Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced this morning at City Hall that she will not seek re-election in 2016, saying that the political distractions of running for office would interfere with the current challenges facing the city in the coming months.
“As I prepared to engage in a vigorous mayoral campaign and participated in planning meetings with my campaign team and volunteers, I came to the realization that every moment that I spend running for mayor would take away from the urgent responsibilities to the city that I love,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Over the next 15 months, my time would be best spent focused on continuing to move the city forward and building upon our progress, without the distraction of campaign politics.”
Coming a day after the second pre-trial motions hearing in the Freddie Gray cases, Rawlings-Blake's announcement Friday came as a major surprise to political observers and shakes up a suddenly wide-open Democratic race for mayor with the primary still seven months away.
In making the announcement, Rawlings-Blake stressed her decision was not made out of a fear of losing the upcoming election and highlighted her accomplishments while in office, including reforming the city’s pension system, improving Baltimore’s bond rating and overall financial picture, reducing property taxes, prioritizing the Vacants to Value initiative, and helping secure more than $1 billion for school construction.
"I haven't lost a race since middle school," Rawlings-Blake said, jokingly noting that the opponent who beat her then—a boy named Anthony Watson—isn't among the current field of candidates.
She said she has no immediate plans to run again for political office, but did not rule out doing so in the future. Part of the reason that the decision not to run for re-election comes as a surprise is that Rawlings-Blake seemed on firmer political ground in recent weeks after firing former police commissioner Anthony Batts and naming interim commissioner Kevin Davis to take over. That move that appeared to be supported by the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police leadership, from whom Rawlings-Blake has taken a great deal of heat since the April unrest, and seemed to be steadying the ship at the police department, at least publicly, and in terms of managing the more recent protests around the courthouse.
"Much work remains to be done, and I will spend the remaining 15 months of my term as Mayor continuing to be focused on our city’s future and moving this city forward," Rawlings-Blake said. "I will continue efforts to improve police-community relations and decrease violent crime. I will continue to fight for City Council approval of my ambitious plan to invest $136 million in recreation centers for our communities. I will continue to create opportunities for new jobs and attack neighborhood blight."
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has clashed with Rawlings-Blake at times over the response to the protests and riots after Gray's death from injuries suffered while in police custody and his decision to cancel Baltimore's Red Line mass transit project, released the following statement: “It takes courage and strength to lead one of America's great cities, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stood up and has served the city she loves over the course of two decades. I value my working relationship with the mayor and thank her for her service. Our administrations will continue working together to make Baltimore a better and stronger city.”
Rawlings-Blake said a decision not to seek re-election had been percolating for several months as her administration prepared for the legal issues surrounding the Gray case. The announcement follows by two days her administration’s agreement—and the City’s Board of Estimates approval—of a controversial $6.4 million wrongful death settlement with Gray’s family that accepted all civil liability, but expressly did not acknowledge guilt by the police officers charged in the case.
Rawlings-Blake’s decision obviously opens up space for April’s Democratic primary contestants, a field which includes former mayor Sheila Dixon—who announced she was running in July—and state Sen. Catherine Pugh and City Councilman Carl Stokes, who both announced Tuesday that they were entering the fray.
Dixon, in a statement, commended Rawlings-Blake, a former City Council member who rose to City Council president when Dixon became mayor. "She and her family have made many sacrifices and I think earned the right to pursue other goals."
Rawlings-Blake was initially appointed mayor in 2010 when Dixon was forced to resign as part of a plea deal after stealing gift cards intended for the poor. Rawlings-Blake, whose father, Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, was a widely respected state delegate from Baltimore City, was elected in her own right in 2011.
Stokes, near his City Hall office, said he was surprised by the mayor's announcement, but praised Rawlings-Blake's decision to place managing the city through its current struggles over running a re-election campaign.
"I know it's a hard decision for her," Stokes said.
By stepping aside, Stokes added, the mayor, City Council, and various City departments should be able to address and communicate about issues more directly, without worrying about how they will play out or be spun in the context of a political campaign.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, who got his start in politics as a community outreach worker for Rawlings-Blake and is also considering a bid for mayor, said he respected the mayor's decision. "She came into the City Council when she was 25 and is leaving at 45, 46 [when her term expires]. She gave the prime of her life to the city," Scott said. "History will look back and see the mayor did some great things."
Other potential contenders for mayor include businessman and best-selling author Wes Moore, who is said to be considering a bid; state Del. Jill P. Carter, whose supporters have launched a Facebook page with almost 2,700 followers encouraging her to run; and City Councilman Nick J. Mosby, who represents West Baltimore and is married to City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.