Is Baltimore’s Mayor Corrupt?

A public official is said to be corrupt when they place their own personal gain ahead of the people whom they are supposed to serve.

I have come to believe that, based on this simple definition, Baltimore’s interim Mayor is corrupt. Here is why.

In the 2007 Mayoral election, there were just 86,125 votes cast, in a city of 640,000 people. Sheila Dixon won that election with 54,381 votes, a majority and 63% of the vote.

It’s quite likely that turnout in the September 2011 primary will be comparable. Early polls indicate that in the current four-way race between Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Otis Rolley, Jody Landers, and Catherine Pugh, the winning candidate will need just over 30,000 votes.

Reports indicate that Rawlings-Blake has raised and will spend close to $2 Million in her attempt to capture that pool of about 30,000 votes.

That’s $67 per vote.

Under pressure to compete with her, the other candidates will, combined, likely raise another $1 Million or more. That means that in total, over $3 Million will be spent on this election. Overall, that’s about $37 per vote.

If Ms. Rawlings-Blake has such a knack for fundraising, perhaps she should be out rounding up money to keep rec centers and pools open.

If she had said that she was capping her total fundraising for this election at $500,000, and devoting her time and energy to working for the city she professes to love, that would have been a tremendous gesture. And it would show true magnanimity, and foster a renewal of public trust.

Instead, she has abused the power of her office to aid her campaign fundraising. To me, gift cards or not, that is corrupt behavior. I want a mayor that’s out working for my city, striking imaginative deals that shape our future in a meaningful way, and creating a real dialog with citizens. Instead, we get a Mayor that hides from candidates forums and refuses debates, but finds time to play I-Spy as part of a campaign stunt.

I want a mayor that’s learning from best practices from all over the world instead of mired in local political drama and grooming her enemies-list.

It’s not time to “give her a chance,” it’s time for her to find a new gig. She’s been in office for 17 years. She’s had her chance. If you want someone to preside over decline, she seems to be capable of doing a middling job of that. If you want someone to lead the city into the future, we need someone who can lead, and who thinks about the future.

As Baltimore’s Grand Prix fiasco approaches (brilliantly, comically placed and timed in a tidal basin at the height of hurricane season), ask yourself if it represents meaningful leadership. Ask yourself if it is corrupt leadership.

I believe it’s bread and circuses. I believe it is rule by cronies and developers. And I believe it is political puppetry of the highest form; the Mayor is wired to do the bidding of Governor O’Malley. I don’t want four more years of that. I want out. What’s best for the Governor may or may not be best for Baltimore. That should be self-evident to any thinking person.

You may know that I was an early and vocal supporter of Otis Rolley. And I stand behind Otis today. We can debate the specifics of his plans, but at least he has real plans and ideas, and is open to input and discussion. And he will put Baltimore and its citizens first.

So when you vote on September 13 (YES, September 13 – it’s the primary that will decide this election, not the General) ask yourself whether you’re going to let the Mayor get her money’s-worth.

Will you let your vote be bought for $67?



#1 Arleighroad on 07.31.11 at 4:05 pm

So let me get this straight,
You believe that  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is just running for  Mayor because…

She wants to get rich and make developers richer.

She doesn’t care about the city that her family has represented for generations.

She just cares about keeping cronies in City Hall.


If you have such a problem with the Mayor, perhaps you haven’t talked to her. She is just doing what anyone running for office would have to do in the political system we have designed. She personally doesn’t need money or power. Her father, Pete Rawlings spent his entire life trying to make Baltimore a better place for his daughter and that is what she is doing. I never respond to blogs but I could not read this and let it go. I respect the fact that you have a favorite candidate in this race but the Rawlings family deserve more respect than this for their years of service. 
Thank you for the forum,

beau kershaw

#2 Anonymous on 07.31.11 at 4:20 pm

I have talked to her. I know her. I have worked with her. I know the people she’s surrounded herself with – poorly qualified childhood friends and law school cronies. She’s no Pete Rawlings. One could plausibly say that she’s primarily motivated by a desire to fulfill her father’s legacy, which is unfortunately not sufficient qualification, nor reason, to serve in the highest public office in this city.

