By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO
The novel coronavirus pandemic may have shut down the city and postponed the mayoral primary, but inevitably Baltimore will have to choose a new mayor.
Gov. Larry Hogan has moved the primary to June 2nd, as part of statewide curtailing of any activity that would compromise efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
The shift leaves the campaigns of some of the election’s top contenders wrestling with tough decisions: how to continue to connect with voters during a life or death crisis in a race that remains tight.
It’s a dilemma none of them said they are taking lightly.
“For our campaign the safety of our supporters is our number one priority,” Kevin Seymour, campaign manager for former Mayor Sheila Dixon told the AFRO.
That means no door knocking or fundraising, Seymour said. But, a series of townhalls that Dixon held prior to the pandemic lockdown have continued to be broadcast through her Facebook page, with the focus now on the pandemic.
“We try to bring in professionals with the knowledge and correct information to share,” Seymour said. “We want to ask the questions that may not get covered in the normal news cycles about the pandemic.”
Former Baltimore Police Spokesman T.J Smith, whose campaign has been bolstered by a recent Mason Dixon poll, which shows him leading the race said he also has shut down operations.
“We stopped doing everything, we’ve cancelled fundraisers, door knocking. When I say I want to lead with integrity, I meant it,” Smith told the AFRO.
Although Smith said focusing on the crisis is paramount, he is also using digital outreach to continue to address the city’s epidemic of violence which has been a major focus of his campaign.
“We just had a 17-year old killed,” he said. “This is what is happening in communities across Baltimore despite the epidemic.”
All of the most competitive campaigns are using their digital platforms to disseminate useful information. Just this week the campaign of City Council President Brandon Scott released a digital map listing city resources like food banks and community health centers.
“Yesterday, the Council President released an asset map to allow residents, service providers, and neighborhood volunteers to quickly see what food, health care, and shopping resources are available near them,” said Marvin James, Scott’s campaign manager.
“In less than 48 hours, that map has garnered more than 4,600 views.”
The suspension of traditional campaign activities comes as the city struggles with dual threats. As of this week, cases of the coronavirus have climbed to at least 41 in Baltimore City. Concurrently, the city has notched 64 homicides as of March 25.
Meanwhile, no clear frontrunner has emerged in the mayor’s race, with a large group of undecided voters.
A March 8th Baltimore Sun/WYPR poll showed Dixon leading with just 16 percent. Close behind were Scott and former Assistant Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah with 10 percent. Smith trailed with nine percent. Current Mayor Jack Young notched just six percent, while close to a third of voters remained undecided.
But, a more recent Mason-Dixon poll gives Smith the lead with 22 percent. Close behind is Scott and Dixon at 18 and 17 percent respectively. Roughly 15 percent of voters were undecided in that poll.
One candidate who has been making waves with a heavy media blitz is former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller. Touting her executive expertise and experience in the administration of former President Barack Obama, Miller has been running ads calling for racial equity, a move her campaign said was a pivot from in-person events and canvassing. Recently, Miller reportedly pumped another $1.6 million into her campaign.
“We are taking COVID-19 extremely seriously and are continuing to monitor all updates from government officials,” her campaign manager Colleen Mattingly wrote in an email.
“We have cancelled all in-person events and canvassing, and instead, we’re pivoting to virtual video content, a bigger emphasis on social media, texting, phone banking, direct mail, and TV, radio and digital advertising to reach voters.”
Attempts to contact the campaign of current mayor Jack Young were unsuccessful.