Baltimore’s GOP nominee for mayor, Shannon Wright, said when voters see Republican next to her name on ballots in November, they should think of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, not President Donald Trump.
The 53-year-old Republican Central Committee chair said her platform for office is built around inclusion, a cause Douglass spent his life fighting for.
In November’s general election, Wright will face Democratic nominee and City Council President Brandon Scott, as well as at least two unaffiliated candidates.
Wright hopes her message that the city needs change is powerful enough to buoy her campaign above its inherent challenges: lack of money and a voter base of nearly 10 Democrats for every Republican.
No Republican has been mayor of Baltimore since Theodore McKeldin left office half a century ago. Some in the GOP point to Douglass — an orator, writer and social reformer from Talbot County who spent the early part of his life enslaved — as a devoted Republican, even though the politics of his time have little in common with today’s party.
“I am the type of leader that recognizes family is the cornerstone of every community,” said Wright, who is African American.
Improving education and creating a better economic climate are her top goals. Shifting investments and attention to children and opportunities will lead to less crime, she said in an interview this week.
Wright will accept her party’s nomination formally Friday at news conference outside her home in Northeast Baltimore.
She won the GOP nomination in the June 2 primary with 1,630 votes. Her nearest challenger, Catalina Byrd, had about 1,070.
The primary vote tallies reflect the gulf in party allegiance that her campaign must overcome. Scott secured the Democratic nomination with about 44,000 votes to former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s 40,780.
Wright had no money in the bank when the last campaign finance reports before the primary were filed, although she said she has since started fundraising. Scott reported about $230,000 on the May 22 reports.
Without cash, Wright faces the challenge of introducing herself to the voters. She would need robust fundraising to afford television commercials or fliers. Both were key to reaching voters in the hotly contested Democratic primary, as face-to-face campaigning was limited by efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus.
It is not known what precautions may be necessary through the fall to stop the spread of COVID-19, or whether the state will hold the election, like the primary, largely by mail.
Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said Wright’s long-shot campaign has value, even if her odds of being elected mayor are small. Wright’s candidacy will help give voters perspective on important issues.
“Shannon Wright is giving people a choice,” Hartley said. When one party is dominant, “what we get in cities or rural areas is an echo-chamber effect, where some political issues don’t get vetted.”
Scott, meanwhile, is working to strengthen a coalition he built “that reflects Baltimore City, while fighting for working families, developing a holistic strategy to address violence, and increasing opportunities for our youth,” his campaign manager, Marvin James, said.
“We look forward to continuing to rally Baltimore voters around the values of equity, transparency and accountability as we work to build a new way forward,” James said.
Wright moved to Baltimore in 2013 in the months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the community where she lived in New Jersey. A mother to four grown children, Wright lives in Northeast Baltimore’s Woodring neighborhood with her husband, Michael.
She said she is a nondenominational Christian pastor without a congregation who trains other pastors to help them grow their ministries. She said she also has worked as a campaign strategist, policy advocate and talk radio host.
Wright ran for City Council president in 2016. She received 27,408 votes compared with 173,065 votes for the then-incumbent, Democrat Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
Wright said voters should look less at party labels and more at a candidate’s positions, experience and leadership. Democrats, she said, have let the city down.
“Sometimes you need to look beyond the party to the person,” Wright said. “For me, this election cycle is much less about the party and much more about the people.”
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If elected, Wright said she would focus on investments in education and economic development. While those long-term solutions are working to reduce violence, Wright said she would push for citizen patrols, better police training and mentoring of nonviolent offenders through public-private partnerships.