Baltimore Has a Mayor’s Race and It Just Heated Up

Activist DeRay Mckesson’s bid for mayor puts Baltimore back in the national spotlight, which is a good thing, but can 300,000 Twitter followers jump-start a credible campaign?

Baltimore Councilman Nick Mosby; activist DeRay Mckesson; former Mayor Sheila Dixon
Baltimore Councilman Nick Mosby; activist DeRay Mckesson; former Mayor Sheila Dixon; Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty; Steve Ruark/Getty

Baltimore: It’s that big-city mayor’s race on the East Coast we had forgotten about until Ferguson, Mo.-inspired protester extraordinaire and symbolic godfather of the Black Lives Matter movement Deray Mckesson dropped onto the political scene with an audacious, blogged announcement of his candidacy for mayor.

He’s a native son of Baltimore, doing his hometown proud with two years of activism under his belt, joining a crowded platoon of candidates for the city’s Democratic mayoral primary, slated for April 26.  

While admirable and refreshingly disruptive, it’s a rather familiar narrative in the history of black politics—especially since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 spurred a tsunami of black elected officials: energetic community organizer dreams of the next level, soon reaches point where dipping toe in electoral politics becomes an attractive proposition.

And, side note, the nearly $170,000 salary for running Maryland’s largest city of 600,000 residents won’t hurt, either.

Candidate Mckesson argues sound points in his punchy, passionate plea for change (and votes).

“I have come to realize that the traditional pathway to politics, and the traditional politicians who follow these well-worn paths, will not lead us to the transformational change our city needs,” says the novice candidate, seeking to personify a scathing anti-status-quo message now amplified on both sides of the partisan aisle during a bigger-cousin presidential election.

“Too often the elected individuals we put our public trust in disappoint us. We have lived through lofty promises and vague plans. We have come to expect little and accept less. When we rely on this traditional model of politics, we are rewarded with consistent, disappointing results,” he says.

On a high note, Mckesson’s troubled city of “Rosemont Elementary, K Swift & Miss Tony on 92Q, Shake N Bake and the Inner Harbor” returns to the spotlight.

Baltimore could use that.

The national conversation has moved on since the fury that ripped through Charm City less than a year ago after the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police. Now we’re all caught up in orange-haired caricatures and long shots leaving the campaign trail to change clothes.

There’s obvious national media strength in the digital eyeballs of Mckesson’s 300,000 Twitter followers now focused back on Baltimore—and, perhaps, Baltimore in a moment at its urgent best. Elections are all about, yes, the pitch, hit and run for power. But they are also collective searches for a greater fix of the things that matter to us. While elections are an ugly, sweaty, unfolding process, it’s an awesome thing to watch brave souls enter the campaign Terror Dome on personal quests for glory, vision and that elusive “change.”

But Mckesson also runs into big snags the size of Baltimore potholes amid a field of 12 or so scrappy candidates.