Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Friday that she will not seek reelection in 2016, saying she wants to focus instead on helping the city heal from the unrest that followed the fatal injury of Freddie Gray in police custody.
“Every moment that I spent planning for a campaign . . . was a time that I was taking away from my current responsibilities to the city, to the city that I love,” said Rawlings-Blake (D), who had begun holding fundraisers and “Mondays with the Mayor” events to meet voters at local bars and restaurants.
[After public backlash, Rawlings-Blake picks herself up]
She was facing numerous challengers in April’s Democratic primary, including former mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and City Council member Carl Stokes.
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), a longtime Rawlings-Blake supporter, called Friday’s announcement a “seismic” event for Baltimore politics and said the absence of an incumbent would probably encourage more candidates to join the race.
“The landscape could look totally different in two months,” McIntosh said.
Rawlings-Blake, 45, is the daughter of the late Maryland Del. Howard P. “Pete” Rawlings (D), the first African American to chair the House Appropriations Committee. She first made her own mark on the Maryland political scene in 1995 by becoming, at age 25, the youngest person elected to the Baltimore City Council.
She became council president in 2007 when Dixon ascended to the mayor’s post and then mayor in 2010 after Dixon resigned following a misdemeanor conviction that involved stolen gift cards.
Rawlings-Blake won a full mayoral term in 2012, and she quickly gained a reputation as a budget hawk, creating what her office touted as the city’s first 10-year fiscal plan to address long-term financial challenges and leading Baltimore to its highest combined bond rating in decades.
She also reduced property taxes and helped secure $1 billion for school construction.
But her tenure has been marked more recently by questions about her handling of the riots that broke out the day of Gray’s funeral, sniping with police union officials and some friction with Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who canceled a long-planned light-rail project in the city and implied during the riots that she did not act quickly enough to approve assistance from the National Guard.
[At key moments in riots, mayor did not pick up the phone]
Rawlings-Blake defended her record at her news conference Friday, touting police reforms she helped enact, changes to the city’s ethics policy, a boost in employment and improvements to the city’s budget.
“I’ve always done what I knew would move the city forward, and my record reflects that,” she said.
Hogan, who has denied having a strained relationship with Rawlings-Blake, complimented the mayor Friday for her work in office. “It takes courage and strength to lead one of America’s great cities, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stood up and has served the city she loves over the course of two decades,” the governor said in a statement. “I value my working relationship with the mayor and thank her for her service.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), a Baltimore resident who helped calm city streets after the riots, called Rawlings-Blake “a fighter for the people of Baltimore. . . . She has dedicated her life to uplifting everyone in our city.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), a Baltimore County resident, cautioned against second-guessing the mayor’s actions during the riots. “We’ll never know if her leadership prevented more violence in Baltimore or not — we just don’t know,” he said. “The direct damage from the rioting was minimal, and it could have been a lot worse.”
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the NAACP’s Baltimore branch, called the mayor’s pending departure “a great loss,” saying that Rawlings-Blake confronted greater challenges than almost al of her predecessors.
The Gray case and the unrest “just put more burdens and different burdens than usual on her administration,” Hill-Aston said. “She’ll land on her feet. She’s smart, and she’ll have other opportunities in her life to make a difference.”
The mayor’s priorities for the next several months include guiding the city through the criminal trials of six police officers who are charged in connection with the death of Gray, who suffered a severe spinal injury while in police custody. This week, the city announced a $6.4 million settlement with Gray’s family without admitting liability or wrongdoing.
The agreement prompted criticism from Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police. He told the Baltimore Sun that it “threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City government.”
The mayor said Friday that she will continue working on police reforms, in conjunction with the U.S. Justice Department, and will push to increase recreational opportunities for youths and to attract new businesses to the city.
“I do not want to see every difficult decision be evaluated, questioned and critiqued within the context of how it affects a political campaign,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I pledge to work for this city’s future, both during my remaining time as mayor and beyond.”
Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.