From the time the first campaign fundraising reports were released in January – which showed what seemed like an insurmountable cash lead by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake over her declared rivals – there was an air of inevitability connected to the 2011 Democratic Primary for mayor.
That inevitability manifested in a resounding victory this week and signaled the absolute dominance of the Rawlings-Blake political machine.
Many political observers argue Rawlings-Blake’s election win was about the perception of voters that the mayor has provided steady leadership during a difficult time in the city more than any other factor.
“I don’t get a sense of any groundswell for change here,” said University of Maryland Law Professor Larry S. Gibson. “I didn’t see it in the Black community or anywhere. I think people were relatively satisfied for the short term…`let’s give her a chance and see,'” added Gibson, the architect of several successful Baltimore campaigns including the election of Kurt L. Schmoke, the city’s first elected Black mayor.
Literally, from her first day in office when she was confronted with the first of two epic snowstorms, Rawlings-Blake appeared competent and cogent, making few if any major mistakes.
“This was not complicated,” Gibson said. “She ran a predictable cautious campaign.”
What was also uncomplicated was how Rawlings-Blake’s enormous money advantage over her challengers was the powerful engine that propelled her to an overwhelming victory.
According to campaign financial reports filed with the Maryland Board of Elections, the Rawlings-Blake campaign raised an astonishing $1,579,011.23, far more than all five of her rivals combined; Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Otis Rolley, Jody Landers, Frank M. Conaway and Wilton Wilson, who raised a combined total of about $1,001,579.
Rawlings-Blake spent almost as much money on media alone, $709,341.68 as her two closest competitors Pugh and Rolley were able to raise combined (about $718,000).
The mayor, who was appointed in February 2010 in the wake of the scandal and resignation of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, received 52 percent of her contributions from individuals and the vast majority of the rest of her contributions, 41 percent from businesses.
According to Baltimore Brew, a daily on-line journal, four of Rawlings-Blake’s largest financial supporters during this election cycle alone contributed more money, $133,600, than Landers, one of her more spirited challengers was able to raise in total, about $123,373.
The eye-popping numbers are not without controversy. The Baltimore Brew reports state law forbids individuals, companies, unions and political clubs from donating more than $4,000 to a candidate for local office. Yet, by implementing a bit of political guile and perfectly legal means several of Rawlings-Blake’s contributors (as well as some of her challenger’s contributors) were able to bypass the $4,000 limit.
J.P. Grant of Grant Capital Management donated $37,500 to the Rawlings-Blake campaign. Michael Klein of Metropolitan Management Company contributed $26,000 to the mayor’s campaign. David Cooper of The WODA Group added $24,500 to the Rawlings-Blake machine. And lawyers for the law firm of Gallagher, Evelius and Jones contributed the most of the four mega-donors with $45,600.
“Money comes from being the mayor, any incumbent is going to have enough money,” Gibson said. “Money was not an issue with her (Rawlings-Blake)…she had been elected citywide before as City Council president, that was a highly contested race,” he added.
Money clearly was not an issue for Rawlings Blake who has benefitted from the powerful political legacy of her late father Howard “Pete” Rawlings, the Baltimore delegate who was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and her close allegiance to Gov. Martin O’Malley. It was O’Malley who got an important symbolic and organizational boost from her father when he first ran for mayor of Baltimore in 1999.
Now, Rawlings-Blake has consolidated her alliances and created one of the most formidable fundraising machines in recent Baltimore history.
The Rev. Alvin Hathaway of West Baltimore’s venerable Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue knows something about the city’s history of political machines and coalitions. Union Baptist was the home of, “The Goon Squad,” a group of legendary political and community leaders and ministers, which included the Rev. Vernon Dobson, his brother, the Rev. Harold Dobson, Homer Favor, Sam Daniels, the Rev. Wendell Phillips and Pat Scott among others.
“We were just young kids sitting in those meetings, but there was always political dialogue going on,” said Hathaway a veteran community leader in his own right. He laments the dwindling impact of his community on the larger political scene, but still remains hopeful.
“We have to re-create our own structures to respond,” said Hathaway. He added, “It all comes down to how our West Baltimore brethren interact with our East Baltimore brethren. We’re still working that out even today.”