least 1983. She may clear 50 percent of those who went to the polls, but the message the voters sent this election is indifference. Turnout appears to have been a record low, perhaps as little as 20 percent. The city may not have been moved by the untested promise of Mayor Rawlings-Blake's challengers, but it didn't rally fully behind her steady but unimaginative leadership either. Voters were either satisfied with the incumbent's performance but so uninspired by her that they didn't bother to go to the polls, or they want change but don't believe the other candidates can deliver. Either way, Ms. Rawlings-Blake — who is all but certain to prevail in the general election — should look at yesterday's vote not as providing a mandate but a challenge.

She needs to become bolder. The mayor summed things up neatly, if inadvertently, in her endorsement interview with The Sun. Several times, she repeated the phrase "pleased but not satisfied" to describe the progress Baltimore is making — on reducing crime, improving school test scores, fixing up vacant houses, and so on. Indeed, Baltimore should be pleased with how Ms. Rawlings-Blake has run the city so far; she took over at a difficult time and has shown strength and determination. But neither we nor she should be satisfied. Other than in the realm of ethics, she has, by her admission, mostly continued the policies of her predecessor. And she has failed to display the kind of passion that will be necessary for Baltimore to thrive.

Her challengers, particularly Sen. Catherine Pugh, Otis Rolley and Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, offered plenty of passion and the hope that slow and steady may not be the only way to win the race. But it was not clear that they could deliver on that promise, and for that reason, the voters made the right choice. Still, the result should be a wake-up call for the mayor.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake ran on her record of strong management but offered few if any new ideas. She should now go about adopting the ideas of her challengers. Mr. Landers provided the best plan for a substantial reduction in Baltimore's property tax, and his call for a land bank to help the city dispose of vacant properties is also on target. Mr. Rolley presented strong ideas for providing economic opportunities for those who have been caught up in the drug trade and for refocusing the Baltimore Development Corporation on job creation, not the pursuit of big land deals. Ms. Pugh's calls for a re-examination of police deployment and her ideas for sparking neighborhood redevelopment should be carried through. And as several candidates observed, it is time for a shakeup in the mayor's cabinet so that we get new managers with fresh eyes and a mandate to streamline city government.

If Ms. Rawlings-Blake combine those ideas with her competence and ability to enact a politically difficult agenda, the voters of Baltimore might just have something worth going to the polls for in 2015.

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