As the Democratic Party licks its wounds from its gubernatorial defeat in Maryland, our street-level view reveals a central, substantive error on the part of politicians of both parties: Candidates from Baltimore to Annapolis to Washington continue to act as though they are smarter than ordinary citizens. Citizens know when we are not being listened to. Marylanders sent a message in this election: The same old same old politics of elitist arrogance does not work. We want candidates who listen to our issues and stand up for our interests.
Members of Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD) — like many in Maryland who went to the polls and voted — did it holding our noses. Neither candidate for governor spoke specifically to the issues we see facing Baltimore: the need for improved education, youth opportunities, housing for young families, more jobs and less crime. Governor-elect Larry Hogan came closest and at least came across as a concerned citizen. But neither Mr. Hogan nor Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown proposed solutions to issues that BUILD heard from listening to over 5,000 Baltimoreans this year.
So we mounted our own, non-partisan get out the vote effort. We contacted 6,824 Baltimore City residents by going door to door and calling to encourage them to vote and to let candidates know that Baltimore counts.
Rev. Andrew Foster Connors knocked on a door and spoke with a woman named Peggy in a neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore. "Brown keeps talking about the middle class this, and the middle class that," the retired teacher and nurse said, "but I'm one paycheck away from lower class." She went on to talk about young people without hopes of legal job prospects and increasing drug sales and safety concerns. Peggy had voted, but not happily. "Nobody," she said, "is talking about us."
Rev. Marshall Prentice, with a team of eight other BUILD leaders, knocked on 55 doors and heard from many residents that they had little confidence any candidate would listen to them.
Mr. Hogan's anti-tax message converged with voter dissatisfaction with business as usual in Annapolis. This election was not about people voting for Mr. Hogan as much as it was against business as usual politics in a dysfunctional political climate in which Democrats take for granted their base and Republicans ignore whole segments of the community. African American candidates must stop taking for granted that African Americans will vote along racial lines just because it is a groundbreaking opportunity.
What we need now is more old school politicians, like Parris Glendening, who took the time to listen to people and to craft his campaign around what people said were their most pressing needs. People will pay a bottle tax for schools because it connects directly with their issues and interests. But they will resist a plastic bag tax because it generates nothing for them in return.
Politicians who want a future in Baltimore should learn from BUILD's 37 years of political success. Good politics means speaking to and acting on the hurts and needs of the entire city, especially African Americans and the aspiring middle class. Raising inordinate amounts of cash for robocalls, TV ads and social media blasts does not win elections. Organizing people across racial, ethnic, class lines around a common agenda that comes from a relationship with them wins elections.
On Election Day eve and Election Day, as volunteers from BUILD connected with those 6,824 Baltimorean City residents door to door, amazingly, we did not meet a single volunteer from any campaign, much less the candidates themselves, knocking on doors, and meeting with real people. So BUILD is already organizing for 2016 with a citizens' agenda that includes jobs for residents, increased investment in blighted neighborhoods, funding for new recreation centers and after school activities, ending the plague of gun violence and enhancing school facilities.
Governor-elect Hogan, we hope we can work with you on these pressing issues, including Phase 2 of the Baltimore City 21st Century Schools construction plan. Our people have spoken, and responding to organized citizens is what good politics is all about.