Catalina Byrd was outnumbered, but that was nothing new.
In a city where nearly 80% of voters are registered Democrats, the Republican mayoral candidate is in the minority in Baltimore. At one February forum, she was also the lone GOP contender on stage as a sea of her Democratic rivals duked it out among themselves.
“If one of your favorite Democrats doesn’t make it out, then you have an option in November,” Byrd said in her closing remarks to a crowd she knew was largely populated by Democrats. “You don’t have to change your party.”
In deep blue Baltimore, the drama of the mayoral race is planted firmly on the left. Democratic candidates have poured millions of dollars into their races, lined up endorsements from party leaders and aimed their negative campaigning at each other, assuming clutching the nomination makes them the de facto winner of the November election.
It’s a reasonably safe assumption. A Republican has not been mayor of Baltimore since Theodore McKeldin left office in 1967.
Regardless, on the other side of the political aisle, one Republican is about to be the GOP nominee, guaranteeing a spot on the November ballot alongside the Democratic victor from the June 2 primary.
That Republican, one of seven in the race, will secure the nod with virtually no money spent. The GOP candidates have a collective $400 on the books in campaign accounts. Five of the seven filed affidavits pledging to spend less than $1,000. Two others failed to file reports altogether, accumulating late fees of about $800 each.
Byrd, one of the candidates who owes late fees, is considered the front-runner by the limited number of people who keep tabs on GOP politics in Baltimore. A past candidate for judge and mayor, she has a degree of name recognition the others do not. A resident of Midtown-Edmondson in West Baltimore, Byrd is a member of the city’s Women’s Commission and the Community Oversight Task Force, which oversees implementation of the federal consent decree to reform the city police department.
The 39-year-old campaign consultant is running on a platform that includes loans to start small businesses, the expansion of recreation centers, and tax breaks for teachers to live in Baltimore.
If elected, she said she would make establishing safe injection sites in the city a priority. Much has been said about Baltimore’s crime problem, but the rate of people dying from overdoses eclipses the homicide rate, she said.
“That’s the real crisis, not the crime crisis,” she said.
Byrd said she tried to file an affidavit stating she planned to raise no more than $1,000, but the state’s system didn’t work correctly. She said she is waiting for a representative from the State Board of Elections to return her calls and emails.
Running against Byrd is Shannon Wright, a 53-year-old pastor and former first vice president of the Yonkers NAACP in New York. Wright moved to Baltimore in 2013 and ran unsuccessfully in 2016 for City Council president.
The biggest challenge facing Baltimore is the coronavirus pandemic, Wright said, and the lack of preparation on the part of city officials.
“We have a lot of resources in this city with all the colleges and universities,” she said. “We should really be a melting pot of new ideas and innovations, strategies and policies, and I don’t see it.”
If elected, Wright, who describes herself as a Frederick Douglass Republican, said she would focus on improving public-private partnerships and repairing what she sees as a strained relationship between city and state leaders.
Ivan Gonzalez, a 13-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, has focused on public safety issues during his bid for the Republican nomination. Calling the crime plans of leading Democratic candidates “garbage,” Gonzalez said he would create an “army” of police special operations teams to conduct searches and get guns off the street.
Gonzalez said he would make former Baltimore Police Lt. Stephen Nalewajko the city’s police commissioner and “get rid of” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. A mayor can nominate a police commissioner, but the appointment needs the approval of the City Council. Also, Mosby, a Democrat, is an elected official and does not serve at the pleasure of the mayor.
Nalewajko narrowly avoided being charged with second-degree murder in 1994 after he was involved in a shooting that resulted in the death of a man. A grand jury initially recommended charges against Nalewajko and officer Lewis G. Yamin, but the next day reversed itself.
If elected, Gonzalez, 50, who works in the narcotics unit with an annual salary of about $80,000, said he would serve as mayor during the day and continue his police work at night pro bono.
“After 5 p.m., I’ll grab my goddamn police-issued rifle. I’ll pair up with the commissioner who used to be a lieutenant, and I would get these guys myself. That’s how you lead from the front."
Gonzalez has not filed a campaign finance report and owes more than $800 in fees. He said he has raised no money in the race, but has had difficulty getting the state’s campaign finance filing system to work.
Zulieka Baysmore, 61, a native of Washington, D.C., who works in the insurance industry, would focus on community development as mayor, according to her campaign website, using federal housing money to build more affordable homes in the city with a goal of creating 5,000 first-time homeowners.
Baysmore, a resident of Madison Park in West Baltimore, said she plans to build 14 entrepreneur and manufacturing hubs, one in each City Council district — a plan she said would create 2,000 jobs.
“If you develop it and start getting on top of the violent crime here, they will come back,” Baysmore said of developers during a GOP candidate forum in February.
Collins Otonna, 58, an independent candidate for mayor in 2016, is now running with the GOP and calls himself a “liberal Republican” on his campaign website. Otonna pledged to work with the city’s youth if elected. He proposed a “performance debit card” for each city student, funded with $30 per week. Students would have to attend classes to retain the benefit, he said on the website.
David Anthony Wiggins, 60, a candidate for sheriff in 2014 and 2018, states on his campaign website that he would strengthen programs that encourage the sharing of ideas between city leaders and Baltimore’s research universities. Wiggins, of Parkside in Northeast Baltimore, said he would oppose new taxes on businesses, which would create uncertainty in Baltimore’s economic climate.