Just before the 9:00 deadline to enter the Baltimore mayoral race closed, DeRay Mckesson submitted his documents. In a last-minute surprise move, the Black Lives Matter activist who gained national attention during protests in Ferguson, Mo., made it official.
Less than 24 hours later, nearly 700 people had donated almost $40,000 to his campaign. According to the Crowdpac website, which tracks political crowd-sourcing donations for candidates, and Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater, Mckesson raised more overnight than 24 of the 29 candidates in the mayoral race.
When the Baltimore native entered the race, it was already crowded with 13 other candidates. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, City Councilmen Carl Stokes and Nick Mosby, and nine other Democratic candidates have all lined up to replace Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has announced she will not be seeking re-election.
While Mckesson, 30, doesn’t have the political experience of some of the other candidates, he has a knowledge of and connection to the city, where he grew up as the child of parents he describes as “now-recovered addicts.”
“It is true that I am a non-traditional candidate — I am not a former Mayor, City Councilman, state legislator, philanthropist or the son of a well-connected family. I am an activist, organizer, former teacher, and district administrator that intimately understands how interwoven our challenges and our solutions are,” Mckesson wrote on the blogging site Medium after he entered the race.
Mckesson also boasts a very big and very loyal support network, as evidenced by the surge in donations just hours after he announced his campaign.
Mckesson and his now-iconic blue vest (it has its own Twitter account) became widely recognizable during the protests that began in Ferguson, Mo., and then came to Baltimore last year after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Mckesson, along with activist Johnetta Elzie, became voices for the protest movement, speaking out against police brutality and instances of excessive use of force across the country. After the protests, he worked with Campaign Zero, a movement to end police violence, and with the civil rights group We The Protesters.
Mckesson has appeared on Late Night with Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; he was a go-to source for some news channels during the riots in Baltimore after Gray’s death; and he boasts nearly 300,000 Twitter followers. He’s a celebrity in his own right, which undoubtedly helped him land a sit-down with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last October.
After meeting with Clinton in Washington, D.C., Mckesson came to NPR headquarters to discuss it on All Things Considered. He said the dialogue with Clinton was wide-ranging, and they didn’t always see eye-to-eye:
“Yeah, so we just didn’t agree, right? So there were pushes from protesters that are saying people don’t believe that the police are always these beacons of safety in communities. And she, you know, at the beginning, felt strongly that police presence was necessary. She listened and heard people sort of talk about how safety is more expensive than police. And we worked through that, but it was a tough exchange.
“And I think around some other issues around the private prisons … you know, will you end private prisons? And she was adamant about ending private prisons. There was a question about, will she stop taking money from lobbyists who lobby for private prisons? And it was unclear where she landed, but that exchange was — we had, like, tough conversation around it.”
As a mayoral candidate, those tough conversations are just getting started, but Mckesson isn’t afraid to have them.
“I know this city’s pain. As the child of two now-recovered addicts, I have lived through the impact of addiction,” he wrote in his blog post. “I too have received the call letting me know that another life has fallen victim to the violence of our city. Like so many other residents, I have watched our city deal what seems like an endless series of challenges and setbacks.”
The Baltimore primaries will be held on April 26, and in the heavily Democratic city of Baltimore, the winner of the Democratic primary is expected to be elected mayor in the general election in November.