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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announces that she will not seek re-election next year, during a news conference Friday in Baltimore. Rawlings-Blake said she believes she could have won re-election, pointing to her work on the city’s budget and pension system. However, she said, not seeking re-election was the best decision for the city and for her family. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake won’t seek re-election

After weeks of being buffeted for her leadership of the city during April’s civil unrest, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake said this morning she will not seek re-election, a stunning announcement that throws the upcoming mayor’s campaign into a wide-open contest.

PHOTOS: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake through the years

Rawlings-Blake said she decided to bow out of an expected race because the demands of fundraising and campaigning would distract her from leading the city at a critical juncture in its history. At a 10:20 a.m. news conference at City Hall, she ticked off a list of accomplishments she said had lifted up the city, adding that she was determined to help Baltimore heal in the aftermath of the April riots and with the upcoming trials of six city police officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death.

“It’s not that I didn’t think I could win, I just had to ask myself the question: At what cost? And at this time?” Rawling-Blake said.

But the mayor had been politically damaged by the riots in April, a fact she acknowledged though she said she believed it was not insurmountable.

“What I would say is it’s understandable with the violence that we took a dip,” Rawlings-Blake said of her internal campaign poll numbers. “When I ran for city council president nobody thought I’d win. Polls said I was down. I haven’t lost an election since middle school. Polls didn’t matter to me.”

Despite the positive outlook by the mayor, Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said the writing was on the wall and the entry of City Councilman Carl Stokes and former Mayor Sheila Dixon into the race signaled an end to Rawlings-Blake’s hopes for re-election.

Crenson said the mayor’s claims that her decision would allow her to govern the city free of criticisms about how her decisions play into her re-election goals was likely not the driving force.

“That was a side effect of her decision,” said Crenson, who has in the past advised Stokes on political campaigns but is currently not involved in the race. “What drove the decision was Stokes and Dixon.”

Rawlings–Blake made the announcement from the second-floor Ceremonial Room as staffers, such as longtime friend and Chief of Staff Kaliope Parthemos and Chief of Public Affairs Kevin Harris, looked on  from the side. At times Rawlings-Blake sounded emotional as she spoke about her love of the city and how she came to her decision not to run.

“I was determined to leave this city in a better condition than was left for me. So whoever succeeds me as mayor will have the ability to continue to move our city forward,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Rawlings-Blake hinted at the possibility of a political future, calling Friday’s announcement a pause in her public service career.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which has been critical of the mayor’s leadership in the aftermath of April’s riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody, issued a terse statement in response.

“Rank and file and City leadership must always work as a team so that Baltimore is a place people want to live, work and visit. We look forward to leadership that makes partnering with public safety a priority,” Gene Ryan, lodge president, said in an emailed statement.

Only months ago, Rawlings-Blake was seen as a strong incumbent who faced an obstacle-free path to re-election. But several challengers had stepped forward in recent weeks after what was widely viewed as her stumbling leadership of the city during the April protests and riots that damaged hundreds of businesses and left scores of police officers injured and hundreds arrested.

Furthermore, a record surge in homicides followed  the riots — accompanied by the perception that a demoralized city police department was not aggressively cracking down on crime after the charges against  six officers involved in Gray’s arrest.  After weeks of standing by her hand-picked police chief, Anthony Batts, the mayor fired him in early July.

Rawlings-Blake, 45, was sworn in as Baltimore’s 49th mayor on February 4, 2010, after Sheila Dixon resigned the office because of an ethics scandal.

In November 2011, Rawlings-Blake was elected to her first full term as mayor, receiving 87 percent of the vote in the general election.

She was first elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1995, at the age of 25 — at the time, the youngest person ever elected to the city council. She also had been an attorney in the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender for several years.

As mayor, she made reducing the city’s property taxes – widely regarded as an impediment to growth – a top priority, and had achieved some slow, albeit grudging progress in that area. She also set a goal of attracting 10,000 families to move to the city and worked to reduce the city’s structural budget deficit.

Rawlings-Blake, the daughter of a renowned city political power, Howard “Pete” Rawlings, had become prominent in national political circles in recent years, taking a top leadership position in the Democratic National Committee and becoming the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors this year.

Her announcement today transforms the race for mayor.

Rawlings-Blake’s decision is likely to spur even more candidates into the mayor’s race. Last week, state Sen. Catherine Pugh and City Councilman Carl Stokes, both Democrats, told The Sun that they were running. Earlier, Dixon had declared her candidacy, as had several long-shots. There is a Feb. 3 filing deadline for the April 26 Democratic primary, usually the contest that determines the next occupant of the mayor’s office.

Her decision also has the benefit of allowing her to spend time with her daughter and husband, Rawlings-Blake said.

She said her thinking was not influenced by any difficulty in mounting a strong campaign or in fund raising and that she believed her record would have made her a formidable incumbent.

Rawlings-Blake also pushed back against questions about whether she liked her job — often related to criticisms that she doesn’t smile enough or isn’t more personable.

“I did enjoy the job and I do,” Rawlings-Blake said.

“I was raised to believe that your track record would speak for itself,” she said. “I did a damned good job if I was miserable.”

Reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.