Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is getting increasingly involved in the race to become Baltimore’s next mayor.
This week in Annapolis, Hogan, a rare second-term Republican governor in a blue state, has been holding one-on-one meetings with some of the mayoral hopefuls from heavily Democratic Baltimore, some 30 miles north.
In the closed-door meetings, Hogan has been asking contenders in the April 28 Democratic primary about their plans to reduce violence, according to the candidates.
On Monday afternoon, Hogan met with former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who led the field in a recent poll commissioned by The Baltimore Sun, the University of Baltimore and WYPR. Then, Hogan sat down Tuesday with former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah. By Wednesday, the governor was talking face-to-face with former Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith.
Dixon said the governor asked her for a copy of her crime plan and said he wanted to work with city officials to drive down crime.
Hogan also talked about his crime bills and how there need to be longer sentences for violent offenders, Dixon said. She said she has a “positive working relationship” with the governor and told him he should resurrect a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which Hogan defunded in 2017.
She declined to detail some parts of their conversation.
“I’m not going to talk about everything he said and everything I said,” Dixon told The Sun.
In a statement, Vignarajah said he was "grateful for the opportunity to share my perspective on many areas of common ground from greater transparency in sentencing to more prosecutors at the local, state, and federal level.”
Of his meeting with the governor, Smith said: “Crime was the No. 1 issue.”
“We discussed how we can be nonpartisan partners to really reduce violent crime,” Smith said.
He said he and Hogan also discussed other parts of his mayoral platform and funding for public schools.
Smith said Hogan did not press him to support the governor’s package of anti-crime legislation, which includes bills that would toughen penalties for witness intimidation, require greater transparency from judges and lengthen sentences for a wide range of gun crimes. That last bill has drawn opposition from the Democratic-controlled General Assembly because it contained six mandatory minimum sentences, which opponents said would strip judges of necessary discretion.
“We all know about his crime bill,” Smith said. “It was more of a conversation of how we can support one another in the best interest of Baltimore.”
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 10-1 late Wednesday to advance aspects of Hogan’s Violent Firearms Offenders Act, after stripping the bill of its mandatory minimum sentences. The tougher penalties for gun offenders in Hogan’s bill were amended onto a piece of legislation filed by Frederick County Republican Sen. Michael Hough.
Hogan selected Dixon, Smith and Vignarajah for meetings because the governor believes those candidates have been most focused in their public comments about reducing crime, according to Hogan’s spokesman.
During Dixon’s tenure as mayor from 2007 to 2010, homicides in Baltimore dropped from 282 to 238 a year under her strategy of focusing on violent repeat offenders. Vignarajah has pledged to bring homicides under 200 a year. Smith on Wednesday released a web video highlighting the pain of mothers who have lost loved ones to gun violence. In the video, he speaks about the homicide of his younger brother, Dionay, in 2017.
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“He was murder 173, but he was more than just a number,” Smith said in the video.
The governor also has met with Baltimore businessman Robert L. Wallace, who said he’s considering a run for mayor in the Nov. 3 general election as an independent. He said that while he knows and likes several of the Democratic candidates, he isn’t sure he sees anyone “with the full package in terms of what it takes.”
“I’m a Baltimore guy and I don’t like what I’m seeing in the city,” Wallace said.
The poll for The Sun, the University of Baltimore and WYPR showed about a third of 400 likely Democratic primary voters were undecided in the race for mayor. Dixon was favored by 16% of those polled Feb. 20-29, followed by Vignarajah and City Council President Brandon Scott, who each had 10% support. Smith was close behind in fourth place with 9%. Incumbent Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young trailed the leaders with 6% support.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.