Elections Central: Baltimore's Resurgence
“The people of Baltimore deserve better and we’re going to get better” the incumbent mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, promised this during a speech, in response to the protests that were consuming the streets of her city. The unrest that began in April of 2015 was sparked by Freddie Gray, a black 25-year-old, dying in police custody. The country’s reoccurring problem of unarmed African Americans dying at the hands of the police, combined with the lack of details provided on Gray’s death; eventually led to disorder within the city of Baltimore. Soon after protests and riots were underway, the mayor issued a city-wide curfew. While it can be viewed that this was an imperative step in restoring peace, it should come as no surprise that some viewed it as an over-assertion of power being used to stifle a grieving community. Implementing the curfew was just one of the many instances in which the community in Baltimore felt their mayor acted poorly during these protests. She was constantly critiqued for her actions regarding her decision. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is not running for reelection this year, a decision that was undoubtedly influenced by the events following Freddie Gray’s death.
As Baltimore continues to struggle with the ramifications of last year’s events, the question of who will take the reins of the city following Rawlings-Blake’s departure have risen. The results of this municipal election could either lead to the reinvigoration of Baltimore, or its further descent. At this point in the election, a small minority would argue against the educated guess that Maryland State Senator Catherine E. Pugh will become the next mayor of Baltimore. With thirteen candidates in the democratic primary, Pugh defeated her closest opponent, former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, by a sly margin of 3%. Clenching the democratic nomination essentially seals the deal for Pugh in a city that has elected a democratic mayor consecutively for the last forty-nine years. Winning the general election against Republican nominee Alan Walen and Green Party nominee Joshua Harris will not be an issue for Pugh, but improving Baltimore will.
Pugh appears to have a developed strategy for improving the city; her campaign website, The Plan, states that her “5 Pillars for Moving the City Forward” are education, economic development & jobs, quality of life, public safety, and accountability & transparency. Perhaps the latter two are of the utmost importance to citizens, due to the death of Freddie Gray. She hopes to eradicate “the police and community divide and improve the neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades leaving the impression that we are at war with our own citizens.” Catherine Pugh’s campaign appears to be arguing for change, or an expulsion of Baltimore’s current operations.
There is a strong argument to be made that Baltimore’s politicians over the last few years have failed their city. Sheila Dixon, Pugh’s closest opponent for mayor, was forced to resign from the position when she previously held it back in 2010. In 2009, Dixon was indicted on a dozen charges; among those charges were multiple counts of perjury, theft, and misconduct. In a plea bargain with the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office, Dixon resigned as mayor and promised not to pursue a political career for two years.
Aside from electing a corrupt mayor, the people of Baltimore have faced pretty rough times over the past decade. Over the span of four years (2009 – 2013), Baltimore found itself consistently struggling with an unemployment rate in double digits. Although that rate has significantly declined since then, there are a plethora of problems facing the city that are present and prominent. Take schooling, for instance; in the Baltimore City Public School District, only 9% of high school students displayed an understanding of Algebra during the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment. These results also revealed that black students only made up 7.2% of the high schoolers who met or exceeded expectations. This example is an accurate representation of the school system in Baltimore. The final and most damning list of statistics against Baltimore would be its crime rates. The city faced its largest annual murder count in history, in 2015. An astonishing 344 homicides were reported; most of which took place during the summer months of May – August.
If Baltimore needs a complete overhaul of their established system, perhaps Catherine Pugh isn’t the person for the job. Pugh’s previous involvement in Baltimore’s politics forces many individuals to question how much has she contributed to the city’s current problems. Being the Majority Leader of Maryland’s Senate makes Pugh seem less like a revolutionary, and more like a systematic beneficiary of the state’s politics. She’s the “establishment candidate” according to WEAA Radio talk show host Charles D. Ellison. Like many politicians, Pugh’s history seems to contradict her campaign platform. It will be interesting to see if she does, in fact, upset the detriment Baltimore has currently been facing.