Baltimore Mayor’s Decision to Not Seek Re-election Could Hurt Her Ability to Lead

© Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun/TNS Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake speaks with reporters outside the New Song Academy on April 29, 2015 in Sandtown-Winchester on Wednesday afternoon after speaking with students in Baltimore, Md…
© Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun/TNS Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake speaks with reporters outside the New Song Academy on April 29, 2015 in Sandtown-Winchester on Wednesday afternoon after speaking with students in Baltimore, Md…

She prayed with friends. She consulted political allies and business leaders. She spoke with her husband, mother and 11-year-old daughter.

For nearly two months, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has contemplated ending her re-election bid, according to longtime aides. The Democratic mayor kept those plans hidden from most top officials at City Hall, but there were signs that she was not primed for another campaign: She was avoiding the fundraising calls that are crucial to any re-election effort, and her headquarters office in Remington lacked the political supplies needed to open.

“She was not doing what a candidate would do,” said Kaliope Parthemos, the mayor’s chief of staff. “Her heart wasn’t in it, as much as everyone around her tried to push.”

By withdrawing from the 2016 race, Rawlings-Blake said Friday, she could avoid the distractions of a campaign and focus on governing a city on edge over the trials of six police officers charged in Freddie Gray’s arrest and death. Supporters championed the move as a sign of the mayor’s selflessness. Detractors say she simply saw no path to victory with lagging approval ratings and a race loaded with credible contenders.

Whatever the motivation, some observers say, Rawlings-Blake’s decision could make governing harder – not easier – as Baltimore faces a critical period in rebounding from April’s rioting. As a lame-duck mayor with little political leverage, she could struggle to garner support for programs over the final 15 months of her term, they say. And she is likely to have trouble recruiting top talent if Cabinet officials leave for new jobs, creating more turmoil at City Hall.

“I don’t think she’ll be able to govern more or better having made this decision,” said Lenneal Henderson, an emeritus public affairs professor at the University of Baltimore. “You have to be able to build coalitions based on your supporters and your opponents’ estimates of your power base. If that base has been compromised, you might not be able to do the things you could do when you had more leverage.”

As mayoral candidates corral supporters, Rawlings-Blake may not be able to rally the public for help.

“She lost that authority in April,” Henderson said, referring to the criticism over Rawlings-Blake’s handling of the riots. “She lost a lot of credibility and confidence and trust that she could address a situation definitively and quickly. She can’t get that back.”

Not all officials and experts agree with that assessment.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said he spoke repeatedly with the mayor in recent days, including at 6 a.m. on the day of her announcement. The Rawlings-Blake ally said her decision won’t hamstring her ability to lead.

“Cities go through transitions every eight years,” Cummings said. “She’ll be able to voice her opinion in the way that she wants to, so I think she’ll be able to get a lot done.”

Cummings, who dismissed the idea of running for mayor himself, rejected the idea that Rawlings-Blake’s political vulnerabilities played a role in her decision. Several local officials have said that recent polls show the mayor with low approval ratings and Rawlings-Blake acknowledged in her news conference that her ratings have taken a dip.

With nearly eight months to go before the Democratic primary, she had plenty of time to mount a campaign, Cummings said.

“She never mentioned a poll to me ever, never mentioned a poll,” he said. “She felt that she had accomplished a lot. One of the main things she talked about was her daughter. She wanted to have time to spend with her.”

Rawlings-Blake, 45, struck a confident, solitary figure standing in a ceremonial room at City Hall to deliver the news Friday morning. Her family had offered to stand around her during the announcement, Parthemos said. But the mayor insisted on delivering the news alone.

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Source: Baltimore Sun | Yvonne Wenger, Doug Donovan and John Fritze