The field of Democratic candidates running to be Baltimore's next mayor got a little more crowded Wednesday night, and according to one observer, "very, very interesting."
DeRay McKesson, a prominent activist in the Black Lives Matter movement, filed as a Democrat just before the 9 p.m. deadline. McKesson is the 13th Democrat vying for the party’s nomination.
McKesson posted on Medium, a social media web site, that the city "has made me the man I am," adding "I was raised in the joy and charm of this city."
He wrote that he has "come to realize that the traditional pathway to politics, and the traditional politicians who follow these well-worn paths, will not lead us to the transformational change our city needs."
Shortly afterward, author and journalist David Simon tweeted, "Politics in my city just became very, very interesting."
McKesson joins a dozen other Democrats on the ballot. Some are well known; others are obscure. They include former Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council members Nick Mosby and Carl Stokes, State Senator Catherine Pugh, businessman David Warnock, and Elizabeth Embry, the Chief of the Criminal Division for the state Attorney General.
There are 29 candidates running for mayor; five Republicans, one Libertarian, three Greens, two independents, and five unaffiliated. Democrats and Republicans will choose their nominee in the April 26 primary. The other candidates will be on the general election ballot in November.
While the deadline has passed to file for the mayor’s race, candidates can still withdraw. The deadline to do that is Friday.
Mayoral forums are being held throughout the city to help voters sift through the large number of candidates. At a recent forum at Impact Hub on North Avenue, Democratic candidates were asked what should be done about racial inequality in Baltimore.
Embry said the disparity is staggering and it’s not a leftover from the past. Policies in place now, involving lending and foreclosures, contribute to the problem. She said changing those policies would be a top priority if she is elected mayor.
"The fact that a child born in Roland Park has a life expectancy 20 years greater than a child born in parts of West Baltimore and South Baltimore," Embry said. "And those discrepancies carry across public health factors, they carry across graduation rates, whether or not you’ll be arrested, whether or not you’ll be the victim of police brutality."
Warnock said racial inequality is the most important issue in this election after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. He said Gray’s legacy is that everyone in the city is in this together.
Warnock is a founder of Green Street Academy, a charter school in West Baltimore, and former chair of the Center for Urban Families, which helps to find jobs for people released from prison. He said if he’s mayor, developers will be on the hook to help out the most impoverished parts of the city.
"I’ve told the biggest developer in our town that in my administration, you cannot harvest the fruit of the Inner Harbor without planting seeds in east and west Baltimore," Warnock said.
Mosby, who is giving up the council seat he won in 2011 to run for mayor, picked up on this theme. He said property values have not gone up in some neighborhoods in 30 years. That’s important, he explained, because people can increase their personal wealth and pass it along to future generations through home ownership.
So he said developers need to invest more in the city’s communities. He called it part of his overall war on poverty.
"If you read my plan, it’s a comprehensive plan," Mosby said. "It’s a 15 point plan. I’m the only person on this stage that says I have a plan that connects the dots."
Stokes, who came in second to Martin O’Malley in 1999, is making his second run for mayor. Like Mosby, he has to give up his council seat to run. Stokes also wants developers to be forced to spend money in city neighborhoods in exchange for subsidies they get from the city. And he said he would end the practice of routinely granting waivers to contractors who don’t want to abide by rules for hiring women and minorities.
"Not one waiver," Stokes said. "Not one waiver will go through in a Carl Stokes administration. Not one waiver."
Pugh also is running for mayor for the second time. She came in second to incumbent Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake in the 2011 Democratic primary. Rawlings Blake is not running for re-election.
Pugh said the city needs affordable housing. But, she added, the city also needs to keep its young families and seniors in order to grow and to be diverse. She said there are not enough places in the city for older people to live.
"When seniors get older, most of them move to the county," Pugh said. "We want them to live in our city. After young people, our millennials, 18 to 34, when we start looking at schools, they move out of our city."
Former mayor Sheila Dixon said she will try to hire more police officers who live in the city if gets her old job back. She also said she wants more money for job training for people released from prison, and she’ll increase the living wage for city employees to $15 an hour.
"That will allow people to invest in buying homes and invest in their communities," Dixon said.