Nick Mosby bills himself as new-age leader in Baltimore mayoral race

One in a series of profiles of candidates for mayor


Nick J. Mosby has recited his life story countless times along the campaign trail: He's the son of a harried single mother, a former city public school student adrift in a struggling system, a family man who took a chance on a forsaken Baltimore neighborhood.

It's a narrative that seems custom-made for the April 26 Democratic primary for mayor, an election that comes a year after the unrest that many believe will force Baltimore to address problems that have long divided it.

For that to happen, Mosby says, a new generation of leader is needed.

"We have two clear options," Mosby told a standing-room-only crowd during a mayoral forum at the Arena Players theater in West Baltimore. "Either repeat what we've done for the past 20 years or decide that we're going to take bold action to move our city in a new direction."

Despite his confidence, Mosby has fallen in polling conducted for The Baltimore Sun and University of Baltimore — from 10 percent in November to 6 percent this month, a distant fourth in the crowded field.

Some detractors see him as a political opportunist, whose marriage to Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby could create an inappropriate concentration of power in one couple. Supporters say they're excited by his energy and ideas.

Mosby, an affable 37-year-old city councilman, says he is undaunted by the polls. He is most popular with voters younger than 35, a group that often doesn't turn out to vote. But Mosby says he'll get them.

"We're energizing a brand-new base of voters," Mosby says. "We're going to look for a very strong field campaign to mobilize them."

He and his campaign team were doing just that on a recent day at Morgan State University. After his volunteers helped a group of undergraduates fill out voter registration cards in the student center, Mosby introduced himself and tried to convey the importance of voting — and explain why they should vote for him.

"People don't expect young folks to vote. They don't expect us to take it seriously," he says. "I know you guys know from doing your history that folks died for this."

Twenty-year-old Elijah Miles, a political science major who grew up near Johns Hopkins Hospital, said Mosby's background will enable him to serve an overlooked segment of the city.

"The old ways have done nothing to affect people like me," Miles said. "We need some new faces, new people with new energy. I feel he's authentic."

Mosby's visit to Morgan State came on a day of round-the-clock campaigning. First, he went running with students at Dunbar High School. Later, while riding the light rail, he spoke with passengers about his transportation plan. He visited nurses on the night shift at Johns Hopkins Hospital and took part in a Twitter town hall meeting at midnight.

Mosby's has been one of the more active campaigns in the race. He was the first to publish a comprehensive platform, with the release of a 15-point plan early in February. He said he developed it over hundreds of hours speaking to policy experts, clergy, law professors, activists, labor leaders and community members.


His plan for Baltimore includes more on-the-job training programs, a task force to study expungement laws and a new fiber optic network to connect the city's schools, businesses and government offices. He wants to decrease property taxes for homeowners by 15 percent, create a small-business loan fund, and systematically check all homes for dangerous lead paint and rid the city of it.

He cites his life story as proof that he understands the city's issues.

"To the teacher who feels the need to go into their pocket to provide the necessary resources in your classroom: I know you. You were my teacher," he says. "To the parent who sits by their phone at work, wondering if your child has made it home safely from school: I know you. You were my mother.

"To the young boy who has been taught over and over again that you can be whatever you want to be in life — but knows the cards are stacked against you, knows that the school system is failing you: I was you in the seventh grade."

Growing up

Six women were packed in his family's three-bedroom house in Northwood — he shared a room with his mother and his sister until the eighth grade. Mosby watched his mother wake up at 4:30 a.m. so she could take two buses to her job with the Social Security Administration.

Mosby says his mother, the late Eunice Orange, taught him how to "ride a bike, catch a football, how to be a man." His father, who died when Mosby was 14, was not part of his life.

He remembers spending months in a classroom with a substitute teacher during middle school. He watched as paper wads were thrown across the room and fights broke out in the hallway, thinking the school would never prepare him for the engineering career he wanted.

He was accepted into Polytechnic Institute for high school, but Mosby said he nearly failed because he didn't have the academic grounding for the coursework.

He said he eventually caught up with his peers and was student government president, captain of various sports teams and part of a debate team. He went to college at Tuskegee University in Alabama, where he began dating his future wife.

After college, his mother encouraged him to take one of the jobs he was offered in Houston or Chicago or Louisville, Ky. But he wanted to come back to Baltimore. Mosby recently left his position as a senior project manager at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to become a full-time City Council member.

Mosby said Orange — who died a year before he was elected to the City Council in 2011 — balked when he took her to the house he and Marilyn wanted to buy for $22,000 in Reservoir Hill. It had sat abandoned for almost 20 years and was surrounded by vacant homes.

There was "an open-air drug market in front of me and illegal dumping behind me. The apartment building next me was called Murder Mall," Mosby said. "We looked at the amazing possibility. We fixed it up, and today it's a microcosm of what we can see throughout our entire city."

The Mosbys still live in the home, where they are raising their two young daughters.

Powerful couple

Mosby brushes away questions about whether his wife's job as Baltimore's top prosecutor presents a conflict.

If elected mayor, he would have authority over the state's attorney's $38 million budget and the office's 300 employees. Likewise, the state's attorney serves as a check on the mayor's Police Department and decides when to drop or press charges.


Mosby points to the system's built-in checks and balances. For instance, the council must approve the mayor's budget, and state prosecutors stand ready to investigate any impropriety, he said.

He has leaned on his wife — whose popularity soared after she announced criminal charges last year for six officers involved in Freddie Gray's arrest and death — to help with fundraising. She recorded a robo-call for him that went to city residents this month, talking about his commitment to the city.

Charles D. Ellison, a veteran political analyst and host on radio station WEAA, sees Mosby's marriage as an asset to the campaign, given his wife's popularity.

"Folks I talk to in political circles and on the street think they're managing their relationship well," Ellison said.

Mosby needs to work harder to cultivate older voters, especially black women, who make up Baltimore's most active voting bloc, Ellison said.

With a month left before the primary, Mosby said he has time to build more support. The recent poll found that a quarter of voters were still undecided and another quarter weren't firmly committed to any candidate.

"This race just started," Mosby said. "There is runway in front of us for there to be a major paradigm shift."