Congressional hopeful Kimberly Klacik was once told that, as a Republican, Jesus Christ Himself could not win an election in Baltimore. And as a Republican candidate running in a +26 Democratic stronghold, Klacik recognizes that there is some truth to that hyperbole. In fact, Maryland's 7th Congressional District, which includes more than half of Baltimore as well as parts of Howard and Baltimore counties, hasn't ever been represented by a member of the GOP.
But in more than 70 years of nearly uninterrupted representation by hardline Democrats, Baltimore is a husk of the great American city on the water it once was. Just beyond the well tended, historic districts near the Inner Harbor and the sparse, kitschy neighborhoods populated by hipsters and students, Baltimore is home to one of the highest violent crime rates in the country.
The streets of West Baltimore, once a thriving community of blue collar workers and their young families hopeful to set down roots in the years after World War II, are now largely vacant. Row homes once brimming with the promise of middle class American life are now boarded up and collapsing. Entire neighborhoods are more likely home to decaying rodents, squatting drug addicts, and heaps of toxic trash. But without another option, many Baltimoreans still live among the rubble, wondering how they became the forgotten faces of squalor just 40 miles north of the United States Capital.
More trash. More concerned residents. People live in the home with the silver van. This is @RepCummings district. This has nothing to do with race. Let us all pray the city removes the trash & install cameras to catch the individuals dumping on the property. #WestBaltimore pic.twitter.com/CCaRH5c0aO— Kimberly Klacik (@kimKBaltimore) July 27, 2019
But Kim Klacik wants the people of West Baltimore, and other downtrodden districts, to know that they are not forgotten. In July, Klacik walked through a particularly bad part of the city in order to shine a light on the problems people had been reporting. She posted videos that showed mountains of trash, human waste, and houses so broken down that trees sprouted from their roofs. In no time, Klacik became a viral sensation – not for helping the residents of West Baltimore, but for drawing the attention of President Trump who saw the streets of Baltimore and described the images of a "rat and rodent infested mess."
Just to be clear I have more videos— Kimberly Klacik (@kimKBaltimore) July 27, 2019
I filmed this video to show how long many of the row houses have been sitting abandoned. The tree in this home is taller than the actual home itself. This has nothing to do with race, I was trying to show the plight. Also, I am black ??????? pic.twitter.com/qlqc1PCCoc
The congressman elected to represent the people of those streets, Rep. Elijah Cummings, did not see Trump's comments and Klacik's videos as a help to get the national attention on a disaster within his own district. To the contrary, Cummings, who died in October, rallied with other Democrats and city leaders who, instead of helping their own residents, turned their fire toward the White House, creating a war of insults in which the president was called a "bigot" and a "racist."
Try not to cry, seriously ?? pic.twitter.com/HaTn8myKEE— Kimberly Klacik (@kimKBaltimore) July 30, 2019
Klacik, meanwhile, after gaining tens of thousands of new followers through the national coverage, returned to West Baltimore to find the same trash heaps and rodent decay she'd seen the first time. Her fight for the people of Baltimore had evolved into a political battle with the elected Democrats taking every opportunity to snipe at President Trump for making disparaging remarks about the very troubled city and declining to get help to people who desperately needed it.
After entering the conversation as a catalyst to very public feud between Baltimore leaders and the president, Klacik's political star is on the rise. With the special election to fill Rep. Cummings' seat, it was time to face the people of Baltimore and ask them if they were ready for real change.
Klacik, 38, is a wife, mother, independent journalist, and founder of the nonprofit Potential Me, which helps disadvantaged women in Baltimore achieve professional success. She is also a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee and remains committed to shining a light on the needs of Baltimore and Maryland during her uphill battle to win a congressional election.
In a city with four registered Democratic voters for every one Republican, Klacik knew her message would have to be one of hope rather than one streaked with political values. She said to voters ahead of the special election not to consider her history as a Republican but to look ahead for possibilities in Baltimore.
"Hey, you know what, here's what you have going on," Klacik said to Townhall, relating her message to voters. "I'm not telling you to not be a Democrat. Don't be an independent. I'm saying, you know, just vote your conscience at this point. You know, do you want someone to come in there and provide transparency and accountability or do you want the same old, same old?" Klacik won the special election Republican primary in February with more than 40 percent of the vote.
Amid the global pandemic which greatly limited her outreach and squelched voter turnout, however, she was defeated by former Democratic congressman Kweisi Mfume. But the voter numbers showed a willingness of Baltimore to explore change, something rarely seen from a city that saw two Democratic mayors resign in disgrace amid felony indictments within 10 years.
"In Baltimore City alone, we actually had 42 percent of the vote come from Democrats and Independents," Klacik said of the special election. "So we were very shocked. That was a big crossover that you don't usually see in Maryland. Combined, through the counties and the city, we had over 10,000 votes from registered Democrats and Independents."
Klacik will again face primary challengers on June 2 as she sets her sites on a full term in Congress. The urgency is even higher this time around to reach voters with her message of real change, she says. When left-leaning press doesn't give her the time, she said her team will pick up the phone themselves.
"Some of the radio stations that wouldn't have us on because we are conservative, we're just going to call in and say, 'Hey, you know, we've got something to say,'" she said. "We're going to get a little bit more aggressive."
Mfume, who was sworn in to finish Elijah Cummings' term this week, is not without his own baggage that could slow his momentum. Mfume held the MD-07 seat for five terms before voluntarily leaving Congress to head the NAACP where he said he could do more to improve civil rights than in government. Mfume left the NAACP amid allegations of sexual misconduct in 2004. He launched a failed run for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and remained out of the spotlight until entering the race for Cummings' seat.
Klacik knows that she is running against some of the most recognized names in Baltimore politics as she eyes a seat in the House of Representatives. In addition to Mfume, she notes that many of the Democratic candidates, including Cummings' widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Jill Carter, and Telmadge Branch, have "been running for office as long as I've been alive." And people in Baltimore, and indeed, most of Maryland, have long voted for what they are familiar with.
But familiarity, as Klacik points out, hasn't done a lot of good for the people of Baltimore over the years. She pointed out that needed federal funding does flow into Baltimore, but many residents never see the benefit. As a representative for the people that money is supposed to help, Klacik vows to streamline the process.
"I felt like people living in this situation, many living in poverty, many living in poor living conditions, I know they'd probably want to know exactly what's going on," she said. "It's gotta be the transparency and the accountability. We have to go in and open the books and find out who received millions of dollars." Of the ravaged West Baltimore neighborhoods she became famous for filming, Klacik said, "those areas, in particular, five years ago received millions and millions of dollars and no one seems to know where that money is now."
Democrats in Baltimore, getting ready for a mayoral election, were ready to find out where that money ended up as well, Klacik said. Two of their last three elected mayors misappropriated funds meant for those in need. Candidates without a history of federal indictment or bribery would logically be the best choice for the city at this time.
But more than anything, Klacik believes in her own message for residents in the district that have long been underserved by its elected officials. Her message isn't one of empty promises for miraculous change but a realistic one of transparency. The trash-filled videos of a city devastated by years of neglect from those who vowed to help resulted in real action. It's still a far cry from perfect, but volunteers and city officials removed the trash and waste from many Baltimore streets after seeing what Klacik posted.
In Baltimore, where corruption, deceit, and politics are hand in glove, Klacik's message of accountability and real action should resonate deeply with voters, regardless of party politics.