Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon won 170 of about 200 predominately Black Baltimore City precincts in a majority Black city, but lost her bid to regain the mayor’s chair by a little more than 2000 votes. Even as the Baltimore City Board of Elections works to officially certify April’s election results, riddled with irregularities and swirling in controversy, the question many have is how did Dixon lose when Black Baltimore turned out for her so overwhelmingly?
The answer (at least partially) may be that Dixon overlooked some groups that she just couldn’t afford to ignore in an incredibly tight election.
Carrie Evans, an attorney and former executive director of Equality Maryland, a group that describes itself as, “Maryland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Civil Rights organization,” said Dixon’s absence at a mayoral forum on March 8 at the University of Baltimore, focused on LBGT issues, was an unambiguous statement by the former mayor. According to Evans it was a message received loud and clear by a community still burgeoning in numbers and political influence.
“It was the only forum that was put on by the (LBGT) community…and the fact that the majority of the candidates showed up and answered the questions…and had things to say to the LBGT community..there’s no other interpretation to take,” Evans said.
Another mayoral forum on April 13 organized by the low income advocacy group, Communities United, at Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore was focused on issues facing Baltimore’s ex-felon population. Thousands of ex-felons were newly empowered by a law passed during the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis that for the first time, allowed them to vote before completing probation and parole. According to Perry Hopkins, an ex-felon and an organizer for Communities United, Dixon alienated herself from many in attendance at the raucous gathering on April 13.
“When somebody in the audience yelled out, `Sheila, you’re an ex-felon.’ Her response was, `No, mine was a misdemeanor, I’m not like ya’ll.’ She lost a lot of people in that room,” Hopkins said. He says that several groups besides his own, including, BUILD, the NAACP and the No Boundaries Coalition, worked hard in the months leading up to the election to register thousands of ex-felons to vote. “In two in a half weeks we (Communities United) were at Penn North and in Upton, and we registered more than 1,300 new voters and about 500 to 600 of them were ex-offenders,” Hopkins said.
Dr. Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College says subtle shifts in city demographics and the growing popularity of early voting may have been enough to give Pugh the win, despite Dixon’s overwhelming support in Black communities in East and West Baltimore.
“What is interesting to me is how much Pugh won in early voting. A combination of an increased familiarity of early voting and the on year election cycle… Perhaps, elections are no longer decided by just the core city voters that come out tried and true every single election,” Kromer explained.
“ A coalition is now necessary to win. This is not to take anything away from the power of these tried and true city voters. The African-American women…the ladies in hats…they turn out and they are physically engaged and they care about their communities. But, the city does have a changing demographic in some ways,” Kromer added.
“What we know about the census migration patterns is that there is an influx of these young people moving into the city. And it’s difficult to discern….if that tipped it for Pugh, but we do know from some of the public opinion polls…that college educated individuals and younger people were breaking for Pugh,” Kromer continued. “The issue is they don’t turn out to vote in those high numbers,but, in a close election like this every bit counts.”