City Council President
This race is almost equally as important as that of the Mayor’s race, especially given the fact that we have witnessed the City Council President ascend to the Mayor’s seat way too many times over the past fifteen to twenty years, and if you do your research regarding Baltimore City elections, this position traditionally is the stepping stone to the mayor’s seat – either by force or by voter choice.
Currently, the seat has been more like a game of hot potato as the folks who occupy it chose to forgo running to keep the seat, opting instead to run for Mayor. About a year ago, we witnessed one Mayor resign, Catherine Pugh, only to see the longtime Council President, Bernard ‘Jack’ Young become Mayor replacing the convicted former mayor. Young had assumed the Council President seat by way of his council colleagues back in 2010, when the former Council President, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, ascended to the mayor’s position following the resignation of Sheila Dixon.
Young, who had to receive eight votes on the City Council in order to obtain the seat which Rawlings-Blake was advocating for Councilman Bill Cole to succeed her, wound up winning that head-to-head contest. He would later run for the position successfully in 2011 and in 2016, with little opposition. So once he assumed the position of Mayor, it somewhat made sense that his initial comments were that he was only a seat-holder as Mayor, but that he would in fact run for the seat that he had held for the past decade, and one that he created into a mammoth of a political operation – City Council President.
Once Young realized the control the Council President had, over the Board of Estimates, the issuance of funds to council members and the level of staffing he could add to his roster, he quickly became hungry for more political power, hiring more staff than had ever worked for this largely ceremonious position. In fact, his staffing levels almost doubled that of both Rawlings-Blake and Dixon when they held the seat from 1999-2010; and the budget came from Young taking money that could have and should have been allocated to his council colleagues and their communities, instead using it to pay for his no-show jobs of family and friends.
Once he became Mayor, Councilman Brandon Scott mustered up enough votes amongst his council colleagues to overcome a challenge by a Young-backed candidacy of Councilwoman Sharon Green-Middleton, who was a vote or two shy of becoming only the third African American female council president in city history. But instead of changing the trajectory of how that office was run, Scott instead got rid of many of the staff loyal to Young and replaced them with his own loyalists. He then expanded the council committee structure, adding way too many council committees so he could give all the council colleagues that voted for him their own chairmanships.
He stacked the deck on the interviewing committee for who would replace him on the City Council in the 2nd council district, to ensure that his friend and mentor Senator Cory McCray’s sister Danielle McCray received the blessing of the council, and then he turned his attention to running for Mayor. Once he defeated Young’s plans for a better Baltimore, and let it be known that he didn’t want to hold on to the seat he could have easily won, he all but baited Young into wanting to run for the position of mayor himself. So they both vacated the possibility of a position that both of them could have won with their eyes closed, only to seek a position that neither one of them probably comes anywhere close to winning.
So here we are: a vacated council president seat that up until January had several first-term council candidates running for the position that had some people questioning – “Is this really all that we have to choose from?” The selection was made up of two first-term council members, Shannon Sneed (13th District) and Leon Pinkett (7th District), along with a former one-term councilman turned first-term State Delegate, Nick Mosby.
And then, on the very last day to file for public office in this Primary election, a former councilman and education leader decided to shake up the applecart and get in the race. Carl Stokes, who had served two stints on the City Council, as well as on the city’s Board of Education, who founded two successful all-boy charter schools and had run citywide for Mayor or City Council President three times prior, which gave him tremendous name recognition, got into the race at the eleventh hour, and shocked the world.
And so the race was set, the old verse the new; years of public service versus those who just came into town overnight on the turnip truck.
And that is largely what defines this race. Each of the front-runners: Sneed, Pinkett, Mosby and Stokes are extremely impressive individuals in their own right. Even the what some would call, low-level candidates of Leo Burroughs, Marques Dent and Dan Sparaco have their own strengths and years of public service. So it really comes down to one thing: Who do the voters feel can come in on Day One, work with whomever gets elected Mayor, and steer the council through four years of extremely intense backroom deals and community development projects all in the midst of a national recession?
Many voters still wonder who Shannon Sneed and Leon Pinkett really are, since most outside of their districts (and even some within their districts) don’t have a clue as to who these individuals are, since they’ve only had three and a half years to prove themselves to voters and didn’t impress many citywide. Nick Mosby at least had four years on the council, and roughly two years in the Maryland General Assembly to showcase his talents, not to mention an extremely popular last name (at least in parts of the black community, not so much in the white community), a name he shares with his wife Marilyn, who is the political rockstar of that household.
But when it comes down to substance, things that these individuals have actually done both in and out of office, it’s clear that there is one candidate who rises above all of them, and that is Carl Stokes. The former councilman from the 12th district in East Baltimore, stood up against wealthy developers a few years back, refusing to let millions of dollars in a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) bill designated for downtown development, come out of his council committee because he wanted to make sure that the residents of East and West Baltimore were receiving some sort of financial incentive from the deal. (So his friend Council President Young, and the members of the council took the bill from him and his committee using a backdoor loophole instead of allowing him to use the leverage of the council process to get more out of the bill for communities.)
Stokes was the only one who stood up, introduced and pushed for progressive legislation such as auditing every city agency and department on an annual basis (something that had never been done in city government), and the need to reform the city’s five-member Board of Estimates by eliminating the two mayoral appointees who will always vote the way of the Mayor, since that’s their boss. And this is at a time when these weren’t political campaign talking points, or sexy progressive issues, but rather when they were fresh out of the drawers of advocates such as myself, who had been pushing for this since 2010, and even gotten verbal commitments from candidates on video during the 2011 campaign that they would support these bills if elected.
Two of those candidates were Councilmen Brandon Scott and Nick Mosby – the latter being Carl’s closest competitor in this race, who both now say they are suddenly for both reform measures, but yet both voted AGAINST these measures just a few years ago. So will the voters suddenly believe they had an epiphany and suddenly became these progressive politicians overnight, or should they see their sudden support for these measures for what they are – political doubletalk simply to win an election.
Stokes stood on the side of voters when there was no election coming up, or one in the rearview; but simply did so because he knew it was the right thing to do for the people. It was Nick Mosby, who told Carl to his face on the council floor, five minutes before the vote, “I told you I got you, I’m voting for your bill (audit bill), only to reverse course five minutes later after the legislative director for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake came and whispered in his ear (I know because I was standing right there). At least Brandon Scott made it clear from the jump that he was opposed to annual audits because his political mommy, Mayor Rawlings-Blake forbid him to even think about voting for such a measure.
But it’s spineless politics like this that is NOT needed as Mayor or City Council President. So that is why we support CARL STOKES to be Baltimore’s next City Council President.