The history of Baltimore City’s Council Presidents

A look through the years and the 21 council presidents of Baltimore

Last night, members of the Baltimore City Council unanimously elected 2nd district councilman Brandon Scott to fill the vacant Council President seat vacated by Mayor Bernard ‘Jack’ Young. Scott became Baltimore City’s 21st Council President since the November 1922 change from a two-branch council to a unicameral council, and the ninth person to be elected to the position by his colleagues rather than the voters.

Scott also appears to be the youngest City Council President ever sworn-in to the office, at the ripe old age of 35, which is becoming a norm for the East Baltimore representative, who was the youngest member elected to the city council (at age 27) since they changed over to single-member districts in 2003. (Stephanie Rawlings-Blake assumed the council presidency at age 36 back in 2007.) He will now serve out the remainder of the term that Young was elected to in 2016, which will come to an end in December of next year.

Ironically, Mayor Young was also elected to the office of City Council President by his colleagues in 2010, following the ascension of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to the office of Mayor following the resignation of Mayor Sheila Dixon. Young was being challenged for the post by the incoming Mayor (Rawlings-Blake), who was secretly pushing freshman councilman William ‘Bill’ Cole for the citywide seat. However, it was the savvy, East Baltimore veteran who wound up whipping enough votes to put him in position to eventually become Baltimore’s 51st Mayor.

Before that, Rawlings-Blake herself was elevated to the position of Council President after then Council President Sheila Dixon ascended to the Mayor’s Office following the election of Mayor Martin O’Malley as Maryland’s 61st Governor. As you can see, the last three city council president’s (including Scott) have all ascended to the position via the election of their colleagues rather than that of the voters. (It should be noted that both Rawlings-Blake and Young both won their election for the position following their appointments.)

The next Council President to have received the position via retirement, ascension or death was back in 1987, when 3rd district councilman Frank Gallagher was elected by his colleagues to fill the seat after Clarence ‘Du’ Burns was elevated as Baltimore’s first African American Mayor, following the election of Mayor William Schaefer as Maryland’s 58th Governor. Gallagher decided to retire from politics after serving in this role, which led to the election of Mary Pat Clarke as Council President later that year, followed by the election of Lawrence Bell as Council President in 1985, as Clarke unsuccessfully ran for Mayor; and then the election of Dixon in 1999 when Bell unsuccessfully ran for Mayor.

Du Burns was also elected by his colleagues to become Council President in October of 1982, following the resignation of Walter Orlinsky (who resigned due to a conviction on bribery and corruption charges), making him the first African American Council President. (It should be noted that Dixon was the first African American female Council President and the first female Mayor of Baltimore.) Orlinsky won the seat in 1971 when William Donald Schaefer gave up the post to successfully get elected as Baltimore’s 44th Mayor.

Schaefer won the seat in 1967 after Thomas D’Alesandro III decided to forego re-election to the seat and successfully run for Mayor of Baltimore. However, D’Alesandro III was first elected to the Council President seat by his council colleagues in December of 1962 after the resignation of Phillip Goodman, who ascended to the Mayor’s seat upon the departure of Mayor William Grady, who left to become a judge. Goodman initially won the council presidency by defeating incumbent Council President Leon Abramson in 1959, running on a ticket with Grady for Mayor while Abramson ran on the D’Alesandro ticket and lost. Abramson held the seat for one term prior to his defeat, after initially winning the seat four years prior to the man who vacated the job to run for Mayor, essentially losing to D’Alesandro.

That person was Arthur B. Price, who won the seat in 1951 after being elected by the people, but was elected to the seat first by his colleagues to serve out the last ten days of the previous administration, held by C. Markalnd Kelly – who left early in his unsuccessful bid for Mayor. Kelly was initially elected to the council president’s office by his colleagues in October of 1943, following the death of Council President Thomas Conlon – who wound up becoming the shortest serving council president in city history, having won the seat in May of 1943 and passing away five months later in October. (Back then, the Primary Election was held in March and the General Election in May, which is also the month they assumed office.)

Conlon had just beaten incumbent Council President Richard O’Connell in the democratic primary. O’Connell had served only one four-year term, who himself defeated the previous incumbent, George Sellmayer, for the position in 1939. Now Sellmayer won the seat in interesting fashion in 1935, after his opponent John Mayer was initially declared the winner on Election Night with 24-votes total. But after a recount, Sellmayer was declared the winner.

The third-place finisher in that contest was the incumbent Council President, E. Lester Mueller, who had won the seat four years earlier in 1931. Prior to Mueller, James O’Meara served in the role as “acting” Council President, following the death of the council’s first council president under this new unicameral system, Howard Bryant. O’Meara, a democrat like every council president Baltimore has had over the past 100-years, won the seat through the support of his Republican colleagues on the council.

Bryant was elected as the body’s first council president after serving as the President of the 2nd Branch of the City Council before the voters decided via petition to change the council structure and enlarge the council districts, previously known as wards.

In case you are keeping count, Young was the sixth council president to vacate the council president’s office, with the other two leaving office due to death. Now Scott begins a new era of city politics that will either see him continue the legacy of making good on his council colleagues support by winning the seat at the ballot box; or deciding to seek higher office – win, lose or draw.

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