The citywide landscape for Mayor and Council President

Who's In, Who's Out - and Who Truly has a Chance in 2020

Come next week, we will have witnessed a little more than half of 2019  (7-months) in the books and Baltimore City will have recorded no less than 191 homicides, more than half of last year’s total of 309 murders. And with water bills set to go out to citizens for the first time since the city was rocked with a ransomware attack in early May, citizens will become even more frustrated with local government when they see the size of that bill.

We’ve already witnessed one Mayor resign in disgrace this year due to a current federal and state probe into her activities surrounding a self-published children’s book, which led to a battle for Council President that led to the newly elected millennial members outmaneuvering the old guard in helping get one of their own, Councilman Brandon Scott, to lead the 15-member chamber over the next eighteen months.

However, it appears Council President Scott has his sights set on a higher office, which has led to lingering questions of loyalty and further divides amongst City Hall staffers in both Scott’s office, and that of newly crowned Mayor Bernard ‘Jack’ Young. The latter, Mr. Young, was elevated to the position of Mayor without a single vote, due to the city’s charter after the sudden resignation of Mayor Catherine Pugh in April; but has kept a watchful eye on the young man (Scott) who assumed his old post and seems to have an eye on his current one.

For those of us who remember, it was Acting Mayor Young who repeatedly told reporters, and anyone who would listen back in April, that he was not interested in running for Mayor; but rather would definitely run for the position of Council President, which he has held since 2010. However, when his chosen candidate to fill his vacancy as Council President, Councilwoman Sharon Green-Middleton, failed to secure the necessary votes on the council, it appears as if Young has had a change of heart.

And with the democratic primaries for both offices, Mayor and Council President, along with the fourteen members of the City Council and the citywide position of Comptroller, roughly 277-days away – and the filing deadline only 182-days away – it seems both city leaders, Scott and Young, are quietly maneuvering to ensure that whatever position they decide to run for, that they are in the best position possible to win.

It appears that Young has plenty of downside leading up the all-important April 28th primaries, while Scott can use his newly attained and obscure citywide post to do nothing but tout the successes of his office, and that of the city council. Whether it be he and Councilwoman Shannon Sneed’s recent bill introduction that seeks to do away with gag orders placed on recipients of settlements with the city due to non-disclosure forms they are forced to sign, a bill that Young has opposed; or the handling of disasters such as the Poe Homes crisis that happened weeks ago, that left many residents of this housing project without running water for weeks.

It is the mayor who gets the glory, as well as the criticism, when it comes to most pressing issues that face this city, including the rising homicide and violent crime rates, as well as the ransomware attack that the city could have resolved by paying the culprits approximately $75,000, as opposed to the estimated $18.5 million dollars spent by the defiant Young administration.

But Scott isn’t the only possible mayoral contender that Young must worry about, if he listens to his advisors and runs for mayor next spring. The most obvious, and popular of the possible contenders is former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who came in just behind Pugh in the 2016 mayoral election. Dixon, who was also removed from office in January 2010, has been seen by many as the quintessential front-runner if she decided to throw her name back in the hat one last time.

Supporters of hers continue to be a force in this city like none other, and while she only has roughly $10,000 in her campaign coffers, compared to the $700,000 plus sitting in Young’s account; she is a local political rock-star with 100% name recognition and a track record of being the only mayor in the past thirty years to put forth a crime plan and team that led to historic lows in homicides and quality of life crimes. She was vocal in her support of the city paying off the ransomware attackers, a minimal cost compared to what she knew would cost the city millions if they hadn’t paid; as well as being acknowledged for being a hands-on mayor, knowing every facet of city government. Something some believe we need in this time of crisis.

You also have the possibility of Dixon’s mayoral predecessor’s right-hand man running for mayor as well, as it has been rumored that the deputy mayor to former Mayor Martin O’Malley, Matthew Gallagher – the current President and CEO of the Goldseeker Foundation – will have a huge war chest and the backing of the philanthropic community if he chose to enter the race. And while Gallagher has little to no name recognition outside of Baltimore’s white communities, and its political circles, he is an extremely smart former insider who knows the ins and outs of Baltimore’s local government, who would certainly benefit from the connections laid forth by Mayor O’Malley.

However, that may or may not conflict with the reports that O’Malley has put forth his machine in support of the candidacy of Scott for Mayor. Already having O’Malley’s former fundraiser, Collen Martin-Lauer, dialing for dollars on his behalf, Scott forged his path in local politics by way of former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose staffers and supporters are largely connected to that of O’Malley’s. Let’s not forget Scott’s endorsement of O’Malley’s son-in-law, J.D. Merrill, in last year’s 41st district senate race, over that of longtime activist and state delegate, Jill P. Carter.

