By WILL ANDERSON
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) announced on Friday that she was dropping out of the 2016 mayoral race.
Rawlings-Blake, who took office in 2010, has been under fire for how she handled the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, the ensuing peaceful demonstrations and rioting, and the surge in crime that has dominated Baltimore since last May.
Rawlings-Blake decided to drop out of the race so that residents of Baltimore and the media would focus on the city’s rebuilding efforts rather than her mayoral campaign. Rawlings-Blake chose to remain mayor for the last 15 months of her term because she said that she still had promises to the Baltimore community that she had to finish.
“It was a very difficult decision but I knew I needed to spend time focused on the city’s future, not my own,” Rawlings-Blake said.
The Mayor will focus on initiatives including recreation center and pool renovations worth $137 million, police reform, job growth and the continuing $1 billion school construction plan that will renovate or build over 20 schools.
The Mayor also said that she did not want to be a distraction for the media, which is covering the trials of the police officers indicted in the case of the death of Freddie Gray. A judge recently ruled that the trials will be held in Baltimore City.
Rawlings-Blake spoke to WBAL 11, a Baltimore TV station, about her handling of the riots, which many have criticized.
“If this event will define me, history will show that I made sure the city was safe,” she said. “And unlike other cities where riots lasted for days and weeks, we had a very condensed period of time because of the decisions I made and the hard work I put in.”
There have been calls from many in the community for Rawlings-Blake to step down. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) was Rawlings-Blake’s most prominent challenger and is now in a stronger position.
Dixon was Mayor of Baltimore from 2007 to 2010, when she was forced to resign because of charges relating to abuse of office, including her personal use of gift cards meant for poor families. She received a $45,000 fine and had to serve 500 hours of community service. Dixon was previously unable to run for public office because of her probation that lasted until 2012.
Support for Dixon remains strong among Baltimore residents, and she is currently the most well-known candidate for the Democratic primary this April.
Dixon highlighted her prior tenure as mayor.
“There will be no learning curve for me,” she said. “I can hit the ground running.”
Several other Democrats have filed for the mayoral election, including City Councilman Carl Stokes (12th District), Maryland State Senator Catherine E. Pugh, who previously ran in the 2011 primary against Rawlings-Blake, and Calvin Allen Young III, an engineer.
Mugging victims’ advocate and Baltimore Sun opinion writer Connor Meek is running as an independent.
Other candidates who have expressed an interest in running but have not announced their candidacies include: City Councilman Nick J. Mosby (7th District), who is also the husband of State’s Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby; writer and veteran Wes Moore; and State Delegate Jill P. Carter. They are all Democrats.
Baltimore is a largely Democratic city and has had a Democratic mayor since 1967.
The filing deadline for candidates is Feb. 3, 2016 at 9 p.m., and the primary elections will be held on April 26.