Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the accidental mayor of Baltimore, officially announced her candidacy Monday for a full term at City Hall on Monday.
She did it with nearly every important Democrat in the state surrounding her for a show of political muscle, in front of the house where the mayor grew up on Sequoia Avenue, in the green and leafy Ashburton neighborhood of northwest Baltimore.
The days should always be so lovely for Rawlings-Blake. But she knows they won’t be.
She’s the clear front-runner among maybe half a dozen possible Democratic candidates, but they’re all competing to lead a city with deep problems.
At Monday’s announcement, on a graceful, tree-lined street of handsome homes and large, neatly trimmed lawns, the mayor boasted of improved public school test scores. And she’s right. She boasted of lower homicide rates. And she’s right. She boasted of stabilized property taxes. Right again.
But it’s all relative.
City students’ test scores still lag behind much of the state, the gunplay in the city is still more deadly than anywhere else, and the property taxes are frustratingly high. And when you drive from Rawlings-Blake’s handsome childhood neighborhood, you don’t have to go far to see aimless, out-of-work young people at locations such as Reisterstown Road at Cold Spring Lane.
The police there shake their heads at the relentless drug traffic in the area, and the poverty all the way down to Park Circle is now ingrained for at least four decades, despite a procession of well-intentioned mayors promising to make things better.
As they have for countless neighborhoods around the city, many of them are still waiting for better times.
Rawlings-Blake didn’t expect all of these troubles to be hers. But she got the job when former Mayor Sheila Dixon had her ethical problems. As city council president, the job automatically fell to Rawlings-Blake.
“I think she’s been pretty impressive,” said former City Councilman Wilbur Cunningham, who’s now chairman of the Baltimore Planning Commission. “Look, it’s the same old story with drugs and crime and punked-up neighborhoods, and you don’t have federal money coming in the way it used to.
“But she’s done a real good job as caretaker. I mean, coming in the way she did, surrounded by people who weren’t really her people, and all this financial mess. And she got the job done, and she made tough decisions.”
“She’s been a good mayor in a tough time,” said east-side City Councilman Nick D’Adamo, who has already announced he will not seek re-election after a quarter-century at City Hall. “Look, I’m getting out of politics, I’m getting out of the game. I’ve got nothing at stake here. But, to me, this is a woman who’s calm, who does her homework, who’s starting to be a real leader.
“Is crime too high? Yeah. Are property taxes too high? Yeah. But I think this mayor’s got the city moving in the right direction.”
Among those in Monday’s crowd were some still making up their minds about the mayoral race, including State Sen. Nathaniel McFadden.
“I’ll make up my mind next week about endorsements,” said McFadden, “but whoever gets the job has got to do something about all these abandoned houses. We talk about it and talk about it, and the problem doesn’t go away.
“How is it we can put together projects like Harborplace, and Harbor East, which are huge, and yet we don’t have the same money, and the same imagination, when it comes to fixing up working-class neighborhoods? That’s what I want the next mayor to work on.”
So it was lovely for Rawlings-Blake on Monday afternoon. She took a sentimental stroll back to her youth in one of the city’s sweet-spot neighborhoods. She drew a pretty nice crowd that included the most powerful Democratic party leaders.
But the city’s got some intractable problems. The recession-that-doesn’t-end is hurting everybody. And there are countless neighborhoods around town that don’t have nearly the charm of this mayor’s childhood home.