Reporting Pat Warren
BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP)– Baltimore voters speak their minds. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wins a primary race that almost guarantees her a full term in office.
Political reporter Pat Warren was at City Hall where the mayor held a news conference Wednesday.
Rawlings-Blake takes the race, and says she’s putting the primary behind her to get Baltimore moving forward.
Baltimore Democrats declare for the mayor. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, appointed to office to replace Mayor Sheila Dixon, is the party’s official candidate for mayor in the November general election, winning 52% of the votes in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
“Woooo! I don’t even know where to begin!” Rawlings-Blake exclaimed.
After months of fending off criticism in a field of five candidates, the Rawlings-Blake campaign paid off.
“Now it is important that we get to work and make things happen for the city that we love,” she said.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, she told reporters those things include jobs and business development.
“The thing that I talked about during the campaign is what I hear from our citizens– we have a shared vision for the city,” Rawlings-Blake explained. “Everybody wants better schools, safer streets and stronger neighborhoods, and part of stronger neighborhoods means economic development and job creation.”
Voters are likely to expect the governor and federal lawmakers who campaigned for Rawlings-Blake to do their part to make that happen.
There is a general election on Nov. 8, when the mayor will run against the winner of the Republican primary. With just 22 votes between them, that race is too close to call.
Challengers to Rawlings-Blake had vowed to upset her if they could draw enough supporters to the voting booths, but turnout was light. In addition to Pugh, her challengers were former city planning director and mayoral chief of staff Otis Rolley, former Councilman Jody Landers, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway and nurse Wilton Wilson.
The GOP primary, which featured Vicki Ann Harding and Alfred Griffin, was too close to call late Wednesday. The city hasn’t had a Republican mayor since Theodore R. McKeldin left office in 1967.
Rawlings-Blake, the daughter of a popular state delegate, worked as a public defender and was the youngest person elected to the City Council at age 25 in 1995. She became Council president in 2007 and mayor last year when Democrat Sheila Dixon resigned after a conviction for embezzling gift cards for needy families and a separate plea for lying about gifts from her developer ex-boyfriend.
Dixon was to perform 500 hours of community service and contribute $45,000 to charities in the city, but was allowed to keep a lifetime pension worth at least $83,000 a year. She must serve at least two years of probation, but then she is free to run for office again.
Rawlings-Blake, 41, pushed for reforms to the city’s ethics board when she came into office, part of the record she has touted during her race to win the seat in her own right. She also drew on support from the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Martin O’Malley and Rep. Elijah Cummings, who both turned up for her campaign launch and victory party.
Some questioned her readiness to lead the city at first, but as she smoothed out the turmoil, she won praise from many in the community. Opponents hoped that the mayor’s support for the Baltimore Grand Prix would blow up in her face if it flopped, but so far the public reaction to the Labor Day event has been mostly positive.
In the 19 months she’s been mayor, Rawlings-Blake said, there’s been “one hurricane, one earthquake, a tornado and two blizzards … two years of budget deficits. We are clear tonight, standing together as one city.”
Lutalo Bakari, 46, a registered Democrat who works as a social worker and track coach with city schools, said he voted for Rawlings-Blake because he likes what he has seen from her since she became mayor.
“Considering what she inherited, I think she’s done a tremendous job,” Bakari said. “She’s doing the work that’s needed.”
But he didn’t hear anything he liked from Rawlings-Blake’s challengers and felt they focused too much on issues such as lowering property taxes.
“They made no case at all,” he said.
Eve Gillison turned 18 on Tuesday, just in time to cast her first vote in the mayoral primary.
“It felt so powerful,” she said. The high school senior, like her parents, Laura Gamble, 48, and Robert Gillison, 50, voted for Rolley.
The teenager said she supported Rolley because of the emphasis he put on improving education when she saw him speak. She has seen many schools in bad shape and understands that it is important for students to finish school just so they aren’t behind.
“He’s an exceedingly bright man,” said Gamble, who had met him on a leadership group. “I wanted to vote for a candidate with ideas, not just the usual rhetoric.”
She was sorry that the race didn’t seem to gain much interest with voters.
“We’ve lived here for 20 years and this has been the quietest mayoral race in that time,” Robert Gillison said. “I think it has more to do with the candidates than with the voters.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)