by Alec Shea
ed. note: in the original published version of the article, Ian Schlakman's name was misspelled.
It is rare for third party candidates, even those that end up winning, to outdo their opponents in terms of fundraising. In Baltimore’s 12th City Council District, Green Party candidate and DSA member Ian Schlakman has achieved that rare milestone; he raised almost $10,000 more than his Democratic opponent, Robert Stokes. Schlakman is an IT worker who runs a small company that manages software systems in Baltimore schools. A fixture in Baltimore’s organizing community, he has succeeded in uniting a number of the groups on Baltimore’s left in support of a campaign based on issues of housing, anti-racism, and workers’ rights.
Talking to him today, it isn’t obvious that concerns about American foreign policy first drew Schlakman into left-wing activism. He speaks about local issues like housing policy and gentrification in specific and precise terms. His campaign is based on concerns that local Democratic politicians are failing to provide Baltimore’s communities with the services they need more than on concerns about cybersecurity or US actions abroad. A particular focus for Schlakman, and one that he says has had particular resonance with voters in his district, is housing. His campaign has put forward a plan that includes measures like the creation of a system of rent control and guaranteeing housing to Baltimore residents as a human right. Knocking on doors and canvassing, Schlakman says that voters in the 12th district are realizing that “electing progressive Democrats who go to City Hall and end up being loyal to the big developers isn’t working.”
Schlakman is running to replace retiring City Councilor Carl Stokes. His opponent, Robert Stokes (no relation), has long been the current City Councilman’s Director of Constituent Services. He says that constituent services in the district have been so poor that his opponent’s history has been more of an opportunity than a liability. According to Schlakman, voters in the district who have complained about utility problems or cockroach infestations have received no response from their city councilman. Those failures, he believes, have made room for a third-party candidate. He says “in a lot of my district, all I have to say is ‘I’m running against Robert Stokes,’ and people will say that they’re willing to vote for me.” Housing and constituent services are far from the only issues important in the district and Schlakman has also focused his campaign on issues of police reform and the Fight for $15.
Schlakman first got involved in politics when he supported Dennis Kucinich and (reluctantly) Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign. Shortly after that, he left the Democratic Party. Since choosing to leave the Democrats, Schlakman’s activism has been anything but sectarian. A co-chair of the Maryland Green Party, he has been active in the Fight for $15 and worked with a number of other groups and parties on different issues. That non-sectarian approach, which has included organizing with everyone from progressive Democrats to members of the Pirate Party to Marxist-Leninists organizing in Baltimore appears to have paid off. Schlakman’s campaign has earned the support of Baltimore’s DSA chapter and the local chapter of Socialist Alternative. In his campaign, Schlakman is hoping to replicate the successes of SA member Kshama Sawant, who won election to Seattle’s City Council where she was a vital player in the passage of a law instituting a $15 minimum hourly wage.
The election for the City Council seat in Baltimore’s 12th district is likely not the one that will attract the most national attention on November 8th. It will, however, be a test of the electoral strength of Baltimore’s organized left and the Green Party’s potential as a political force at the municipal level. Ian Schlakman, fresh off a lead in fundraising, feels confident that his straightforward socialist policies might just propel him to victory.
Alec Shea is a YDS member and junior at Wesleyan University, where he studies History, Economics, and French.