It was a beautiful day in the city of Baltimore, and the Ravens weren't on TV, so we can't blame weather or football. But there are a bunch of other explanations for the low-and-slow voter turnout in the 2011 city primary, and here are 12 of them:
1.This was the most overrated mayoral race in memory. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had some attractive opponents, and one of them had Bill Cosby on his side. Plus, they all talked about something that should have excited voters — cutting property taxes. But that never gained traction as an issue — the last TV commercial I saw for Jody Landers didn't even mention it — and the challengers developed no other issue to either attract attention to themselves or to pin as a game-changing negative on Rawlings-Blake.
2.Nobody went negative. We kept hearing rumors that one of the candidates was about to unleash some real mudballs, but it never happened. I'm not complaining about that — no, really — just pointing it out.
3.Related to No. 2, Julius Henson was under indictment and not active in any mayoral campaign that we know of.
4.The Grand Prix was not a disaster.
5.A heavy turnout only comes when candidates pull in people who don't always vote; running up big numbers of voters requires pushing new and undecided voters to the polls. Too many strategists in city elections think they can win without a broad appeal and by focusing on the people in their smart-phone contact lists.
6.The Otis Rolley bullet tax failed to capture the public's imagination.
7.Baltimore has had three mayors in five years, and no one wanted a fourth. Martin O'Malley was elected governor in 2006, skipping town and leaving City Hall in Sheila Dixon's hands. Dixon was elected to a four-year term in 2007. But, shortly after that, we learned that Dixon had taken what she thought she deserved — then she got what she deserved. Her plea bargain was just a little more than 18 months ago. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took her place and did a satisfactory job cleaning up the mess left behind. Rawlings-Blake's opponents tried to convince voters to dump her for another mayor, but the hope that you might elect somebody a little bit better doesn't drive people to the polls like a burning desire to throw someone out.
8.Unless there's a hot race at the top of the ticket, we don't get big voter turnouts in Baltimore. The last time we had a hot Democratic primary was 1999, when O'Malley defeated Lawrence Bell and Carl Stokes. At least 49 percent of city voters turned out. You have to go back to 1983 to find another hot primary; the turnout was 63 percent that year, with William Donald Schaefer winning in a landslide over attorney Billy Murphy.
9.Early on, Rawlings-Blake got rid of the bangs and went with a more professional and fetching hairstyle. So there was no bad hair to vote against.
10.People are burned out, tired and jaded by political dysfunction. The public gives Congress a lousy rating — perhaps the worst since this sort of thing was measured in any scientific way — and that trickles down to the local level. The public's opinion of politicians might be at an all-time low. And many of the 243,968 Baltimoreans who supported President Obama in 2008, the vast majority of them Democrats, are scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the guy they voted for. So, come the city primary on a Tuesday in September 2011, lots of stressed and unhappy people, turned off to politics generally, just skip it. Given the perceived mood of voters these days, it would have been very hard for a challenger to inspire a mass movement against a sitting mayor who appeared stable and smart.
11.The economy is still a drag, and we learned yesterday that 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty — the most in the half-century that the government has been counting the poor. The unemployment rate in Baltimore is about 11 percent, above the national average. But that has been the case for years, and no one seems to blame the mayor for it. There will be a reckoning on the economy for Congress and the president in 2012. Voter anger is not usually a dynamic in city politics.
12. Baltimoreans were so happy about the Ravens' trouncing of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday they weren't in the mood to throw anyone out of office.