She raised more than $120,000 in three months, recruited more than 300 volunteers, and won endorsements from unions, environmental groups and even City Councilman Zeke Cohen, a Democrat.
But in the end, Franca Muller Paz was unable to defeat an incumbent who hadn’t raised a dollar since May. Robert Stokes’ confidence in his East Baltimore base proved well-founded.
With the State Board of Elections reporting almost all votes on Friday, Stokes defeated Muller Paz 60% – 35%, receiving 6,505 votes to her 3,820.
Republican Eugene Z. Boikai received 465 votes, or 4% of the total. The latest tally includes 36 write-ins. Provisional ballots have not yet been reported, and the deadline to certify votes is next week.
It was a comfortable margin for Stokes, but still far narrower than any other Council race.
“What we did was historic,” Muller Paz said in a statement issued yesterday. “[We] finally showed what it looks like when you run a campaign based on people, not corporate interests or party politics. I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time.”
Owen Silverman Andrews, co-chair of the Baltimore Green Party, described the campaign as a success.
“We made the general election in Baltimore City matter,” he said. “We are excited about extending the movement that has formed around Franca’s Green campaign.”
Cohen has known Muller Paz since she was a student at Goucher College, and he said she ran the most energetic campaign he’d ever seen.
“I’m proud of my friend for the way she was able to inspire so many people that had become jaded and cynical about the political process to participate,” Cohen told The Brew.
“In supporting her I meant no disrespect to my colleague Councilman Stokes. Franca is someone I’ve known for many many years and she continuously shows up for children and for the city,” he said.
“Real tangible solutions”
In Baltimore, where almost every voter is a Democrat, the general election is usually a formality. Stokes treated it as such, putting very little effort into his campaign.
He prevailed in the Democratic primary against multiple challengers, including public interest attorney Phillip Westry and activists Gary Crum and Dave Heilker. (It was close – Heilker got more votes than Stokes’ margin of victory.)
Since Tuesday’s results came in, Stokes has not issued any official statement and hasn’t answered our calls. His ally and former boss, retired Councilman Carl Stokes, didn’t answer a call this week, either.
But as Election Day approached and Muller Paz was attracting money and attention, Stokes and his surrogates engaged in increasingly raw rhetoric.
The councilman dismissed his opponent as “some fly-by-night socialist.” (Muller Paz is a socialist, but there’s nothing covert about it; she’s an active member of the Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America, which was among the first local groups to endorse her.)
His allies went further, questioning her ethnicity, branding Muller Paz a supporter of “systemic racism” and casting her as the candidate of white voters.
Her supporters denounced those tactics as outlandish, divisive and false.
“Bright political future”
Muller Paz, a teacher and active Baltimore Teachers Union member, entered the race in mid-July. Among her supporters were Crum, an important surrogate in the Oliver community, and Heilker, who designed her campaign logo and helped with social media.
Notably, Westry kept his distance from the campaign.
She had hundreds of volunteers text-banking and knocking doors, and raised more money from more contributors than many candidates for citywide office raised in two years. She campaigned on reducing the Baltimore Police Department’s budget and investing in Black neighborhoods, ending cash bail and building public broadband.
And she held weekly “stoop concerts” across the district, including on the Eastside where she was less well known. That’s where she was on election night, at Dunbar High School, with hip-hop frontman Eze Jackson in a turquoise ¡FRANCA! tee shirt at one point performing as she buttonholed last-minute voters.
Cohen said that, despite her loss, she has nothing to hang her head about. “I hope she’s able to brush it off and recognize what she was able to do. I would say she should keep going. I think she has a bright political future ahead of her.”
Muller Paz said the campaign created a strong network of progressive activists who will remain connected. She said one of her next goals is to work toward food sovereignty in the 12th District.
She declined to say anything specific about her own political future.
“I feel super energized about what’s to come next,” she said. “But right now I need to catch up on grading.”
Too Little, Too Late?
Supporters of both candidates said they were not surprised by the outcome.
Catherine Benton-Jones, a community leader and friend of Stokes who helped with his campaign, said his winning strategy was serving his neighborhoods.
Muller Paz may have raised a lot of money, but a candidate’s record of service, Benton-Jones said, is more important.
“In the end, it’s not about the money. It’s about, What have you done?” she observed. “People were not aware of the upcoming candidates running against him, especially if they’ve never done any work in the community.”
“There’s nothing more Franca could have done to win this race” – Gary Crum.
She said the Muller Paz campaign was too little, too late, and the way she campaigned didn’t show respect for the community.
For her part, Muller Paz said she didn’t begrudge anyone who remained skeptical of her. She said you can only campaign “at the speed of trust,” which tends to take more than three months.
“It is fair to be distrustful of people who run for office,” Muller Paz said. “It is an absolutely reasonable thought process to have.”
Gary Crum, who lives in Stokes’ home neighborhood of Oliver, said he hasn’t seen the community service from Stokes that Benton-Jones praised. He noted the protective equipment that her campaign supplied to residents as well as the food distribution they coordinated after the closure of a grocery store in Oliver.
“There’s nothing more Franca could have done to win this race,” Crum said. “People just vote off of name. We have a lot of elders in our community who just vote for names they remember.”
COVERAGE OF THE RACE: