For mayoral candidates, a whirl of handshakes

Democrats storm through city a day before primary

  • Candidates running for the Democratic nomination to be mayor of Baltimore include, from left, Frank M. Conaway Sr., Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, Catherine E. Pugh, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Otis Rolley.
Candidates running for the Democratic nomination to be mayor…
September 12, 2011|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

They rapped on doors, waved bright signs, groused about the media, ate chicken wings, and shook hands — lots and lots of hands.

The women and men hoping to win the Democratic nomination to be Baltimore's next mayor whirled through the city Monday, seeking to sway last-minute support as the primary neared.

In the biggest race, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake faces four challengers, but elections officials did not expect a crush of voters.

"We're all ready for whoever comes," said Armstead B. Crowley Jones Jr., director of the Baltimore Board of Elections. About 7,800 of the city's 370,000 registered voters cast ballots in the six days of early voting, so he did not expect a very high turnout Tuesday.

The city's 290 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said

Rawlings-Blake caught a bus from City Hall to Lexington Market to rally voters, accompanied bySen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

When Mikulski waved enthusiastically at an approaching bus, Rawlings-Blake, who stood quietly by her side, informed the senator that their bus would arrive shortly.

"Let's wave anyway," said Mikulski.

Rawlings-Blake was similarly muted on the bus, greeting riders in hushed tones and prompting a campaign aide to mime waving and smiling to her. Rawlings-Blake mostly chatted with Mikulski, clucking over the Republican lawmakers in Washington.

"I don't know how you go down there every day with all of that discord," the mayor said to Mikulski. "I wish everyone could be as reasonable as our delegation."

Mikulski whipped up the crowd, loudly cracking jokes and reminding riders to vote.

"Tomorrow's election day. We've got to support our mayor," said Mikulski, who started her political career as an East Baltimore councilwoman.

While many passengers snapped cell phone photos of Rawlings-Blake, one griped loudly that the mayor's retinue had slowed the bus and would make her late to work.

"We're missing our connection to the light rail because of this," said Darlene Williams, who was heading from her East Baltimore home to a job at the airport. "She's not getting my vote."

Rawlings-Blake also encountered a mixed reaction at the market.

Calvin Hayes, 42, an unemployed warehouse worker from West Baltimore, grinned and posed for a picture with the mayor.

"I think she's doing fine for her just getting in there. People have to realize there was already a lot of crap when she came in," he said. "Plus, we need a pretty face."

Rawlings-Blake said she was "excited" about the primary, which, in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, usually determines the next mayor.

But about a half-dozen people, both inside and outside the market, heckled the mayor.

Elihu El of Park Heights peppered Rawlings-Blake with questions about her dealings with developers and a racially charged incident in which two members of a Jewish patrol group were accused of beating a black teenager. State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein dropped some of the more serious charges.

"You ain't done nothing for black people in this city," said Elihu El of Park Heights. "You're bought and paid for, Ms. Rawlings."

Candidate Otis Rolley swept through the market an hour later, handing out purple stickers, sampling chicken wings, and answering questions about his plans to boost employment.

"Do you have a plan to create jobs… for people like me who might have a criminal background?" asked Anthony Thomas, 40, an unemployed cook from West Baltimore.

After Rolley explained his plan to create incentives for businesses to hire ex-offenders, Thomas said he had decided to vote for Rolley. "I think out of these candidates, he has the better resume for rebuilding the city," Thomas said.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh ticked through a dizzying schedule, waving to transit riders near Mondawmin Mall, talking to children about health at Callaway Elementary School, hosting a radio show, greeting voters at a North Baltimore home and celebrating at an evening rally.

"I'm excited about being the next mayor of the City of Baltimore," said Pugh. "I've enjoyed the interactions with people."

Clerk of Circuit Court Frank M. Conaway also mingled with voters across the city, waving signs at McCullough Street and North Avenue, and passing out backpacks with school supplies to children at Edgewood Elementary School.

He planned to stay in his campaign headquarters today and "troubleshoot" for staffers and volunteers, instead of visiting polling places. "If you haven't done it all by Election Day, you can forget about it," he said.

Candidate Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III urged voters not to be misled by "political commentators and pundits" who, he said, were predicting the primary's outcome before most ballots had been cast.

"The point I want to get across today, in the strongest language possible, is that this election is not over," Landers said at a morning news conference at his Key Highway campaign headquarters. "The citizens have yet to register their votes. ... Each and every vote counts."

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