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Politicsby Mark Reutter2:46 pmMay 1, 20240

ANALYSIS: Thiru Vignarajah’s exit may change the dynamics of Baltimore’s mayoral race

His surprise decision, first reported by The Brew, will likely boost Sheila Dixon’s prospects in a close race with incumbent Brandon Scott

Above: Thiru Vignarajah, Sheila Dixon and Brandon Scott share the podium at a candidates’ night in Roland Park. (Fern Shen)

Baltimore mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah is ending his mayoral dreams and backing Sheila Dixon in the Democratic primary, he told supporters in a Zoom call this afternoon.

Calling the decision “not easy,” he explained that it was important for Baltimore to have a competent and committed leader, and that leader was Dixon, not incumbent Brandon Scott.

In recent television ads, Vignarajah equally disparaged his rivals. He dubbed Scott’s first term in office a record of “incompetence” and referred to Dixon as “corrupt,” an allusion to her 2010 resignation as Baltimore mayor after she pleaded guilty to stealing gift cards intended for the poor.

Recent polls showed Vignarajah, a former prosecutor who entered the race late, as a distant third in the May 14 Democratic Party primary.

He picked up 10% of likely primary votes, while Scott had 38% of the vote and Dixon 35%.

The David Smith Factor

Many observers believed that favorable coverage of Scott’s response to the catastrophic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge – along with a drop in city homicides – led to his recent jump in support.

Polling also suggests that Vignarajah’s withdrawal from the race will give Dixon a bigger boost than Scott.

No doubt politics played a role in today’s announcement.

Less than 30 minutes after Vignarajah’s announcement, Armstrong Williams, co-owner of the Baltimore Sun with Sinclair Broadcasting boss David D. Smith, lauded his “selfless act” of teaming up with Dixon for what Williams described as a benefit to Baltimore.

Smith is a deep-pocket supporter of Dixon and had previously financially backed Vignarajah in his 2020 run for mayor.

The Brew reported that Smith actively recruited Dixon to run for mayor last May, fueled by his intense dislike for Scott, and pledged to raise up to $1 million through a political action committee.

It was a promise that Smith and his allies, including Baltimore County developer John Luetkemeyer and Atlas Restaurant CEO Alex Smith, have largely kept.

Mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon and media mogul Davis D. Smith. (Brew file photos)

Mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon and her campaign benefactor, Sinclair media mogul David D. Smith. (Brew file photos)

Voter Turnout

With big bucks and Vignarajah’s support now behind Dixon, what remains is the attitude of voters toward the two main candidates – and the impact of voter turnout.

Traditionally, turnout is low in the Democratic primary, even though the winner is the overwhelming favorite in the November general election to become Baltimore’s next mayor.

Sixteen hours from now, early polling begins.

Eight “early voting” centers across the city will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and will remain open through May 9.

The primary itself is on Tuesday, May 14.

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