Franca Muller Paz wakes up at 5:30 in the morning to prepare for her Spanish classes on Zoom. Although most of her 35 students show up to class, around a third of them have trouble staying logged on, shuffling in and out of the Zoom classroom every few minutes like a revolving door. Those same students also have microphone issues, restricting them to silence as a result of poor-quality Internet.
When Muller Paz’s teaching day ends at 3 p.m., she spends her evening knocking on doors in District 12 of Baltimore City, asking residents to vote her on to the city council in the Nov. 3 election. Muller Paz, a first-time candidate, is running on the Green Party ticket in the only competitive council race in the city. She gets back home around 9 p.m. for campaign meetings and goes to bed at 1 a.m.
“I feel really energized, and I know that it’s worth the work right now,” Muller Paz said. “I will sleep on Nov. 4.”
A full-time teacher at Baltimore City College high school by day and a campaigner by evening and on weekends, Muller Paz has surprised many by garnering over $90,000 in small donor contributions in the last three months, with the help of over 300 volunteers. She is not accepting any corporate donations, and has 1,229 individual donors who have contributed an average of $48. Her major finance expenses include online donation processing fees, mailers, yard signs, literature and staff.
The Metro Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, the largest labor union council in Maryland, recently announced its endorsement of Muller Paz. It is the first time the council has endorsed a third-party challenger.
Muller Paz joined the race in July, after incumbent Robert Stokes Sr. narrowly won the Democratic primary with 40% of the vote. “My decision was based on whether the incumbent won [in the primary elections], in which there is a greater risk of not having representation that is fighting for the needs of working class people, families and students in the district,” she said.
Dave Heilker and Gary Crum were Democratic candidates in the primary and are endorsing Muller Paz’s campaign.
Muller Paz’s platform is noticeably progressive, with demands for free high-speed municipal internet, an end to systemic racism, legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of sex work.
Compared to his well-funded challenger, Stokes reported $0 in contributions in his latest campaign finance report filed in late August. When asked if he will hold public campaigning events before the general election, Stokes said he had no comment. The reports also shows a $18,000 discrepancy between his bank account balance and cash balance, to which Stokes also had no comment; such discrepancies could spark an audit by the State Board of Elections if not addressed by a campaign.
Not worried about his challenger, Stokes said he brought millions of dollars into the district during his first term, contributing to a swimming pool in the Oliver neighborhood, as well as work force development, affordable housing and a wellness center in the Broadway East neighborhood.
“Look at my track record,” he said. “I don’t concentrate on her, I concentrate on my own campaign.”
Eugene Z. Boikai, who had no opposition for the Republican nomination, is also in the general election race.
Karen Monken has been living in District 12 for the past nine years and attended Muller Paz’s concert Sunday in Johnston Square Park. She said she feels disappointed with Stokes’ leadership and lack of effort in his campaign.
“I feel like it’s a lot of the same that we’ve had for Baltimore, and I want something new,” she said. “It’s important to know that just because Franca is a Green Party candidate doesn’t mean that she’s totally different from a Democratic candidate. It’s important to not necessarily vote down the ticket if there is a much better choice that still aligns with your values.”
Does Muller Paz have a chance?
The amount of money and endorsements that Muller Paz has raised in such a short amount of time, coupled with a lack of campaigning by an incumbent opponent, could give Muller Paz a shot in the race. Green Party local leaders and progressive residents are hopeful. The scope of her fundraising and endorsements is something the Green Party has not seen before, said Andy Ellis, a local Green Party leader.
Throughout the last three months, Muller Paz’s campaign has been knocking on doors of a wide range of voters, dropping off literature, text banking and phone banking. She has also been hosting community concerts every Sunday in different areas of the district and has sent 15,000 mailers to registered voters.
“I think that Franca having the years of experiences as an organizer has really empowered her campaign to build a network unlike anything we’ve seen in non-Democratic race in the past,” Ellis said. “I think that the one-party nature of Baltimore City is changing.”
In 2016, the Green Party had six candidates running for Baltimore City Council, as well as one mayoral candidate, Joshua Harris, who won 10% of the vote. Their most successful city council candidate was Andreas Spiliadis in District 3, who won 13.7% of the vote. This year, however, the Green Party is putting almost all of its energy on Muller Paz — its only municipal race in Maryland.
Still, the race will be a heavy lift for any Green Party candidate, even with the amount of energy that Muller Paz has brought into her campaign. With 21,000 registered Democrats, 65 registered Greens and 3,000 unaffiliated voters in the district, Muller Paz would have to flip a large number of registered Democrats to win.
That could be difficult in the context of a national presidential election, in which people are arguing that it is more important than ever to “vote Democrat” down the ticket. And a deeply blue city does not necessarily mean that that it is made up of progressives who agree with her policy positions.
The Baltimore Green Party’s formula is to get those who are infrequent voters to consider Green instead of Democrat, to get progressives to think about a local Green Party choice, and to mobilize community activists who aren’t always engaged by typical Democratic party campaigns, Ellis said.
In pursuing fundamental change ― such as creating an alternative to the Democratic stronghold in Baltimore ― you have to start incrementally, so every vote for the Green Party counts, said Virginia Rodino, the co-chair of the Maryland State Green Party. “Democrats in a city like Baltimore have become fairly complacent and take the votes of the people for granted,” she said.
If Muller Paz does win this election, it would not only make Green Party candidates more viable throughout Maryland, but also across the country, she continued.
“I think that in some ways, Franca’s campaign is already successful because she’s got people interested in what’s happening in Baltimore and most importantly, she’s given people a different vision of Baltimore that they think is attainable and achievable,” she said.