By Will Anderson
News & Features Editor
In the aftermath of the riots and peaceful protests that dominated Baltimore this past May, residents will elect a new mayor in 2016.
Current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), elected in 2011, has been criticized for her handling of the riots, with some arguing she did too much and others saying she didn’t do enough.
Baltimore has been governed by a Democratic mayor since 1967, so the Democratic primary will most likely determine who will be the eventual winner. For context, Rawlings-Blake won in 2011 with 84 percet of the vote versus Republican Alfred Griffin’s 13 percent. She won the Democratic primary with 52 percent versus her closest rival’s 25 percent.
In what would normally be an easy re-election campaign for an incumbent Democratic mayor in Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake faces stiff competition from, among others, former mayor Sheila Dixon (D). Several lesser known candidates are also running but are considered long shots.
Dixon was indicted in 2009 on 12 felony and misdemeanor counts related to abuse of office. She was only convicted of one misdemeanor count of embezzlement relating to the misuse of $600 in gift cards meant to help poor families. As part of her plea deal to avoid prison, Dixon resigned as mayor in 2010 and served probation, which ended in 2012.
Dixon, who has a master’s degree from Hopkins, outlined the approach she is taking for her campaign on her Facebook page.
“After discussions with my family and encouragement from friends and people across the city, I have made a decision to run for Mayor of Baltimore,” she wrote. “I believe I have the leadership skills and experience to bring citizens across the city together to create a safer city that is also cleaner, greener, and healthier than we are today. Together we can reclaim, revive and rebuild Baltimore.”
Dixon’s campaign has focued on her accomplishments during her time as mayor, pointing to the citywide smoking ban and the expansion of public green spaces and stressing her longstanding ties to the Baltimore community.
Rawlings-Blake, whose re-election headquarters will be located in Remington, launched her campaign by speaking about her tenure as mayor.
“I look forward to running an aggressive campaign that clearly lays out the choice between where Baltimore was when I took office and how far we have come under my leadership,” she said. “We are constructing the first new schools in a generation and the first new recreation centers in a decade. We have reduced unemployment by a third and fixed the fiscal mess we inherited.”
Rawlings-Blake spoke to the WBAL radio station and compared her time as mayor to Dixon’s.
“When she had to step down, the city had a $140 million budget deficit,” she said. “The pensions system was running out of control… And there were no plans for reforming our police department.”
During Rawlings-Blake’s tenure, unemployment in Baltimore decreased from 12.1 percent to 8.1 percent and school graduation and attendance rates are up.
Rawlings-Blake has referred to Dixon as only “the previous mayor,” and has declined to attack her aggressively so far in what will become a long campaign. Dixon has run a campaign that focuses on engaging and working with Baltimore communities. Dixon has advocated for community policing, a tactic that encourages police officers to know and live with members of the community they serve, as well as citizen involvement in local security.