At Lexington Market, Baltimore Candidates Hear from the Jobless


Fern Shen
Baltimore Brew
September 12, 2011

Whether they came on angry and aggressive – as Willie Davis did when he confronted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake – or polite and urgent – as Eugene Byrd seemed when he buttonholed mayoral candidate Otis Rolley III – the people these two politicians encountered on an election eve visit to Baltimore’s Lexington Market today almost all wanted to talk about one subject: jobs.

“I’ve been unemployed for 18 months,” 40-year-old Eugene Byrd, of West Baltimore, told Rolley. Byrd said he has had low-paid part time work filling potholes on city road crews but misses the days when he had a steady job.

“I was in the construction field, I was a bricklayer, the work was good,” Byrd said later. “That was before the economy dropped.”

At about the same time that President Barack Obama was an hour south in the White House Rose Garden holding up a copy of his $447 billion jobs package, Rolley and Rawlings-Blake were confronting that same issue on the front lines as they trolled for votes in tomorrow’s Democratic primary.

Indeed, incumbent Rawlings-Blake encountered some boos and one confrontational questioner on the jobs issue, as she walked past the market’s purveyors of fried chicken, raw oysters, fruit and incense.

“What have you done to bring jobs to Baltimore?”  Davis, a 70-year-old retired contractor, yelled to the mayor, as the television news cameras rolled. Rawlings-Blake ignored him and stayed on message with reporters (“I’m so proud to be here with Senator Mikulski. . .”), leaving U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski to briefly take Davis on.

After both women moved on, Davis went on to complain about the city’s failure to meet its own goals for minority and women-owned business participation. He talked about the decision by state and city officials this summer to relax the woman and minority hiring requirements for a new slots parlor.

“She shelved that rule,” he complained to reporters. “All the jobs are going to Hispanic people.” That last charge was a frequently-heard one from the many unemployed young and middle-aged men at the market.

“I’m committed to making sure jobs stay in Baltimore and go to Baltimore residents whether they look like us or not,” Rolley told the out-of-work man who brought it up to him. “I can’t do it without your help though. You have to come out to vote.”

Lackluster Primary?

Getting voters to show up at the polls was the big goal of the day as well for the other candidates out shaking hands and looking for last-minute love from the media during an election which seems to have generated little enthusiasm in the city.

So far, based on only about 2.5% of the city’s 370,000 registered voters participating in early voting, city election officials are predicting low voter turnout. Only 28% of registered voters in Baltimore went to the polls for the last mayoral primary.

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh spent the day crisscrossing the city, shaking hands at an elementary school and near Mondawmin Mall and closing the day at an evening rally. Candidate Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III held a news conference to complain that commentators and the media were wrong to treat the election like a done deal.

(A Baltimore Sun poll showed that Rawlings had the support of  50% of voters and that Pugh and Rolley were far behind her, with 12% and 10% respectively. Landers and Frank Conaway were trailing with 5%.)

Landers also blasted the Sun editorial board that endorsed Rawlings-Blake, noting that only two of the five members of the board live in the city, making the process for them “nothing more than an academic exercise.”

Contrasting Styles

Rolleys and Rawlings-Blake’s different public personae were on display during their midday appearances at the market.

Mikulski orchestrated the interactions (“Let’s shake hands now!”) while Rawlings-Blake responded to greetings from supporters who found her and asked to pose for pictures with her. One such admirer was James Dickerson, 52, owner of The Perfect Gentleman barber shop at the market.

“I used to cut her hair when she was going to college,” he said afterwards, noting that it was at a time when his shop was on N. Howard St.

Dickerson said his business is off and knows many others are hurting worse from the recession, but thinks Rawlings-Blake is doing her best with it.

“Given what she’s dealing with and what’s happened to her that’s out of her control, she’s done a good job,” he said.

Others, who hung back, were critical of Rawlings-Blake. “She’s done nothing for us,” complained Kevin Brown, 42, who spoke on the sidewalk outside the market. “She took away two-days-a-week trash pick-up, took away some of the rec centers, took away some of the pools.”

Brown said he’s been jobless for a while, but used to do construction work, factory work for the McCormick spice company, and buffed floors at an area hospital.

He said he’s been paying attention to the election,” he said, but doesn’t see anyone yet he wants to vote for. “I think all of ‘em steal, all politicians – Sheila [Dixon] just got caught.”

Rolley, meanwhile, engaged all the people who came to him with tales of woe – the woman who talked about problems at the homeless shelters, another whose issue was gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents and many who talked about trouble finding a job.”

“They don’t care about you, but I do,” he said, resting his hand on one man’s arm as they spoke.