A Black Lives Matter Republican

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Black Lives Matter relies on a rhetorical deception. Nobody can dispute the premise, but the movement has put forth objectives that range from radical to bizarre—not only to defund the police but to “dismantle cisgender privilege” and “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” Kimberly Klacik aims to reclaim the slogan’s original meaning.

“Do you care about black lives?” Ms. Klacik, 38, asks in an ad for her congressional campaign as she strolls down a rundown street. “The people that run Baltimore don’t. I can prove it. Walk with me.” I took Ms. Klacik up on the invitation, though the Uber driver who took me to the corner of South Fulton and Wilkens avenues last month worried it wasn’t safe, even in daylight.

“Dude, it’s half the city, not a couple of blocks,” Ms. Klacik tells me. The Seventh Congressional District is majority-black and overwhelmingly Democratic. Even before Covid, the unemployment rate was above 6%, and nearly 1 in 10 families lived in poverty. Burned and blighted buildings give the neighborhood a war-torn look. Drug use is rampant, and I walk by one man who has passed out on his feet, leaning against a building in a gravity-defying slump. “It’s very hard for me to say to anybody in this neighborhood, ‘This is a land of opportunity, you can do anything,’ ” Ms. Klacik says, “because they will look around and be like, ‘Are you crazy?’ ”

Ms. Klacik runs a nonprofit, Potential Me, that helps impoverished, homeless and formerly incarcerated women prepare for job interviews by providing them with professional clothing and makeovers. She’s learned that Baltimore’s black residents have good reason for feeling they need to assert that they matter. Democrats have long taken their votes for granted. But Ms. Klacik also blames her fellow Republicans for giving up on Baltimore and places like it. “I’m serious when I say people have never met a Republican, and then they find out what we’re about, and they’re like, ‘I like you,’ ” she says. “If more Republicans came out here and talked to people, they would see why some people are upset. And then they could say, ‘You know what, now I see, here’s my idea on a solution.’ ”

Kimberly Klacik campaigns for Congress in Baltimore, Sept. 11.



Photo:

Jillian Kay Melchior

After Rep. Elijah Cummings died last year, Ms. Klacik ran against Democrat Kweisi Mfume in April’s special election. She lost 73% to 27% to Mr. Mfume, who represented the district from 1987-96 and left Congress to become CEO of the NAACP. She’ll almost certainly lose the rematch, but her “black lives matter” message resonated with conservatives, and after her campaign ad went viral, she spoke at the Republican National Convention. Now, “we get like 400 checks in the mail a day” from supporters all over the U.S.—so many, she says, that her campaign team struggles to keep up. “People are calling, like, ‘Did you get my check?’ ”

Ms. Klacik brought in more than $6.4 million between July 1 and Sept. 30—nearly 35 times as much as Mr. Mfume, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. Mr. Mfume has accused Ms. Klacik and President Trump of trying to buy the seat, adding that they “should take their money and greed somewhere else, because we are not for sale. Not now, not ever.”

Still, the donations have allowed her to let voters know they have an alternative. Ms. Klacik has bought billboard ads, commercials and campaign mailers and has hired staff to engage and register voters. She slams Democrats for Baltimore’s failing schools, supports vocational training, and promises in a campaign ad to “end the school-to-prison pipeline with school choice.” She believes law and order is a winning issue here: “I haven’t met anyone around in West Baltimore that wants to defund the police. They actually do want more policing.” She also sees violent crime as an economic issue: Businesses won’t invest in Baltimore unless they think it’s safe.

“We’ve got so many people leveraging the urban struggle that you see”—she gestures to the blighted surroundings—“to get federal funding. And then they never actually place the funding here because the very next year they’re going to say, ‘We still have these same problems,’ ” she says.

Ms. Klacik says federal support should come with oversight to ensure it’s well spent: “The fact that it never ends up on the ground—like they can’t even pick up the trash—that’s insane.”

As we wander the streets of Baltimore, a young man named David Downes hails Ms. Klacik from across the street. “I recognize you!” he says, pulling out his phone to record the encounter. “She really be out here in the city walking around,” he says to the camera. Mr. Downes tells me he’s never voted Republican before. “I’ve never seen nobody running and doing what she’s doing, actually walking around and show the city. She seems like she really cares. So I’ll vote for her.”

Ms. Melchior is an editorial page writer at the Journal.

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