By REGINA GARCIA CANO and BRIAN WITTE
BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore voters are looking for a leader who can get violent crime under control, address deep-rooted poverty and restore trust in local government in their mayoral election, the highest-profile contest on Maryland‘s ballots Tuesday.
The winner of the city’s crowded Democratic primary, featuring more than 20 candidates, will likely become mayor. Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-1 in the state’s largest city, making November’s mayoral general election mostly a formality. Baltimore mayoral races do not feature runoffs.
Statewide, the election that also includes presidential and congressional primaries is being conducted mostly by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. Elections officials allowed six in-person voting centers in Baltimore over concerns that ballots were not arriving in the mail as scheduled.
While polls were scheduled to close at 8 p.m., dozens were still waiting in line to cast their ballots two hours later, slowed by the limited number of people allowed in at one time because of social distancing requirements. In Baltimore, roughly 100 people were still waiting to vote at one of the city’s six voting centers around 10 p.m. Another location in Maryland’s largest city had about 50 people in line.
The state Board of Elections said in a statement that it was allowing those who were in line by 8 p.m. to vote, and that it would only release election results from those counties where all polls had closed.
Baltimore’s mayoral election comes a year after City Hall was raided as part of a public corruption scandal that resulted in the resignation of then-Mayor Catherine Pugh. She was sentenced in February to three years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from lucrative bulk sales of her self-published children’s books.
The Democratic front-runners are former Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Brandon Scott, former Maryland Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and former U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Domestic Finance Mary Miller.
Annie Williams, 31, said she still had not decided who she would choose, even after an hour of standing in line to vote in person. She said Pugh’s corruption case motivated her to vote Tuesday.
“I think that in light of our last mayor, I just feel obligated to come out and make sure that we get somebody in office who I feel confident is not corrupt,” Williams said.
Williams said she was leaning toward voting for Miller or Vignarajah.
“They both have good platforms,” Williams said. “I feel like they both seem genuine.”
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who automatically ascended to the job after Pugh’s resignation, is also asking voters to give him four more years but has admitted that his campaign was hampered by the amount of time he has had to focus on the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tuesday’s outcome will ultimately be a referendum on Baltimore’s political class. Miller and Vignarajah have held no jobs at City Hall unlike Scott and Dixon, who is again trying to make a political comeback after being convicted a decade ago of misappropriating gift cards for the poor while in office. Her first attempt failed in a primary loss to Pugh in 2016.
On the Republican side, seven people want the job.
Whoever emerges victorious in November will have to address low-income neighborhoods in need of investment, population exodus, failing and outdated public schools, and a homicide rate that not even the coronavirus pandemic has been able to slow.
The city set a new, grim record for homicides per capita last year, with 348 killings, and is on pace this year to match that rate.
Maryland voters also are choosing nominees for U.S. president and the state’s eight U.S. House seats. Democrats hold a 7-1 advantage in Maryland U.S. House seats.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat who won a special general election in April to serve the rest of the term of the late Elijah Cummings, will be running to be his party’s nominee for a full term in a crowded primary for the seat that includes a large portion of Baltimore.
Victor Ferguson, 35, said he was voting Tuesday because he believes local politics are the most important and determine funding decisions. He said the city has “a history of corruption” and that he wanted to participate in selecting the candidate.
“I at least want to be involved in determining if it’s a candidate that’s going to bring corruption to the city or justice and prosperity,” Ferguson said while waiting in line to vote at one of the city’s six in-person voting centers Tuesday.
Ferguson said he never received a ballot, so he went to a voting center. He had not made up his mind in the mayoral race.
“Strange enough, I am still kind of tossed up a little bit between a couple of candidates,” Ferguson said.
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