The Maryland Republican Party, hoping to raise its profile in Baltimore, is partnering with the local NAACP branch to host several events next week to learn more about the community’s needs following the unrest sparked by the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
Joe Cluster, the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said the state party hopes to change the minds of Baltimore residents who likely think that Republicans are not interested in their concerns. The party is trying to make some strides in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
The Republican Party “does not do well in these communities,” Cluster said. “People feel like [the Democratic Party] has taken them for granted and the [Republican Party] has ignored them. But we’re not who we are described to be.”
There are no Republicans on the Baltimore City Council, and the party remains a minority in the legislature. State party officials say they are looking for the party to grow beyond the governor’s mansion, which since January has been occupied by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), after eight years of Democratic rule.
“In order for them to come vote for us, we have to show up,” Cluster said of Democratic voters. “We are saying ‘We are open to hearing your concerns. . . and addressing your concerns.’”
Hogan did just that while campaigning, hosting a picnic and going door-to-door in an inner city Baltimore neighborhood, and urging black college students to give the GOP a chance.
The events next week include a panel discussion and a listening tour in West Baltimore, which was devastated during the recent riots in Baltimore. They will feature two prominent African American ministers from Georgia and Louisiana who switched to the Republican Party, Alveda King and C.L Bryant.
King and Bryant will serve on a panel on Wednesday morning with Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore). On Tuesday, King, who is the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., will tour the NAACP’s new satellite office in Sandtown, the impoverished community where Gray lived, and participate in a listening tour on Pennsylvania Avenue, where buildings and cars were set on fire during the looting and unrest that followed his death.
FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., is also a sponsor of the events.
A spokesman for Hogan said it is not yet clear whether a representative from the governor’s office will attend any of the events. Hogan, who called a state of emergency in Baltimore and became a fixture in the city for more than a week, is currently on a trade trip to Asia. He returns to Maryland this weekend.