City Councilman Nick Mosby's candidacy for mayor may mark the first time an actual marriage raised questions of potential conflicts of interest between a local executive and the state's attorney, but it wouldn't be the first time a political marriage did.
Some are questioning whether Mr. Mosby's marriage to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby would upset the separation of powers between the two offices if he is elected when it comes to questions like setting the budget for the prosecutor's office or investigating potential wrongdoing in City Hall. Theoretically, that could be a concern, but it's not a novel one. Many in Baltimore County had similar questions in 2006, when then-County Executive James T. Smith Jr. faced only token opposition for re-election and chose to dump a huge portion of his campaign coffers — some $435,000 — into the campaign of Scott Shellenberger for state's attorney. Mr. Shellenberger won a tight race and has been in office ever since. Mr. Smith's largesse gave Mr. Shellenberger's opponent something to complain about in their 2010 rematch but seems not to have affected the running of the state's attorney's office one way or the other.
(It did, thankfully, lead to changes in state law designed to limit huge transfers of campaign funds in the future.)
We expect Mr. Mosby's opponents in the mayor's race to raise the potential for conflicts of interest, and we don't dismiss it as a concern. Mr. Mosby has been asked about it repeatedly since his campaign announcement on Saturday, as he should be. But we don't think it should or will automatically disqualify Mr. Mosby from the voters' consideration. Baltimore has too many real and present problems to let a theoretical one predominate.
That said, his relationship is almost certain to be on the minds of the voters. It's not necessarily that they will be concerned that a Mayor Mosby would, say, jack up the state's attorney's salary (former Mayor Martin O'Malley already did that, and not because he liked the occupant of the office at the time) or stand in the way of efforts to prosecute cases of police misconduct (that speeding the deployment of body cameras is near the top of Mr. Mosby's agenda would suggest otherwise). Rather, the question is likely to turn less on an analysis of where and how the Mosbys' duties might conflict but on whether voters want to concentrate that much power in one family's hands.
Two years ago, when Ms. Mosby was first running for office, critics saw her as trading on the name of her politician husband. Now the positions have reversed; Ms. Mosby's indictment of the six officers involved in Freddie Gray's arrest made her a national celebrity. In July, Mr. Mosby canceled a fundraiser in Philadelphia after organizers promoted the event using Ms. Mosby's image and the pitch to support "this political power couple that has been recently catapulted onto a national stage." But the association of the two is a double-edged sword. After all, the public perception of Ms. Mosby could change drastically between now and the April primary, depending on how well her office handles the officers' trials.
Mr. Mosby is the first well-known Democrat to enter the primary who has not run for mayor before, and as such, he is pitching himself as a candidate of new ideas on education, law enforcement, poverty, homelessness and government transparency. He faces experienced opponents in former mayor Sheila Dixon, Sen. Catherine Pugh and Councilman Carl Stokes, along with lesser known candidates, and others may still enter the race. With Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's decision to take herself out of the contest, the potential exists for a debate on the big issues that confront the city, and Mr. Mosby deserves the chance to make his case.