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Baltimore voters head to polls for city primary

Left to right: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Otis Rolley, Frank Conaway, Catherine Pugh, Jody Landers

Election officials say less than 10 percent of eligible voters have cast ballots in the first eight hours of voting in Baltimore’s primary election.

Observers say Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has a lead in the Democratic mayoral primary. But challengers say they can oust her on Tuesday if enough supporters make it to voting booths.

Election Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. says about 30,800 people had cast ballots by 3 p.m., and total turnout could be about 20 percent.

Rawlings-Blake’s challengers are state Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director and mayoral chief of staff Otis Rolley, former Councilman Jody Landers, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway and nurse Wilton Wilson.

Republicans Vicki Ann Harding and Alfred Griffin are competing to challenge the Democratic primary winner in the Dec. 8 general election.

Rawlings-Blake is running on the record she has built since her predecessor stepped down amid scandal last year, aiming to win the seat in her own right. Observers note that Rawlings-Blake appears to have a significant lead, but her challengers say they can turn out enough supporters at polling stations to oust her.

Rawlings-Blake’s challengers are state Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director and mayoral chief of staff Otis Rolley, former councilman Jody Landers, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway and nurse Wilton Wilson.

‘They made no case at all’

“I voted for Stephanie because I’m more familiar with her,” said Florence D. Hope, 59, a registered Democrat who is active in her community association. Rawlings-Blake has been responsive to her community’s concerns about absentee landowners, she said. “The other folks just popped up around election time. How can I vote for someone when I don’t know them?”

About 30,800 people, or less than 10 percent of eligible voters, had cast ballots by 3 p.m. Tuesday, setting the city on course for a turnout of about 20 percent, Election Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said. No problems had been reported at polls, he said. About 7,800 voters, roughly 2.4 percent of the city’s eligible voters, had already cast ballots in the first municipal election featuring early voting, according to the state election board.

Rawlings-Blake, the daughter of a popular state delegate, worked as a public defender and was the youngest person elected to the City Council at age 25 in 1995. She became Council president in 2007 and mayor last year when Democrat Sheila Dixon resigned after an embezzlement conviction and separate plea for lying about gifts from her developer ex-boyfriend.

Lutalo Bakari, 46, a registered Democrat who works as a social worker and track coach with city schools, said he voted for Rawlings-Blake because he likes what he has seen from her since she became mayor.

“Considering what she inherited, I think she’s done a tremendous job,” Bakari said. “She’s doing the work that’s needed.”

But he didn’t hear anything he liked from Rawlings-Blake’s challengers and felt they focused on issues such as lowering property taxes.

“They made no case at all,” he said.

Republicans Vicki Ann Harding and Alfred Griffin are competing to challenge the Democratic primary winner in the Nov. 8 general election. However, the Democratic primary tends to decide the race for mayor Baltimore where Republicans make up about 10 percent of registered voters. The city hasn’t had a Republican mayor since Theodore R. McKeldin left office in 1967.

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