Three prominent Baltimoreans, including the longest-serving member of the City Council, are endorsing Rep. Chris Van Hollen's bid for Senate, the latest indication the Democrat from Montgomery County is making inroads into the state's largest city.
City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs and longtime Democratic power broker Rick O. Berndt are supporting Van Hollen's effort to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, his campaign said Friday.
Van Hollen and his opponent in the Democratic primary, Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George's County, represent congressional districts based in suburban Washington and are less well known in the Baltimore region. No candidate from the area has emerged, though speculation continues to swirl about whether Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will enter the race.
"We're going to be making a major push in Baltimore," Van Hollen said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Friday. "I've always believed that a strong Baltimore is essential to the health of the state, and the state needs for Baltimore to succeed."
For decades Maryland's senators have tended to hail from the Baltimore region. The last senator elected from the Washington suburbs was Blair Lee, who won a special election in 1913. But the growth of mostly Democratic population in Prince George's and Montgomery counties has increasingly tiled the state's political power base to the south.
Still, Baltimore remains fertile ground for a statewide campaign, and both candidates have made appearances in the city and its suburbs. Van Hollen has spoken at two meet-and-greets in the area in recent days, his campaign said.
Spector pointed to Van Hollen's roots in the city as a reason for her endorsement. The congressman's family has a long history in Baltimore, lending its name to Hollen Road in Cedarcroft.
"It worried me that Mikulski wasn't running, but his ties to Baltimore are the closest I can get to what I'm losing," Spector said in an interview. "I need someone with Baltimore ties."
An Edwards campaign spokeswoman dismissed the endorsements.
"Congressman Van Hollen is trying to shore up his faltering campaign with insider endorsements and special interest money," spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement. "Donna is winning in the polls because she's working on the issues that affect middle class families and their lives every day -- violence, poverty, race, income inequality."
While Van Hollen has secured more endorsements statewide most Baltimore officials have held off to assess Cummings' intentions, which remain unclear.
Berndt, an attorney, has long been a behind the scenes political operator in the city. An early backer of Martin O'Malley's 1999 campaign for mayor, Berndt is often referred to as the city's "political pope."
Sachs, an attorney at WilmerHale and a two-term attorney general, described Van Hollen as "a savvy legislator who has a talent for finding common ground among differing viewpoints" and someone who "understands that Baltimore is the economic and cultural heart of Maryland."