But when you reflect on the likelihood of who will garner the majority of Baltimore’s white voter population, it could be difficult to calculate if both Gallagher and 46th district state senator Bill Ferguson enter the race. Ferguson, the 36-year old senior senator for Baltimore, whose South Baltimore district represents the largest, most young and progressive electorate across the city, has made moves towards the possibility of entering the mayoral race, including paying for a poll to show the likelihood of any pathway to victory for the young turk. But the white votes alone still won’t be enough to carry a candidate in a citywide race, especially with failed State’s Attorney candidate Thiru Vignarajah in the race, whose entire base seems to be planted in southeast Baltimore.

This would create a nightmare for both Young and Scott when trying to seek out white voters, while Dixon would benefit from these voters not going to her two major black opponents, realizing that she probably wouldn’t receive even 5% of the white vote. But with a seemingly 27-34% lock on the black electorate, all she would need is for the white community to be divided in their loyalties, so long as those divided interests didn’t include Scott, or more so Young in particular – who would likely be the biggest threat to a Dixon candidacy.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration the other possible contenders, such as former gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, who is said to be considering a run, though it is extremely unlikely that he would even be considered a top-tier candidate with the inclusion of Young, Dixon and Scott in the race. He may fall in to fourth or fifth place, if he raised enough money and garnered a great deal of local political and union support. But for someone who isn’t a homegrown candidate, that hasn’t done much in the way of helping to advance the social issues plaguing Baltimore over the past decade, it’s unlikely he would be that “white knight”, outsider candidate that people would rally behind.

In fact, that candidate would likely be a person like former councilman, congressman and leader of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume. Arguably the most influential African American political figure in Baltimore, along with the man who assumed his congressional seat when he left to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Congressman Elijah Cummings; it would easily be a race Mfume could run and win if he so chose to consider. He has the charm, the political and business connections, the ability to raise a great deal of money both locally and nationally, and could capitalize on even the smallest of issues, including the debacle of the Young administrations handling of the city’s once prominent African American festival, AFRAM, handing it over to a white conservative media organization rather than that of the black-owned Radio One.

Many people forget that when that festival was on its last leg, it was Mfume who was called on to resurrect it by then Mayor O’Malley, who didn’t want to see this influential black festival die on his watch. The festival, which was housed under the Mayor’s Office, was handed over to Mfume and the NAACP, in which Mfume refused city money and raised roughly a half a million a year for the festival’s festivities, reaching a deal with Oriole’s owner Peter Angelos to have it located on their grounds, and garnering close to a half-a-million visitors a year for the five years he ran it.

It has since begun to decline since his departure, and has now been moved to Druid Hill Park, the days stripped down and the talent seen as lackluster over the past few years. And now Mayor Young has given the media rights to the once largest African American festival on the East Coast to a white media station that does absolutely nothing to empower the black communities of Baltimore.

And that’s just a brief overview of the mayoral landscape. We haven’t even begun to discuss the possible open Council President seat, which Young seems to be preparing for his buddy and ace, Councilman Eric Costello. However, most African American political and community leaders can’t imagine having Costello as their next Council President, so there has been a recent movement to get behind someone who can defeat the 11th district councilman, who will have plenty of money to spend on this citywide race. There is chatter about the possibility of Councilwoman Middleton running for the seat, with the assistance of her husband, union boss Glennard Middleton.

It’s also been rumored that former councilman and current 40th district state delegate, Nick Mosby, could possibly run for Council President if placed on a strong ticket, such as partnering with the likes of Mayor Dixon. Mosby is also considering another run for Mayor, which he ran for in 2016 but failed to reach the primaries, deciding to bow out and support Pugh, some say in return for her ensuring he got appointed either to her vacant senate seat, or to a house seat in that district – with the latter coming to fruition a few weeks after she took office.

There has also been chatter about Councilwoman Sneed running for the seat, as it appears she’s been calling possible donors and supporters, apparently looking to see if she can team up with her East Baltimore colleague Mr. Scott, possibly running as a young and dynamic duo, Scott for Mayor and Sneed for Council President.

But the most likely candidate for Council President, who could give Councilman Costello a run for his money, is that of 1st district councilman Zeke Cohen, who if he decided to enter the race, could become an instant front-runner giving his fundraising abilities and his connections to both the white and black communities of Baltimore. Cohen, the chair of the council’s Education Committee and longtime children’s advocate, could very well team up with a Dixon, or Mfume, or even a Jealous mayoral campaign, running as a ticket where he helps secure them white votes while they bring him some much needed street cred in the black community.

And with any of these scenarios at play, we can possibly witness an electrifying, electoral showdown for both of the top two seats in local government come April 2020.

**I will follow this story up with a Part Two shortly, including the Comptroller’s race and some key council seats, as it has already become way too long of an article, but we are only just getting started.  


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