When Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presided over Harborplace’s 30th anniversary ceremonies in July 2010, she unabashedly declared, “I remember being here when I was 10 when Harborplace opened. It was a fantastic day. I also used to work here as a puppet master at the Puppet Master.”
As a rule, politicians should probably avoid uttering the phrase “puppet master.” Even more important: best not to confess to operating as one in public. And yet, in this case at least, the admission was entirely harmless. While the job does not appear on Rawlings-Blake’s resume, as a young woman she worked as a puppeteer. Conjure in your mind Punch and Judy, Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy, and the Muppets; banish from your brain guileful, covert political manipulator.
The daughter of Howard “Pete” Rawlings (chair of the Maryland House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee) and Dr. Nina Rawlings (a pediatrician), Rawlings-Blake was born in Baltimore and raised in the city’s Ashburton neighborhood. After graduating from Western High School in 1988, she earned an undergraduate degree in political science from Oberlin College in 1992, followed by a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1995. At that point she embarked on dual careers in public service and legal services: elected to the Baltimore City Council from the 4th District in 1995, two years later signing on as an attorney with the local Legal Aid Bureau.
From 1998 to 2007, Rawlings-Blake worked as a staff attorney for the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender, while continuing to serve as a council member, moving to the reconfigured 6th District in 2004 after the city switched to single-member district representation. She ascended to City Council president in 2007 and mayor in 2010, in both cases succeeding Sheila Dixon.
Rawlings-Blake, 41, lives in the city’s Coldspring neighborhood with her husband, Kent, and their daughter, Sophia.
Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.
Make it happen.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?
I defined my goals at a very early age. I have so much love for Baltimore that I grew up knowing that I would use my skills and talents to make our city better. My most important goal is to make Baltimore a better place for my family and all of our families. Our city should be a place where families can choose good schools for their kids; where our streets are safer and families feel more secure in their homes; where neighbors work together and businesses choose to invest and create jobs.
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?
Watch and listen to everything around you. Know your community and neighbors, and get involved in anything that can help you make the lives of others better.
The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?
“Quit politics.” I heard that right after I was elected [to the City Council] in 1995 and started studying for the bar exam. An older lawyer told me that I could be one or the other, and people wouldn’t respect me as a lawyer while I was in office. I studied hard, passed the bar on my first try, and practiced for about 10 years on behalf of indigent clients in Baltimore.
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?
I’ll name two. 1) That the squirrels that my mom named Michael and Suzy weren’t the same two squirrels every day when we saw them. 2) Unfortunately, that your metabolism really does slow down after 30.
What is the best moment of the day?
When I wake up and see my family.
What is on your bedside table?
What is your favorite local charity?
The Maryland Food Bank.
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Work hard, be honest, and protect your integrity.
Why are you successful?
I’ve been a successful public servant because I have a passion for helping others. The people I serve know that they can count on me to be honest.
Which book, film, TV show, or video game have you introduced to your daughter that has had a profound, positive effect on her? Describe that effect.
Sophia loves black history books, and a biography of [Olympic gold medal winner] Jesse Owens inspired her to begin to run track.
Orioles’ players have “at-bat” music, a song snippet–personally chosen by each team member to represent him–that plays over the Camden Yard sound system when they step into the batter’s box. What would be your at-bat song?
DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win.”
If re-elected mayor, which item will be foremost on your agenda–the specific initiative you immediately strive to accomplish?
My top priority for the next four years is addressing those issues that have the greatest impact on all of Baltimore’s families. We must redouble our efforts to create more jobs, make our streets safer, provide children with a quality education, and empower our neighborhoods. All of these issues hold equal value and must receive equal attention in order to move our city forward.