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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake heads to bar for campaign event

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke to a man at Bar Liquorice in Riverside during a campaign happy hour on Monday.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke to a man at Bar Liquorice in Riverside during a campaign happy hour on Monday. (Doug Donovan, Baltimore Sun)

From the war room to the bar room. Just a day after announcing she was forming an around-the-clock "war room" to combat escalating violence in Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hosted her second campaign "happy hour" Monday at a Riverside cocktail bar.

Rawlings-Blake arrived to a nearly empty Bar Liquorice on Fort Avenue at around 5 p.m. Monday as part of her weekly campaign event called "Mondays with the Mayor."

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Every week the mayor intends to host a happy hour at "a different bar or pub throughout" the city, according to her campaign announcement. "These are casual events. Relax, unwind and come for a conversation about what we have accomplished and how we can continue to move our City forward."

As the mayor saddled up to the bar for popcorn and a drink, she said the happy hours were another way to connect with the community, regardless of how many people showed up. Which wasn't many between 5 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. — especially if you don't count the two security personnel and three campaign staffers. (The mayor was scheduled to return to City Hall for a 6:30 p.m. event with interim police Commissioner Kevin Davis.)

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Rawlings-Blake was touchy about being photographed with a drink at a happy hour.

"Why do you have to take a picture of me with a drink in my hand," she said as I snapped a photo of her talking to a man who refused to give his name.

Another man eating dinner outside the bar popped in to chat with the mayor. Andrew J. Cary, an education consultant who has known the mayor and her family for decades, said he told Rawlings-Blake he was appalled that someone threw water on her recently at a public event.

"I'm surprised more people are not here", Cary said.

The mayor's Monday happy hour came a day after a deadly weekend: From Friday through Monday, 12 people were killed and at least 25 were shot.

The first happy hour event was held last week at Sign of the Times on North Belnord Avenue in Patterson Park, about six blocks south of where a person was shot and killed Monday. After that event the mayor also visited Bar Liquorice that same night to scout the location for her next happy hour, said David Kosak, one of her campaign organizers.

"I think it's important for a mayor in good times and bad to do everything possible to mix with people, talk with them, hear them," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. "If this is one way to do it, then fine."

Nina Therese Kasniunas, an assistant professor of political science at Goucher College, said the happy hours appear to be one aspect of a focused effort by the mayor to connect with constituents.

"It's clear that she has switched into campaign mode," Kasniunas said.

Judging by Rawlings-Blake's Twitter feed, she added, the mayor has "launched a selfie campaign" by posting many photos of her posing with smiling, happy residents around the city.

In one Tweet on July 9, the mayor wrote, "Spending quality time in the community! One of my favorite parts about being your Mayor."

Kasniunas said the mayor appears to be combating an image that many political and community activists have of her being distant and disengaged.

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"I think this strategy of the selfies and the happy hours is to address what the insider group of activists have seen as her biggest weakness: that she seems not to like those types of things very much," she said.

The mayor has to spend as much time trying to connect with voters who are not engaged in the day-to-day events of the city as she does with those who follow every new development. If the happy hours discuss issues of substance, then the gatherings could be worthwhile.

"I don't know if it's inappropriate having a happy hour after this war room announcement and the violence of the weekend," she said. "Maybe it is the right time to do that."

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