Incumbent Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has won Baltimore’s mayoral election, nearly two years after her predecessor stepped down amid scandal.
In her two years in office, the former councilwoman has guided the Maryland city through crises including snowstorms and fixing budget gaps. It’s her first term she’s earned outright.
The Democrat had been expected to beat her Republican challenger, Alfred V. Griffin III, in the general election. The fall contests are usually a formality in a city where Republicans make up about 10 percent of the registered voters, and this year’s ballot featured no statewide or national races.
With all precincts reporting, Rawlings-Blake won with 87 percent of the vote, or 37,970 votes, to 13 percent for Griffin, who received 5,826 votes.
“We are here tonight because we believe all of Baltimore can be the center a strong and creative society,” Rawlings-Blake told her supporters at her victory party. “There is no doubt that we have challenges to confront, old fears to overcome and tough decisions to make to get Baltimore growing again. But if we have learned anything in these last 20 months, it is that Baltimore can go against the odds and win.”
Turnout was low for the general election, as it was for the primaries. About 12 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the mayoral race: about 44,000 people cast ballots in person for mayor and another 1,600 sent in absentee ballots for the city of 620,000 residents.
Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday night that the low turnout might be due to the fact that there were few hotly contested races.
“It’s always disappointing when turnout is low,” she said. “We continue to try to find ways to boost turnout.”
Leeroy Brooks, 53, who works in construction, went to Fort Worthington Elementary School to vote for City Council write-in candidate Shannon Sneed. He wondered about the low turnout but said he figured people thought the outcome was set.
“Everyone thinks everything is over,” he said. “Sometimes you can make a difference.”
In the mayoral race, Brooks voted for Rawlings-Blake, saying he liked the way she represented the city.
“Whenever there’s a question to be answered, she doesn’t beat around the bush,” he said. “And mostly I agree with her.”
Pat Williams, 56, a substitute teacher and registered Democrat, said she was surprised how few people were at the polls Tuesday evening because her polling station is “usually packed.” Williams voted for Rawlings-Blake because she thinks she is doing a good job.
“I think we should give her a little more time,” she said.
Early voting doesn’t catch on
This was the first municipal election cycle to feature early voting. Yet only 2 percent of eligible voters did so in in the primary and 1 percent voted early in the general election.
Rawlings-Blake garnered 52 percent of the primary vote. Her closest challenger, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, had 25 percent.
Rawlings-Blake, 41, the daughter of a popular state delegate, was a public defender and was the youngest person elected to the City Council at age 25 in 1995. She and her husband, Kent Blake, send their daughter, Sophia, to a city public school.
Tuesday night’s event at a Mexican restaurant in a redeveloped industrial site on the harbor was a smaller affair than her primary victory party, which drew Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and several other top politicians from around the state. This time, Rawlings-Blake was surrounded by City Council members and campaign workers as she spoke to the crowd. She was flanked by her husband and her daughter, who was allowed to stay up past her 8:30 p.m. bedtime.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., addressed Rawlings-Blake before she spoke.
“The voters of this city have taken a major step,” Cummings said. “What they’ve said is, ‘We’ve seen you in action and we like what we see.'”
Rawlings-Blake became council president in 2007 and ascended to the post of mayor early last year when Democrat Sheila Dixon resigned after an embezzlement conviction and separate plea to lying about gifts from her developer ex-boyfriend.
Some voiced concerns that Rawlings-Blake wasn’t up to the job. But as the primary race shaped up, observers noted that she was criticized about her lack of flash and glamour, not her abilities.
Early in her tenure, Rawlings-Blake pushed for reforms to the city’s ethics board and faced a $121 million projected budget shortfall with layoffs, agency reorganizations and new taxes. Rawlings-Blake has touted fully funding the city’s commitment to its school system and an initiative to fill 400 police officer vacancies despite the tight budget.
More recently, she backed the Baltimore Grand Prix race over Labor Day weekend, an event that city officials claim generated $27.6 million from out-of-town spectators, vendors and race organizers and had a total economic impact of nearly $47 million. She has also had a light touch as she dealt with Occupy Baltimore protesters, who moved in to McKeldin Plaza near the Inner Harbor early last month. While other mayors have had protesters arrested, she has avoided confrontation.
Voters also cast ballots for Council members and the Council president and approved a ballot question to establish a fund to maintain school buildings.
Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, who won his race, signs around Fort Worthington Elementary as polls were about to close and said he was disappointed by the low turnout. He said he’d prefer elections be in sync with the presidential election cycle.
“We would like to have better turnout,” he said. “You don’t know whether (voters) are saying you’re not doing a good job or if they like what you’re doing.”