I respect her years of public service. What I respectfully disagree with is that she is, somehow by virtue of it, the best person for the job, or that she deserves any particular thanks or free-pass for doing the job that she’s done, which has been workmanlike but unexceptional.

This is an election year. She has had an opportunity to articulate a bold strategic direction for the city. She has failed to do so. There are other, better candidates for this position, and unfortunately the only truly credible reason she can cite for seeking the position is that “she wants to be Mayor.”

I’m sorry, but that’s not enough. I believe there are other roles, possibly in the legislative branch, for which she may be better suited. But I cannot agree that she has the skills or the temperament required for a big-city executive role.

Argue these points on the merits and convince me otherwise. The office of Mayor is not the place for either coronations or canonizing. She is not a queen, she is not a saint; she’s a public employee, and the public is engaged in a competitive hiring process – it’s nothing more than that.

#3 Arleighroad on 07.31.11 at 6:03 pm

So David,
Are you now saying she is not qualified or were you saying she is a crook. I have met her father and I have met the Mayor. They are very much alike. Bottom line result oriented people. They are not cheerleaders nor snakeoil salesmen. They are smart, thoughtful, tough, and passionate. As far as your implication that she doesn’t have a plan or direction like “taxing bullets”…As a famous boxer said,” everyone has a plan until they get hit”. I apologize if I come off as argumentative that is not my intention.

Thank you for giving a voice to the debate of what is important to the city we both care about.

#4 Thomas Burke on 07.31.11 at 6:13 pm

Mayor Rawlings-Blake may or may not be corrupt, but your example does not show it. 

The definition of corruption is more specific, it is using your *public office* to benefit your interests at the expense of the public. Rawlings-Blake’s campaign is not a public office, it’s duty is to elect Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, money is critical to performing that duty. As long as the campaign raises and spends money within the bounds of the law, and uses that money to elect Rawlings-Blake, there is little ground for objecting to how the campaign spends it’s money.

You may have an argument for reforming Maryland campaign finance laws here, but not an argument showing that Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is corrupt.

#5 Anonymous on 07.31.11 at 6:24 pm

I am saying that she is not the best choice for the position, given her skill set, temperament, and performance, and I also assert that the abuse of her office to conduct fundraising activity and election-year politicking is corrupt behavior.

Her father is irrelevant in this discussion. He’s not running. He’s no longer here.

I am aware that she is workmanlike and capable. However, while you’re citing tactics, what I’m talking about is strategy.

What does the Baltimore of 2020 look like? How will we get there? A plan is not nearly as important as a direction. So far, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s only direction seems to be to stand-still and tread water. If there’s something else, she’s not articulated it.

I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough, and we can do better; and Otis Rolley is not the only candidate who recognizes the deficits in the interim Mayor’s performance.

I appreciate the civil dialog, but don’t expect me to back down from this position over nostalgia for Pete Rawlings, or on the logic that it has some bearing on his daughter’s middling performance.

#6 Anonymous on 07.31.11 at 6:28 pm

Appreciate the feedback. I think you’re debating a legal point here. 

While my argument may not be enough to convict her in a court of law, it is enough to convince me that she does not truly have Baltimore’s best interests at heart. And in my mind, that meets the standard for corruption that I defined.There may be reason to expect that she will meet some legal standard of corruption as well, and I’ll leave that to the legal system to determine.

#7 Thomas Burke on 07.31.11 at 7:17 pm

My point was intended to be moral as well as legal. Given our system her campaign is doing what it should be doing, so it is doing what is right.

You may also disagree with her policies, and you may believe that her policies are corruptly motivated rather than in the public interest. But you would have to make a stronger case against the policies or you end up arguing that politics is inherently corrupt. In a sense it is. Governments must balance interests, politicians are elected by particular interests and tilt the balance in favor of the interests that support them. One feature of democracy to spread that support as diversely as possible, not to eliminate interest serving.

