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Baltimore Voters Think Most Politicians Are Crooked But Don't Get Caught, WYPR/Sun/UB Poll Finds

About two-thirds of likely Baltimore voters say they believe a lot of politicians are involved in schemes like former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” scandal, but “just don’t get caught,” a new WYPR, Baltimore Sun and University of Baltimore poll finds.

The voters were asked, “Is what former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh did worse than what other elected officials do, or do a lot of them do similar things but just don't get caught?” Sixty seven percent said other politicians do similar things.

The poll by OpinionWorks of Annapolis was conducted by telephone from February 20 to 29. Pugh was sentenced to three years in federal prison on February 27, suggesting voters likely saw headlines or news reports about her case during that period and had it on their minds when they were asked the question. The poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

That overwhelming attitude, said polling expert and OpinionWorks owner Steve Raabe, may allow former mayor Sheila Dixon to remain at the top of the crowded Democratic mayoral primary. The poll found 16% of polled voters support or lean toward her. City Council President Brandon Scott and former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah were tied at 10%.

If voters think many other politicians are corrupt, “then it’s not going to become disqualifying,” Raabe said.

Dixon became mayor in 2007. She was convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement in December 2009 and announced her resignation as mayor in January 2010 as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors in which she admitted to stealing gift cards meant for the poor.

Since then, Dixon has asked city residents to forgive her as she seeks to return to the mayor’s office. She ran an unsuccessful campaign in 2016, narrowly losing to Pugh, who branded herself as the Dixon alternative. Last year, federal prosecutors said Pugh illegally diverted Healthy Holly cash into her own mayoral campaign fund.

During Dixon's  mayoral term, Baltimore’s homicide and arrest rates dropped, a trend that every mayor since then has been unable to replicate.   

The poll also found that 50% of voters said the most important thing they are looking for in the next mayor is the ability to address crime. Another 21% of voters said they were looking for honesty and integrity. 

Dixon’s edge persists without running any television ads. Mary Miller, the candidate gaining the fastest traction with voters, has aired three this year. Scott and Vignarajah have aired television ads as well. So has current Mayor Jack Young, who is polling towards the back of the crowded field. 

Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, says Dixon benefits from name recognition and a reputation as an adept city manager. 

Candidates polling slightly below her, such as Scott and Vignarajah, are comfortably within striking range, he said. 

“It’s going to be a scramble,” Hartley said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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