Story originally posted at news.wypr.org on Sept. 11, 2015.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Friday she will not seek re-election in 2016; leveling the playing field for mayoral candidates. Political observers said her decision will limit some of the clout she has while she’s still in office.
The mayor said she thought about whether to pursue re-election over the last couple of months and decided to focus on governing and not campaigning.
“I kept thinking should I be focused on working through reforming our police department; working with the Department of Justice or reaching out to potential donors,” she said. “But I knew I needed to spend time – the remaining 15 months of my term – on the city’s future and not my own.”
Rawlings-Blake’s decision to step aside comes after a spike in homicides and the events surround the April death of Freddie Gray from a spinal cord injury he suffered while in police custody; that includes two weeks of protests and unrest and the upcoming trials against six police officers accused in Gray’s death.
The mayor said she was confident that she would have won what has become a more competitive election.
“I could have won because there’s no other candidate who can demonstrate what I have done or what more they could do to make the city better,” she said.
Lame Duck Status: Debatable
Mayor Rawlings-Blake said her decision to leave office in December 2016 did not make her a lame duck.
“I made myself a person who’s committed to doing the work of the city without the cloud of campaigning,” she argued.
Daniel Schlozman, assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, counters.
“Oh, she’s a lame duck,” he said despite all the power she will still have as Baltimore’s mayor.
“The power to set the agenda, the power to see where the city is going, the power to make commitments that are going to be enforced in the future; those are powers she doesn’t have the same way.
Schlozman said any proposal the mayor has before the city council now has a time limit on it; that includes her plan to sell four downtown parking garages to fund an overhaul of recreation centers.
Any proposed legislation that the city council has not acted on will expire at the end of the mayor and the council’s term; it does not carry over.
Schlozman adds the next 15 months will be a lesson on how much clout a mayor actually has.
“We’re so use to thinking of a mayor whose formal powers in the charter are complimented by informal powers; this is going to be an interesting test of what those formal powers alone can accomplish,” he said.
The Mayor’s Legacy
At City Hall, the mayor was being honored for her service to Baltimore. She has held elected office in Baltimore since first being elected to the city council in 1995; the youngest person ever to be elected to that body.
Rawlings-Blake became City Council President in 2007 after Sheila Dixon became mayor following Martin O’Malley becoming governor.
When Dixon was forced to leave office in 2010 following her conviction for misconduct in office, Rawlings-Blake became mayor. She was subsequently elected to her own term in 2011.
Councilman Carl Stokes, who announced his mayoral run this week, said Rawlings-Blake’s decision will allow her to think independently of politics.
“I think that in some ways she can make decisions that she otherwise would think twice about because of political ramifications,” he said.
Councilman Brandon Scott, who is expected to announce his plans in the next two months, said history will be kinder to Rawlings-Blake.
“You can’t argue with the facts; this mayor had the lowest homicide numbers ever on record for the city of Baltimore,” he said. “Under this mayor, that we get a billion dollars for school construction. She also did the fiscal thing; getting out of that mess; built the first new rec centers when Brandon Scott was a public school student.”
Professor Schlozman agreed that history will be kinder to the mayor. His hope, he said, is that the record will show she had a tough job considering the circumstances of a tough economy and a lack of investment overall.