#8 Anonymous on 07.31.11 at 7:38 pm

Your point is well taken. I think American politics is generally broken, and I think most people share that sentiment to some degree.

What I was trying to point out here is that the brokenness in the system is not evenly distributed.

The behavior here is particularly egregious, wasteful and motivated by special interests, in my opinion.

When a politician makes a choice to spend up to $2 Million on her own election (note: not re-election) on 30,000 votes when people in her city are suffering due to lack of resources for pools and rec centers, that strikes me as morally wrong.

While such behavior may be acceptable within the bounds of the system, it seems reasonable to to me to expose this behavior as ugly and unseemly, which it is.

And as I mentioned, there may be reason to believe that she has violated the law, and if that’s the case, then that will be the subject of another discussion.

#9 Jsherman on 07.31.11 at 8:22 pm

Hey Dave-

So is President Obama also corrupt for his wildly effective fundraising skills and tactics?  In the world you seek is there only honor in losing?

My problem with the case you make is that is the a city where the have been and really are genuinely corrupt public officials.  It weakens any case against Mayor Rawlings-Blake to haphazardly raise the specter of corruption.  She is not corrupt.  Your example of effective fundraising is hardly corruption under any definition.  Given the sad case of Ms. Dixon’s fall, you do the city a real disservice by comparing effective campaigning to stealing gift cards from poor families.

If Otis is the better candidate, make the case on his merits, not clearly unsupportable slurs against the character of a Mayor whose body of work and family’s legacy so obviously deserve better.

#10 Anonymous on 07.31.11 at 8:32 pm

I’m not raising the specter haphazardly; I think it’s a legitimate and open question to ponder whether it is moral to spend $2M in an attempt to capture 30,000 votes, in a city where that kind of fundraising could go to serve legitimate needs and where people are suffering. It is also open to legitimate public scrutiny whether her administration has participated in election-year politicking and fundraising, and there is reason to believe that it has been. If that’s the case, that’s a violation of law and should be investigated.

I will be talking about Otis in other posts, and his platform stands alone, independent of this discussion.

I am curious, though: is Storyfarm doing any business with the city or the Blake campaign?

Full disclosure, I have donated $4,000 to Otis’ campaign but only as an interested citizen. I have no business relationship with any city entity.

#11 Anonymous on 07.31.11 at 9:48 pm

John, Beau – I like you guys, but if you can say with a straight face that you’re not here commenting because you’re friends with Ryan and Damien O’Doherty, I’ll buy you a beer. (For those of you at home, Ryan is the Mayor’s spokesperson, and his brother Damien runs KO Public Affairs; good, effective people caught in the last gasps of an administration that’s run its course.) Sorry, I have to call it like I see it. Let’s catch up after September 13.

Storyfarm Clients (from the Storyfarm website):

Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs
Public affairs consultants, digital media innovatorsKearney O’Doherty (KO) was founded by two of the Mid-Atlantic’s most effective political strategists to combine communications and government affairs in a one-stop shop, bringing campaign tactics and focus to public affairs. KO combines unparalleled insight about current governmental attitudes with a proven public- and private-sector track record of implementing successful strategies to achieve even the most complex objectives. KO Digital and Storyfarm New Media will provide professional, high-definition videos as part of comprehensive strategies to help businesses, nonprofits and other institutions reach their goals.

#12 Jsherman on 07.31.11 at 11:43 pm

Absolutely we are partners and friends with Kearney O’Doherty and we a honored to be doing video work for the Mayor’s campaign.

None of that has anything to do with the fact that calling effective fundraising “corruption” is just disconnected from reality. 

Beyond that, quite frankly we’ve been around politicians at all levels for years in many cities, and politics is my family’s business.  My father worked has nearly 40 years as a congressional staffer and my sister works on the Hill as well.  I believe in government, and I believe that those who don’t like things as they are should stand up for change as you are doing.  I admire that.  But do it right.  Crying scandal where none exists won’t help Otis.

