The second district vacancy committee tapped Danielle McCray out of 14 eligible candidates Thursday for an empty City Council position, filling the final seat in a round of political musical chairs that began when former Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned.
McCray was the odds-on favorite to get the job. She had worked as an aide to City Council President Brandon Scott when he held the second district seat, handling constituent issues for five years, and knew the second district neighborhood association leaders who made up the bulk of the committee.
She’s also the younger sister of State Sen. Cory McCray, whose 45th legislative district at least partially overlaps the 2nd City Council district, and is the treasurer of his election campaign.
The political musical chairs began when former council president Jack Young became mayor after Pugh’s resignation and Scott was elected City Council President by his peers, leaving the second district seat open.
The city charter mandates that a vacancy committee fill an open council seat outside of elections season and that the council confirm that choice.
McCray is expected to be confirmed when the council next meets on June 11.
Council members Shannon Sneed and Zeke Cohen, whose 13th and 1st districts border on the 2nd, served on the committee along with the neighborhood association leaders.
The committee interviewed 14 council member hopefuls in a public hearing Thursday before selecting McCray.
A pool of 22 originally applied, but one dropped out before the hearing and seven others did not show up to be interviewed, which effectively disqualified them.
McCray’s rivals included artists, educators, nonprofit workers, and a retired great-great grandfather who said he worked alongside the Department of Public Works.
Each candidate answered five broad questions before the committee. They discussed their vision for the 2nd district, their top two priorities for the district, how the city as a whole should address public safety as the police department operates under a federal consent decree, what their position on mandatory minimum sentences would be as a council member and how their budget priorities are reflected in the preliminary 2020 city budget.
Her vision, McCray said, is one of stronger schools and a bolstered local economy, and includes better social services and job opportunities.
“We want jobs and amenities where we live with a strong local economy that allows us to reinvest in our community,” she said.
Her top two priorities are public safety and helping to restore faith in local government. McCray said the city needs more community-oriented policing, including more foot patrol officers, and that she would aim to improve residents’ relationships with the police as many believe the department is not hearing their voices.
McCray is also vehemently opposed to mandatory minimum sentences.
“They don't do anything to deter crime or to reduce crime, and that’s been shown in multiple studies,” she said.
McCray also presented a level of understanding local government that was often not displayed by the other contenders. She was the only candidate to specifically mention combing through the 2020 budget, saying she wanted to increase funds towards education and social programs for seniors.
McCray won nine out of 11 votes cast immediately after the hearing. Gary Williams, who runs the nonprofit Public Allies, and Glenda Curtis, an aide in the City Council president’s office, each received one vote.
McCray declined to speak to WYPR, citing the ongoing vacancy process.