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Baltimore mayoral candidates raise $2.3M, signaling expensive and bitter fight ahead for crowded field

Baltimore mayoral candidates collectively have raised more than $2.3 million heading into the final months of the Democratic primary campaign. City Hall is shown in this 2016 file photo.
Baltimore mayoral candidates collectively have raised more than $2.3 million heading into the final months of the Democratic primary campaign. City Hall is shown in this 2016 file photo.

Baltimore mayoral candidates collectively have raised more than $2.3 million heading into the final months of the Democratic primary campaign, signaling an expensive and bitter fight ahead for the crowded field.

The first round of campaign finance reports this election cycle show Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young in a strong financial position as he fights to hold onto his job: He has nearly $960,000 cash on hand, according to his Wednesday filing.

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“It’s a symbol of people’s faith in Jack Young being a steady hand and moving the city forward,” said campaign spokesman Myles Handy.

But big money is not only flowing to the incumbent. The campaign of former Deputy Maryland Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah — who has already started airing commercials and placing prominent billboards around Baltimore — reported having about $840,000 on hand after raising more than $1 million.

City Council President Brandon Scott has nearly $430,000 cash on hand, including financial support from several of his fellow council members.

Political strategist Sophia Silbergeld said the figures reported indicate how many viable candidates Democratic voters have to consider in casting their ballots April 28. She expects another fundraising record for a Baltimore mayoral race, but with the funds widely distributed.

“The donors are going to be spread throughout much more than usual,” said Silbergeld, of Baltimore-based Adeo Advocacy.

A large chunk of Young’s fundraising stemmed from a $4,000-a-person October fundraiser at The Bygone restaurant in Harbor East. Northeast Foods President Bill Paterakis and his nephew, restaurateur Alex Smith, hosted the event. Members of the Paterakis family, owners of a baking empire, collectively contributed $30,000 on Oct. 17. Smith and his brother, Eric, who formed the Atlas Restaurant Group, each gave $6,000, the maximum a candidate can receive from one person. Their father, Frederick Smith, who is vice president of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group, gave $4,000.

Young also received a $4,000 donation Oct. 17 from former state school superintendent Nancy Grasmick and $6,000 in November from Scott Plank, founder of Baltimore developer War Horse Cities and brother of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. Scott Plank also donated $2,000 to Brandon Scott.

Among the incumbent mayor’s expenditures: $8,500 to a Washington-based opposition research firm.

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In a memo Vignarajah sent last week to supporters, he highlighted donations from Thurgood Marshall Jr.; Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures; former Maryland Attorney General Steve Sachs; and John and Laura Arnold, Texas philanthropists who are funding surveillance planes that will fly over Baltimore starting this year to gather images for city police investigations. Each Arnold donated $6,000. Ross McNutt, of the Ohio-based company pitching the plane, also gave $6,000.

He also has large support from many in the legal community, including several large donations from people affiliated with DLA Piper, which Vignarajah joined as a partner.

Scott’s biggest donors include several members of the prominent Luetkemeyer family, as well as members of the prestigious Murphy Falcon & Murphy law firm. Eric Smith of Atlas Restaurant also gave to Scott, making a $1,000 contribution.

Scott reported he returned on Dec. 20 a $4,500 donation from Grant Capital Management, the Columbia-based firm of J.P. Grant. According to a November federal plea deal for former Mayor Catherine Pugh, Grant gave Pugh $164,000 to buy copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books.

Scott fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer said 65% of his donations are $250 or less. His numbers, she said, "show his wide support across the city and that people are looking for a different mayor and change — he represents that change.”

Other candidates running in primary include former Mayor Sheila Dixon, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith, state Sen. Mary Washington and former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller.

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More than a dozen Democrats have filed to run, as well as four Republicans, ahead of a Jan. 24 deadline. Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1 among registered voters in the city.

Dixon has nearly $89,000 on hand, raising roughly $100,000 to kick off her campaign after joining the race only last month. Donations included $5,000 from Jackson Haden of Baltimore Recycling Center. Pless B. Jones, a past donor of Dixon’s, donated $6,000, while P&J Contracting, of which he is president, gave $5,000.

Kevin Seymore, Dixon’s campaign manager, said her staff was filing an amendment to correct a mistake made when recording donations from Ernestine Hurtt of E&J Development that appeared to exceed state fundraising limits. The initial filing Wednesday listed two contributions as coming from Hurtt personally — one for $5,000 and another for $4,500. In fact, one of those donations came from her business, Seymore said.

Dixon spent $20,000 in November for a poll on the race.

Washington has more than $116,000 on hand after raising more than $141,000, including from some notable Maryland progressives, such as several leaders of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Her campaign said in a release that 70% of donation were $100 or less and the most common amount given was $25.

Among her larger donors was William Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local public policy, who lives in Severna Park and gave $2,000. Facebook itself contributed another $4,000, according to the report. The company did not respond Wednesday to a phone call and an email requesting comment.

James DeGraffenreidt, past chairman of the Maryland State Board of Education and former CEO of the parent company of Washington Gas, gave the state senator $6,000. Marjorie Roswell of Roswell Infographics contributed $5,500.

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Washington was among the biggest recipients of money from political action committees, collecting $8,150.

She spent nearly $30,000 on consulting and about $13,000 for polling.

Smith reported having about $22,000 cash on hand going into the remaining three months of the primary campaign, according to his campaign finance filing. Smith received the maximum donation from two contributors, including Scott Dorsey, CEO of Merritt Properties of Baltimore, who also donated to Vignarajah. Smith spent a quarter of the $44,318 he raised on consulting fees, and shelled out an additional $350 for two Baltimore Ravens tickets in December, his report shows.

He has less cash on hand than anti-violence advocate and mediator Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady, who has nearly $36,000.

Miller, who entered the race last week, wasn’t required to file a finance report Wednesday. That’s because she didn’t have a campaign committee established 10 days prior to the finance report deadline.

Silbergeld said she views half a million dollars as the benchmark for a successful citywide campaign.

“People already at half a million or more are at a significant advantage because they can start spending right now in a really effective and holistic way,” she said.

Silbergeld said Scott — given his high position in city government — had the most to prove in this first finance report and he outperformed expectations.

The financial landscape in the mayoral race looks dramatically different than it did this time last year. At that point, Pugh posted a balance of almost $1 million — a display of strength that might’ve been enough to ward off some challengers.

But a few months later, Pugh resigned amid investigations into her business dealings. She has since pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy and tax evasion related to the “Healthy Holly” book deals.

Her resignation elevated then-City Council President Young to the mayor’s seat and cleared the way for Scott’s rise to council president, altering the election entirely.

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