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State Sen. Mary Washington suspends campaign for Baltimore mayor to focus on coronavirus

State Sen. Mary Washington says she is suspending her campaign for Baltimore mayor to focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Washington participates Monday in a Senate session at the State House in Annapolis.
State Sen. Mary Washington says she is suspending her campaign for Baltimore mayor to focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Washington participates Monday in a Senate session at the State House in Annapolis.(Pamela Wood)

State Sen. Mary Washington announced Monday she was suspending her campaign for Baltimore mayor to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

“The extraordinary events of the past several weeks have drastically changed our way of life in Baltimore and across the nation. During this unprecedented time, I am deeply committed, first and foremost, to standing by the people of the 43rd District as their state senator,” the Democrat said in a statement.

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Washington will be working in Annapolis through Wednesday as the General Assembly rapidly passes key bills ahead of an early adjournment. Lawmakers are expected to prioritize the most important legislation, including the state budget and education measures.

“This is a time to set politics aside, as the health, safety, and well-being of my constituents must come first," Washington said. “I have always followed the work, and right now, this is where I am needed most.”

Baltimore’s mayoral primary is scheduled for April 28. Washington leaves a Democratic field that includes Mayor Bernard C. "Jack Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith and former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller.

Washington does not plan to endorse another candidate at this time, according to a campaign spokeswoman.

Mileah Kromer, director of Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, said Washington’s exit leaves a hole in the race. She was a “clear progressive” with a strong connection to state government and an academic background. In such a crowded primary, with so much of the electorate undecided, Kromer said Washington’s voice could make an impact.

“If she decides to endorse and get behind somebody, she could be a powerful surrogate to have,” she said.

A February poll by The Baltimore Sun, the University of Baltimore and WYPR-FM showed Washington with 5% support among likely Democratic primary voters, with a third of voters polled undecided. She had roughly $116,000 cash on hand, according to her most recent campaign finance filing in January.

Washington jumped into the mayoral race because she said the city needs a competent leader with a progressive vision. She’d often remark: “Baltimore’s not a poor city; we’ve just been poorly run."

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Washington is known as one of the most progressive leaders in the legislature. She served in the House of Delegates from 2010 to 2018 representing North Baltimore. In 2018, she unseated incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway.

Groups such as SEIU Local 500, NARAL Pro-Choice MD, Baltimore Women United and Our Revolution endorsed her.

Now, instead of campaigning, Washington said she will help put together a “resource response team” this week to assist residents who may not be able to leave their homes. She also said she will work with local businesses owners facing major economic hardship as people withdraw from public life in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The pandemic, which has upended life across the globe, also has changed how local candidates are campaigning. Just two weeks ago, candidates were making small adjustments: going for an elbow bump rather than a handshake and offering hand sanitizer to voters when meeting them.

But now, as the virus spreads, campaigns are scaling back dramatically. Candidates are calling voters instead of knocking on doors, holding virtual events rather than in-person fundraisers and asking their campaign staff to telecommute.

Several also are encouraging voters to request absentee ballots in light of federal recommendations to avoid large gatherings, like those common at polls.

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Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Monday that the state is “working on contingencies” for the primary as other states decide to either postpone or offer mail-only voting for their upcoming elections.

The directors of local election boards across Maryland delivered a letter last week to the state Board of Elections, urging its officials to move to mail-only voting.

Other mayoral candidates thanked Washington for what she brought to the discussion and her service to the people of Baltimore from the General Assembly. No one else announced their intention to drop out.

Smith said he spent a lot of time with Washington during the campaign by virtue of being seated alphabetically at events, and came to have a great deal of respect for the senator.

“Personally, I’m going to miss her, because she brought a different perspective," he said. “Even though she was an elected official, she felt like an outsider.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.

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