There was a surprise in the already-crowded Baltimore mayoral race on Wednesday when DeRay Mckesson, an activist who rose to prominence following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, filed to enter the race hours before the deadline.
Mckesson, 30, left his job as a Minneapolis public-schools administrator and has been working full-time as an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement. His entry into the race represents a new phase in the movement, which has mainly focused on changing the system from the outside. In a November interview with New York, Mckesson said he thought “the world of politics could be a ripe world for those good at activism, at mobilizing, at protesting.” He also said he was considering running for mayor in his hometown of Baltimore:
Working as a senior leader in two public-school systems changed the way I thought about politics. I saw the importance of what it was like to understand the details at such a deep level and how decisions made within the system often have immediate and sweeping impact. I managed a range of workflows, from staffing to workers’ compensation in the Baltimore City Public Schools, and there, I saw the power of what it would be like to be on the inside, fighting for change. And obviously in protests, I see what it’s like to be outside the system, pressing and fighting.
Many people have asked me if I’d consider running for mayor of Baltimore. And I think it’s — I don’t know at what point I’d think being an elected official would be the best way to be in the work, because right now we are trying to apply this pressure from the outside. And force systems to change and respond, forcing these conversations. I’m confident that protesters will run for office at the local level soon. And do transformative work. And I want to support that. And know protesters would be completely capable.
Including Mckesson, there are 13 Democrats, four Republicans, three Green Party members, and a Libertarian seeking the office. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is not seeking reelection. The Baltimore Sun notes that with so many Democrats running, a candidate could win the April 26 primary without securing a large portion of the vote.
Mckesson said in a statement that he’s hoping to challenge the status quo in the city. If Baltimore wants to achieve its “promise and possibility,” he said, “we cannot rely on traditional pathways to politics and the traditional politicians who walk that path. We have to challenge the practices that have not and will not lead to transformation.”