Baltimore voters haven’t elected a Republican mayor since Theodore McKeldin left office in 1967. But that isn’t stopping GOP hopefuls from jumping into the 2020 mayoral race.
The Republican primary for Baltimore mayor took firmer shape Monday as political strategist Catalina Byrd held a campaign launch event on North Avenue.
Byrd, 38, who has served as a member of the city’s Women’s Commission and the Community Oversight Task Force overseeing the implementation of the police consent decree, held a “meet and greet” at the cafe Nancy by SNAC.
She said was running in hopes of addressing the poverty and dysfunction afflicting some city neighborhoods. “I don’t hear from anyone else a plan that has any actual vision that’s going to right these wrongs,” Byrd says.
Byrd enters what’s now a three-person race for the Republican nomination for mayor that includes Shannon Wright, a 52-year-old nonprofit executive and former pastor, and William G. Herd, who did not respond to requests for comment.
In deep blue Baltimore, Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1 and Republican President Donald Trump, who has openly insulted the city, is widely disliked. But the Republican candidates say they’re undeterred by the political leanings of the voter base.
“The policies of the last several decades have not been working,” says Wright, who wants to see more resources go to the police department. “I am a Republican in the mindset of Frederick Douglass. ... Our city has strayed from core principles and values. We’re doing things wrong across the board.”
Wright, a former first vice president of the Yonkers NAACP, has lived in Baltimore since 2013 and unsuccessfully ran for Baltimore City Council president in 2016. She’s an executive of a nonprofit called In His Name, which she said offers training in life and personal finance skills. Wright says she wants to encourage school choice and job training options.
The field for Democratic primary, which for decades has decided the winner of the mayor’s race, is in flux. Eight candidates have formally filed to run, but several formidable candidates — including current and former elected officials — are considering runs from the sidelines.
Democrats who have said they are running include former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, Baltimore activist Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady, the unofficial “mayor of Hampden” Lou Catelli (real name, Will Bauer), Lynn Sherwood Harris, Ralph E. Johnson II, Dante C. Swinton and Frederick Ware-Newsome.
Several more Democratic candidates are expected to make decisions after Labor Day about running.
Byrd, who has helped organize events to bring about better relations between police and community members, said she didn’t want to wait until after Labor Day to declare. She discussed her views as an African American Republican — one who does not support President Trump — with a dozen supporters and other interested city residents at the cafe Monday afternoon.
“I was raised in the Republican party,” she said. “I have conservative values as did many people of color of the older generation. Conservative values — family, fiscal accountability ― are the things people are calling for right now.”
Byrd released a 12-page policy platform that includes proposals for small loans to start local businesses, resurrecting the $1 homes initiative, expanding programming at rec centers, tax breaks for teachers to live in Baltimore, and full lead abatement from homes, among other proposals.
“This campaign is not about rebranding or PR for Baltimore,” Byrd said. “This is about actually changing Baltimore.”
On the Democratic side, Baltimore’s current mayor, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, has said he is considering jumping into the race. Other Democrats considering their options include City Council President Brandon Scott; former Mayor Sheila Dixon; former Baltimore police spokesman TJ Smith; state Sen. Bill Ferguson; former NAACP president Ben Jealous; state Del. Nick J. Mosby; and state Sen. Mary Washington.
Young, the former City Council president, became mayor when Catherine Pugh resigned May 2 amid scandal.
The Democratic and Republican primary elections are April 28. The filing deadline is Jan. 24.