Young voters can turn Baltimore politics on its head

ElectionsPoliticsPublic OfficialsRepublican Party

Baltimore's municipal election this year will be a unique and interesting test of the power of younger voters in a city long controlled by the political machines of the Democratic Party.

Traditionally, younger voters are not active in the electoral process. They are not as inclined to participate, as they are often busy building careers, raising families or just trying to make ends meet. In a place like Baltimore, those issues are compounded by the single-sided nature of the electoral process. The inability of Republicans to elect a city official since Mayor Theodore McKeldin nearly 50 years ago exacerbates the problem by focusing all attention on the primary election and providing merely a foregone conclusion once the general election arrives in November.

This year, however, could be a watershed in Baltimore electoral politics. Younger voters may finally have the capability of flexing their electoral muscles and bringing change to city government. When you look at communities that have undergone urban renewal — such as Brewers Hill, Canton, Fells Point and Federal Hill, to name a few — we have seen an influx of young professionals who are engaged with their jobs and engaged in the communities. These are voters who have come from places far and wide to move to Baltimore to begin their careers and start their families.

My friends who live in the city come from places all over the eastern half of the U.S., hailing originally from such places as New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan. These are potential voters who are not familiar with the status quo. These are voters to whom family names such as Rawlings, Mitchell, Conaway and Curran carry no cachet and no meaning beyond the job performance of the current occupants. And that matters.

One only needs to look back to last year to see how powerful this influx of new voters can be. George Della had been in public office for 34 years, 28 in the state Senate, when he ran for re-election last year — a powerful name in the 46th District and the son of a former president of the Maryland Senate. However, his district encompasses many of the redeveloped areas that saw an influx of new, younger voters who have moved to the city. Bill Ferguson was able to tap into those new voters and easily defeated Mr. Della in the Democratic primary last year.

The younger voters who will go to the polls this fall are not your average Baltimore City voter of yesteryear. They are unfamiliar with the machines, and they are unfamiliar with the names. They certainly do not care about the status quo.

However, there are a lot of things that these voters are familiar with and do care about. They know that the city property taxes are exorbitantly high when compared to surrounding jurisdictions. They know that the city public school system falls woefully short of the standards needed to successfully educate the next generation of Baltimore students. They know that crime runs rampant through the streets of many neighborhoods, and that the drug culture is a problem that city officials seemingly cannot come to grips with. And they know that the stench of the corruption continues to emanate from City Hall.

New voters know what they like about the city. And they also know that there are ways to improve it.

Younger voters will have no better opportunity to change the culture of Baltimore than by doing so at the ballot box this fall. Younger voters will have the opportunity to have a disproportionately large say in the future of their city. Whether they are native Baltimoreans or transplants from other parts of the country, this is their moment. This is the time when they will have the opportunity to engage their neighbors, engage their public officials, engage their candidates and make decisions that will affect the city of Baltimore for years to come.

Younger voters, regardless of party affiliation, need to go to the polls and make their voices heard in the city elections this fall. The city, the neighborhood, the block that you save may very well be your own.

Brian Griffiths is the chairman of the Maryland Young Republicans. His email is brian@briangriffiths.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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