Baltimore City Councilman Nick J. Mosby dropped out of the mayor's race Wednesday and threw his support behind state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a move political observers say could be enough to push her to victory in this month's election.
Mosby said he wanted to help unite the city behind Pugh, who he said is best positioned to connect Baltimore to state and federal resources.
"This race was never about me," said Mosby, 37. "It was really about moving our city forward and not backward. More than ever, folks need to come together, and push the city in the right direction. I made this decision because I love my city and my community."
His campaign failed to gain traction, his support slipping to 5 percent in a poll for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore released last week. Pugh, meanwhile, led the field with 31 percent.
Mosby said he has not decided what is next for him when his term on the council ends in December, and both he and Pugh denied that they or their campaign teams have discussed how she might help Mosby's political career in the future.
Pugh, 66, said she is grateful for Mosby's backing.
"He certainly has a following across the city," she said. "He is a young man with a lot of great ideas, and some of those ideas we would be interested in. We will certainly have conversations with Nick."
His endorsement was one of several Pugh picked up Wednesday from high-profile figures. The Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous and attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy all announced their support for her.
She received the backing of the popular Rep. Elijah E. Cummings earlier in the week.
Todd Eberly, a St. Mary's College political science professor who follows Baltimore politics, said Mosby's support could be just enough of a boost for her to win the April 26 Democratic primary, given the crowded race and the tight contest between Pugh and former Mayor Sheila Dixon.
"His support was relatively low, but with this many people in the race, 1 or 2 percentage points could make a difference," Eberly said.
Early voting in the election begins Thursday. For decades in Baltimore, the winner of the Democratic primary has gone on to become mayor.
Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis-based firm that conducted The Sun's poll, said the survey showed Mosby's supporters split almost evenly between Pugh and Dixon as their second choice. But he expects that Mosby's endorsement of Pugh will sway many of them in her direction.
Most importantly, Raabe said, Mosby's exit from the race creates an impression of the city's support uniting behind Pugh.
"You have a coalescing, and a sense of who the most viable candidate is," Raabe said.
Dixon had support from 25 percent likely voters in the recent poll. Lawyer Elizabeth Embry polled third at 9 percent, businessman David Warnock got 7 percent and Councilman Carl Stokes 5 percent
Dixon's campaign spokeswoman, Martha McKenna, said Mosby's departure should help the former mayor pick up support in Mosby's West Baltimore City Council district. McKenna said as Dixon talked to voters in the 7th District, some wanted to support Mosby out of loyalty to their elected council representative.
Embry said she's the best choice for voters who want to see a change in the city when it comes to public safety and public trust.
"His dropping out and joining the Pugh team is a surprising reversal to the entrenched politics of the past, and I don't think it will work," Embry said in a statement. "Voters are tired of the status quo and are looking for new leadership."
Mosby is a first-term councilman who is married to Baltimore's State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. In a poll for The Sun in November, a third of voters said they were less likely to vote for Mosby because he is married to the city's state's attorney. Political observers questioned the potential concentration of power, especially because the mayor has authority over the budget of the state's attorney's office.
Mosby framed his campaign around his life story: a poor kid who attended a troubled middle school yet went on to become a successful engineer and businessman. He said he could connect the dots from the "street corner to the boardroom."
He often pointed to his 15-point plan, which was the first comprehensive platform of any of the campaigns. In it, he created a blueprint he said would improve the city by dropping property taxes for homeowners by 15 percent, creating zones around neighborhood anchors to focus redevelopment efforts and removing the gag orders that stop police brutality victims from speaking out as a condition of their settlements.
In recent weeks, Mosby, much like Embry, took a markedly harsh tone against both Pugh and Dixon.
At a debate on March 22, Mosby slammed Pugh and Dixon for failing to help the city overcome longtime problems with education and public safety, despite the many years each has spent in public office.
"The question to Baltimore is, 'Where have those ideas and plans been at for the past 30 years?'" Mosby said then. "This election is so important. It's not about the failed polices of the past and the fake promises of tomorrow."
On Wednesday, Mosby said his comments at the time were intended to draw a clear line between him and his competitors. He said he wanted voters to understand that he was an "unconventional candidate" with a background unlike those of any previous mayors.
For now, Mosby said, he is focused on his role as a councilman through December, pointing to a forthcoming decision by the council whether to award a $535 million tax increment financing deal for the proposed Port Covington development.
"I am going to focus on family, getting back some of my personal time after working 16- and 17-hour days, and I have a job to do," Mosby said. "I am still a councilman in the 7th District."
Charles D. Ellison, a veteran political analyst who hosts "The Ellison Report" on WEAA radio, said part of Mosby's challenge was that much of his support has come from younger residents, who are less dependable voters.
"The voters who are really going to matter in the primary are the older ones, the homeowners, the seniors, especially the African-American seniors," he said. "His reliance on millennials, it's a heavier ask."
Ellison said voters should look for signs that Mosby could find a role in a Pugh administration, if she is elected. While the campaigns and candidates refused to acknowledge any bargaining behind Mosby's endorsement, Ellison said he suspects there were "closed-door conversations."
Mosby's thinking, Ellison said, likely was "'Let me go ahead and pull out of this while I still can maintain some political credibility.' He is still young. He still has a bright political future ahead of him."
Mosby said he did not decide to drop out of the race until Wednesday and had not communicated with Pugh. He said he would have to break the news to his daughters, ages 5 and 7, when they got home from school.
"My daughter asked me today exactly when the election was," Mosby said at his announcement outside City Hall. "It's a life lesson. It's a lesson for me. It's going to be a life lesson for them.
"You put your best foot forward, and not always will the end result be the desired result, but you know you've laid it on the line."
Mosby said dropping out was the hardest decision of his life. He decided the "timing wasn't right."
"The only thing I love as much as my family is the city of Baltimore and the youth and the next generation," he said. "Baltimore has poured so much into who I am as a man, as a father, as a husband, as a public servant. It's been my mission in life to serve the people."
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.