I have a real problem with politicians who undermine the work of the majority of people in politics when they are corrupt.  They give the system a bad name, and when we hurt the system we hurt each other.  Calling someone corrupt who is clearly not also undermines the system.

Again I’ll ask: Is the President also corrupt by your logic?  If the answer is yes, we can just agree to disagree.  I think your problem is more with the system than with any one candidate.

Sorry to invade your blog…didn’t mean to stir anything up…we just really like the Mayor and are genuinely impressed with her.  I’ve enjoyed the debate and wish Otis well, may the best candidate win!

#13 Dave Troy on 08.01.11 at 7:43 am

No problem, welcome the debate.

The specific thing that I am objecting to is the grotesque local distortion in the brokenness of the system.

President Obama is a prodigious fundraiser, but arguably much of his success came from his ability to round up large quantities of citizen, grassroots contributions.

The bulk of the contributions to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s campaign seem to have come from law firms, city contractors, and state-level democratic party operatives. Many contributions also seem to have been made in ways that were engineered to evade campaign contribution limits.

That is my objection. And just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not open to debate or question on the merits.

#14 Debra Greene on 08.02.11 at 1:14 pm

The only problem is that we may never see an actual debate at this rate. SRB seems to have no interest in facing her opponents face to face in public nor does she seem to think that she needs to.

#15 Debra Greene on 08.02.11 at 1:33 pm

I too carry a personal dislike for this Mayor. I have found through my interactions with her to be removed, aloof, and highly arrogant. I find her to be more of the same, to lack a passion for this city, and a person that hides behind her name and closed doors. What really did it for me was when she did not show up to a comunity association meeting that she had been scheduled to attend for quite some time: She stated that she would only attend the meeting if certain topics stayed off the table. The community president could not promise that people would not ask her about any specific community issue and, therefore, she did not show up. She was scared of the people. She was scared of off the cuff questions-which would require off the cuff answers. She was scared at the possibility of being challenged. This spoke volumes to me as a citizen and a voter. We have not been able to have Otis to our meeting yet, but I have met him personally in a small group and hope that he will make it to our meeting this month so others in my group can see how good he really is.

#16 Andrew Rose on 08.02.11 at 2:19 pm

I have to agree with John on this one.

The mayor came into office following a decidedly corrupt Shelia Dixon. She has been faced with limited resources, major needs throughout the city and an economic downturn which has hobbled the country.
I think given these circumstances, she has done far better than I (or frankly most other people) expected.
She wasn’t elected because of her charisma. She was elected because she is operationally savvy. That is what the city needed and needs in this time.
Sometimes stability and incremental change are a benefit rather than a liability during these hard times.
Otis is an excellent candidate and will make a tremendous mayor, one day. What this city needs is to have Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continue to build a stable foundation for Baltimore’s infrastructure, then turn the reigns over to Otis in 2016.
This talk of how much your vote is worth is bombastic and clouds the debate.

#17 Sue on 08.03.11 at 5:27 pm

This City does not need incremental change. Baltimore needs a wholesale re-imagination. Now is not the time to be fearful. Now is the time to be visionary. Baltimore, all of Baltimore has amazing potential. The next generations of people are going to want highly functional cities with great public transportation, plazas and squares, beautiful parks, and excellent schools. Baltimore can be that city with the right Mayor. Stephanie will never be that person. A couple of the other candidates I believe could be.

#18 Dave Troy on 08.19.11 at 3:00 am

Andrew, study her list of donors and come back to me and tell me she’s not corrupt. No reasonable person can reach any other conclusion.

#19 Paul Johnson on 09.13.11 at 12:32 am

If Ms. Rawlings-Blake has such a knack for fundraising, perhaps she should be out rounding up money to keep rec centers and pools open. 

While I don’t agree she’s corrupt in the traditional sense I think you hit the nail on the head with the quote above. Why is our Mayor willing to spend time raising money to keep her job and not apply the same skills to actually benefit the citizens she represents?