Two Mosbys in high office? Observers divided on whether it's a conflict

Does it matter if Baltimore's mayor and top prosecutor are married to each other? Some say yes, others no.

New mayoral candidate Nick J. Mosby is likely to face questions about whether his wife's job as the city's top prosecutor is a problem.

Mosby, a city councilman from West Baltimore, formally entered the mayor's race Sunday with a rally in Reservoir Hill. His wife, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, stood silently by his side.

Should Nick Mosby win, he would have authority over the $38 million budget of his wife's office and her more than 300 employees. He would need to balance funding of her initiatives as Baltimore state's attorney with other city priorities, such as police, education and economic development.

Among other roles, the state's attorney serves as a check on the mayor's Police Department, deciding when to press or drop charges — decisions that some believe create a healthy tension between police and prosecutors. For instance, former Mayor Martin O'Malley and former State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy famously clashed over O'Malley's "Zero Tolerance" policing policy, with Jessamy dropping thousands of arrests she deemed illegal.

City prosecutors have been known to bring charges against wrongdoing by employees of the Police Department or other city agencies. Marilyn Mosby is currently investigating alleged wrongdoing by public housing employees, who are overseen by the mayor's housing chief. If Nick Mosby were to win, Marilyn Mosby could find herself in a situation where she would be tasked with investigating people on her husband's staff.

Farajii Muhammad, co-host of former state Sen. Larry Young's radio talk show, said perceptions of a conflict of interest could be Nick Mosby's "Achilles' heel."

"There are some who like the symbolism of a Baltimore power couple," Muhammad said. "But other people are going to be very concerned. People will always have to wonder about the decisions they're making."

Nick Mosby, 36, formally entered the race Sunday before a crowd of 350 at the Madison Park North Apartments, a once-troubled complex dubbed "Murder Mall" that is slated for demolition. In an interview, he said he sees no conflict in his wife's role, saying both are accountable to voters.

"I don't think that's an issue," he said. "To the average Baltimore city resident who wants their life improved … that's not going to play into their decision."

He also said the budget for the state's attorney's office is only a fraction of the city's annual $3.2 billion operating and capital budget. And, he said, the budget is vetted and must be approved by the City Council.

Mosby said he shares his wife's desire to "go after [police] officers who are not doing right in our community," but said they'll approach the issue from their different positions.

A spokeswoman for Marilyn Mosby, 35, declined to comment.

Mosby did not raise the issue during his nearly 30-minute campaign speech Sunday.

Many in the crowd said they weren't bothered by the potential of having the Mosbys hold two of the city's most powerful positions. To Chris Matthews, it would be an asset.

"The two of them together is what we need, a power couple leading the city. They give a united front. Their views are united — goals and ideas are united," said Matthews, 30, a behavior specialist in the city school system.

In the mayor's race, Mosby is entering a Democratic field that includes former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, City Councilman Carl Stokes and several lesser known candidates. More could enter before the filing deadline Feb. 3. The Democratic primary, which for decades has determined Baltimore's mayor, is April 26.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake isn't seeking re-election.

Nina Kasniunas, an assistant political science professor at Goucher College, said conflicts of interest — whether real or perceived — will challenge Nick Mosby's run.

One such issue is making headlines, she said. Marilyn Mosby's office is looking into allegations that maintenance men demanded sex for repairs in public housing. While the complexes are run by the housing authority, not a city agency, the authority's head also serves as the mayor's housing commissioner.

If both the Mosbys were in power, Kasniunas said, voters might wonder if the issue would receive proper scrutiny.

"How would this look if her husband was mayor and she's launching a criminal investigation?" Kasniunas said. "The notion of messiness is something that voters get concerned about."

Daniel Schlozman, an assistant political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said the theory behind electing Baltimore's top prosecutor is the same one behind much of the U.S. political system: to create a division of power.

"That's classic Madisonian stuff," Schlozman said. "Those checks don't work the same way even if Nick Mosby and Marilyn Mosby follow all the rules. Their interests are so tied up in each other."

Still, Schlozman said he expects Mosby to try to define their relationship as an asset.

"There are both threats and opportunities for the candidate," Schlozman said. "His campaign consultants will be very busy thinking about how to take the situation and turn it into a positive. Precisely what makes campaigning interesting will be hearing different frames emerging from the various campaigns."

Not everyone believes there is a conflict.

Michael Giles, an Emory University political science professor, said the relationship between the Mosbys doesn't raise any immediate red flags. He said a conflict could arise if a corruption case connected to Nick Mosby's administration would surface. In that case, Giles said, Marilyn Mosby would be expected to recuse herself.

"I don't think it is a conflict per se," Giles said in an email.

Giles said the fact the mayor's office controls the state's attorney's budget does raise an issue of prosecutorial independence, but "this would be the case regardless of the personal relationship between the occupants of the two positions."

Amy Dillard, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said the Mosbys would have to be cautious not to engage in any conduct that gave the appearance of impropriety. But, she said, "a potential conflict is not the reason to make someone unsuitable for holding a government position."

Matthew Crenson, emeritus professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, said he doesn't know of any time in Baltimore's history that a married couple or closely related family members each held such powerful positions.

"There are political dynasties in Baltimore — the Currans, the Mitchells — but I haven't come across any couples or family members who have held such high municipal offices simultaneously," said Crenson, who has researched Baltimore's political history.

He said he knows of no restriction that would block the Mosbys from holding both positions.

Others in office with political family ties include City Councilman Robert Curran, a brother of J. Joseph Curran Jr., who was Maryland attorney general, and the late Martin E. "Mike" Curran, a former councilman. Their father, J. Joseph Curran Sr., also served on City Council.

The Mitchells and Conaways have a long legacy as well.

Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. — for whom the courthouse in downtown Baltimore is named — was a Washington lobbyist for the NAACP and was called the U.S. Senate's "51st member." His son and grandson, Clarence M. Mitchell III and Clarence M. Mitchell IV, are former state senators. His grandson Keiffer Mitchell is a former state delegate.

The late Frank M. Conaway Sr. was clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore. His wife, Mary Conaway, was once the city's register of wills, a position now held by his daughter, Belinda Conaway. His son, Frank M. Conaway Jr., serves in the House of Delegates.

Kasniunas said her research shows that city voters are wary of a concentration of power.

"We are in a city that has legacy of familial politics, and we have an electorate that is frustrated with government. And in Baltimore city, they see part of that as being the politics of old," she said.

Others who have said that they are considering a run for mayor include City Councilman Brandon Scott; William H. Cole IV, president of the Baltimore Development Corp.; businessman David L. Warnock; and Elizabeth Embry, criminal division chief for the Maryland attorney general's office and daughter of Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr.

Other Democrats who have filed are Richard Black, Mack Clifton, Mike Maraziti and Calvin Allen Young III.

Republican Brian Charles Vaeth has filed to run, as has Green Party member Bonnie Lane.

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