Bob Wallace, the independent candidate who ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore mayor in 2020, made 2024′s race a bit more interesting Thursday evening after he announced his 2024 candidacy as a Democrat.

He will join Mayor Brandon Scott and former Mayor Sheila Dixon in seeking City Hall’s top office, a race where roughly 30% of city Democrats say they haven’t made up their minds or want another choice besides Dixon and Scott, according to a recent poll from The Baltimore Banner and Goucher College.

“I’ve been a Democrat. I’ve been Republican. I’ve been an independent. I’m not somebody who was hung up on party, I’m hung up on solutions.” Wallace said in an interview. “Now, I see that the Democratic Party has better solutions for the problems I see in Baltimore.”

He announced his campaign before a crowd of a few dozen older Black residents at Forum Caterers in Northwest Baltimore.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Wallace, a 67-year-old businessman who grew up in Cherry Hill and founded information technology and renewable energy companies, has hinted for months he would join the race and first announced his exploratory committee in May. He netted 20.2% of the 2020 general election vote to Scott’s 70.5%. He announced his 2020 candidacy shortly before the June primary, where Scott came out on top of a crowded field of Democrats.

Running as anything other than a Democrat in deep-blue Baltimore is an uphill battle. “You’ve got to run how you got to run, unfortunately, and in Baltimore, that’s as a Democrat,” said Wallace campaign adviser Michael Eugene Johnson.

Supporters sitting at round tables listen to Bob Wallace speak.
Bob Wallace speaks during his mayoral campaign launch event at The Forum Caterers in Northwest Baltimore on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

But Wallace doesn’t have to win over many primary voters to potentially impact the outcome of the election. Scott eked out a win over Dixon in a crowded field of Democrats in 2020, winning 29.6% of the electorate to Dixon’s 27.5%.

The Banner-Goucher poll surveyed 537 registered Democrats by landline and mobile about the mayor’s race from Sept. 19-23. The poll has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

Among the Democrats surveyed, 39% said they would vote for Dixon if the primary election were held today, while 27% chose Scott. Another 23% prefer “some other candidate.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I’m looking at how many people didn’t want either,” Wallace said. “And I really think we overestimate how deep and how wide Ms. Dixon’s base is. I think we can take some of those votes. And I think we can dig into Mr. Scott’s base as well.”

Johnson, who served as the night’s emcee, praised Wallace as a self-made man who the youth could stand to learn a thing or two from.

“They need to see a man that’s a stand-up man, who don’t wear his pants where they don’t need to be, who’s been married to the same beautiful woman for 45 years,” he said.

Wallace pledged his first priority in office would be education, saying he would replace Sonja Santelises as Baltimore City schools CEO and replace the schools board. Two members of the board are elected; the rest are appointed by the mayor.

Reducing crime would also be a top priority.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“We will not negotiate with criminals,” he said, adding that does not mean he would suspend Safe Streets and Roca but “take a very detailed look” at their relationship with the city.

“The elderly are prisoners in their own homes. They need to feel like they did when I was a kid, that they can walk to the corner store without getting harassed,” he said.

As mayor, he said, he would “go up to Wall Street and I’m going to get investors to invest in this big, massive, public project to rebuild Baltimore” using minority and women-owned businesses, and “train our kids in all schools to be the carpenters, electricians, the plumbers.”

He also said he would create a business district to honor the contributions of people from the African diaspora to Baltimore.

The fundamental question, said pollster and Goucher political science professor Mileah Kromer, is what voting groups Wallace may be able to capture.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Right now, the public doesn’t know enough about him to answer that, and we don’t even know if the lane of undecided voters is a coherent set of people,” she said. “They’re a highly diverse bunch with many different demographic backgrounds.”

Johnson told event attendees to “Pay attention to when the media says that they’re going to have a debate forum and these are the only two people they’re going to invite,” he said, referring to Dixon and Scott. “The hell you don’t invite the candidate who got 50,000 votes as an independent. When that happens, you’ve got to pick up the phone.”

Wallace ran a largely self-financed campaign: He loaned himself about $300,000 during the 2020 election; his wife Carolyn Green loaned him $50,000.

Campaign finance reports from January 2023, the most recent available, show a discrepancy between his campaign’s bank account balance and cash balance; the former lists a $975 balance, while the latter lists a $13,181 balance.

Dixon had just under $5,000 in her campaign account. A prominent fundraising group created a super PAC to benefit her over the summer, but it has not yet reported any fundraising or expenditures. Scott reported having nearly $451,000 on hand.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Bob Wallace speaks at a rally for 2022's ballot item Question K outside Baltimore City Hall.
Bob Wallace speaks at a rally for 2022's ballot item Question K outside Baltimore City Hall. (Emily Sullivan/Emily Sullivan)

Wallace said he would consider funding his campaign again, but that he is hoping to fundraise through grassroots donations.

“I’m capable of funding my campaign and I will see what what I need to do,” he said.

Regardless of how much money Wallace raises or loans his campaign, it will be a challenge to go up against Scott and Dixon, who as an incumbent and former mayor, respectively, have high name recognition throughout the city. He remained largely out of the headlines since 2020, though he teamed up with organizers supporting a ballot measure that established term limits for city politicians that was funded by a ballot issue committee with financial ties toward Sinclair Broadcast Group.

It may be a challenge for someone like Wallace, who has not been a part of establishment Democratic politics, to hire a solid fundraiser, make ads, and strategize what doors to knock this late in the game, Kromer said: “That’s not to say there’s not talented people out there, but most people are booked and busy.”

emily.sullivan@thebaltimorebanner.com

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news. 

More From The Banner