Pugh shakes up Rawlings-Blake endorsement
A quiet luncheon at which a group of ministers endorsed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Thursday afternoon became a lot more interesting when state Sen Catherine Pugh arrived.
Pugh, one of Rawlings-Blake's leading challengers, entered the church hall silently as the minsters were wrapping up their remarks.
Rawlings-Blake and campaign staffers turned to their phones, rapidly tapping messages. Several of the ministers embraced Pugh, who shares much of her West Baltimore base with Rawlings-Blake. The incident could presage a summer of tough campaigning by Pugh, who as a former City Council member and state delegate, has considerable political clout.
Pugh questioned the process by which the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance chose to endorse Rawlings-Blake. The group has held candidates' forums in past elections before choosing a candidate to back.
"Never in the history of the IMA have they not had a candidates' forum," said Pugh. "We were waiting for an invitation to be heard."
Rev. Alvin J. Gwynn Sr., president of the group and pastor of Northeast Baltimore's Friendship Baptist Church, acknowledged that the group had traditionally held forums. But, he said, the group decided to "support" Rawlings-Blake on June 1, 2010.
"She was coming in behind the former mayor, Sheila Dixon, so we were backing her," he said.
When asked when the group decided to formally endorse Rawlings-Blake, Gwynn said the decision was made "during the course of the year."
When pressed for specifics, Gwynn said the group's decision to support Rawlings-Blake in June 2010 was tantamount to an endorsement.
"It would have been hypocritical for us to interview the other candidates," he said. "We've been working with [Rawlings-Blake] for the whole year."
Gwynn said the "short time frame" and volume of candidates also prompted the group to make an endorsement without a forum.
"We've never had six or seven candidates before," he said. However, in 1999, 15 candidates vied for the Democratic nomination. In 2007, seven candidates filed for the mayor's race.
Gwynn was joined by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and about a dozen ministers for the endorsement, which followed a luncheon meeting in a hall at Friendship Baptist. Fewer than ten others, including a pair of Rawlings-Blake campaign staffers, attended the event.
At least three of the ministers said that they had not made up their minds which candidate to support, but joined the other ministers to show solidarity with the organization.
Bishop William E. Gaines Jr. of United Brethren Church of the Living God said that he had expected a regular meeting today and had not learned until this morning that the endorsement would be taking place.
"I didn't come here to endorse," he said. "I came to be with the pastors here. I haven't personally made up my mind. I think [Rawlings-Blake] has a lot to offer and so does Sen. Pugh."
Pastor Macie Tillman of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church said he "didn't really decide to endorse Rawlings-Blake," but felt obligated to join the others because he is an IMA board member.
Among those in attendance was Rev. Sheridan Todd Yeary, pastor of Douglas Memorial Church, where Rawlings-Blake is a member. Yeary made several comments to Pugh, admiring her gray high-heeled shoes.
Gwynn, the groups' leader, said in his remarks that the IMA is an "advocate for citizens who can't advocate for themselves" and touted the high percentage of candidates that the group has endorsed who have been elected.
But in an interview afterwards, Gwynn downplayed the importance of the endorsement. "The vote is in the hands of the people," he said.