DeRay McKesson, lover of the Patagonia blue vest and one of the most prominent leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, threw his hat into the ring for the Baltimore mayoral race last night. McKesson enters the race with only 83 days to go and faces a lengthy list of competition in both parties, including former mayor Sheila Dixon, who is leading in the polls.
McKesson shot to fame, largely unexpectedly, following his presence at protests in Ferguson, Mo and Baltimore after numerous killings of unarmed black men by police officers. Following his rise in prominence in the BLM movement, McKesson quit his job as a school administrator in Minneapolis and moved back to Baltimore to focus on new initiatives, including We the Protesters and Campaign Zero, a research group that has collected incredible data and provided transparent reporting of police accountability in a public forum.
McKesson, in an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday night said:
“Baltimore is at a moment. I’m running to usher Baltimore into a new era where our government is accountable to its people and aggressively innovative in how it identifies and solves problems. I’ve lived through too many lofty promises and vague plans. We’ve come to rely on a traditional model of politics only to be rewarded with disappointing results.”
McKesson's views aren't that outlandish. The Washington Post reports that a poll conducted by the Baltimore Sun in 2015 found that an incredible 58 percent of primary voters believe the city is “on the wrong track.” If McKesson can convince a large chunk of those voters that he can put them on the right track, he may have a fighting chance, although 83 days is a very short lead time to get caught up to the other candidates.
McKesson is best known for his BLM activism in the last year and a half, but prior to his prominence regarding criminal justice and policing reform, his focus was on education administration. McKesson has an impressive resume, filled with leadership positions that bode well for a career in politics. He was elected student body president in Bowdoin College, taught middle school math in Brooklyn for two years, created an after-school program for 5th through 8th grade students in Baltimore and worked as a human resources administrator, for both the Baltimore City Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools, the Washington Post reports.
In McKesson's favor is the large following he has on Twitter, currently just under 300,000, his name recognition, the creation of a "@deraysvest" twitter handle in honor of the trademark blue Patagonia vest that he wears 24 hours a day, and his open lines of communication with prominent government figures, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and top officials with the Department of Justice and the White House.
The big question is this - can an activist, a true political outsider, come into a high profile government position and really shake things up? McKesson surely has the passion, the drive, the intelligence, the ability to inspire the masses. But will that translate into a successful political career? Will his followers support his political aspirations or will they view him as a sell out to the government machine? Can an activist cross over and become a politician?
We will find out in 82 days.