It is a familiar scene, a public official at the lectern the day after being indicted or otherwise landing in trouble. But when Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby took to the microphone to defend herself against federal perjury charges, the scene played out in less-familiar fashion.
There was no spouse standing behind her, an absence all the more eyebrow-raising given that Mosby’s husband is himself a top officeholder, Democratic City Council President Nick Mosby.
Publicly silent since Thursday, when prosecutors charged his wife with perjury and false statements to withdraw early from a retirement fund and apply for mortgages to buy homes in Florida, Nick Mosby posted supportive messages Friday on his Instagram account. On Sunday, he joined her at Empowerment Temple AME church, where the pastor preached in her support. But he did not speak, nor has he made any public statements about the case nor returned calls from The Baltimore Sun.
“He’s got to walk a fine line,” said Anthony McCarthy, a onetime communications aide to multiple Baltimore mayors and other officials who hosts a talk show on WEAA-FM.
How the council president navigates the coming months could prove tricky, political observers say, and could well determine how her indictment affects the couple’s intertwined political fortunes. Nick Mosby has not been charged with any crimes.
McCarthy is no stranger to handling the optics of City Hall crises, having served as a spokesman for two Democratic mayors, Sheila Dixon and Catherine Pugh, who were ultimately convicted of charges of their own. He said Nick Mosby will have to carve out a separate political path for his ambitions, even as he shows support for his wife in her current legal battle.
“He has to make sure people understand his political identity is separate from her, but also stand by her,” McCarthy said. “That’s the reality if he wants to stay in politics. But he’s got to be very careful not to look like he’s betraying his wife.”
The indictment, which emerged from a monthslong federal investigation, has thrust the already high-profile couple and their personal and political partnership into an even brighter spotlight.
That two of the city’s top three public officials, after the mayor, are married to each other has previously raised concerns — of potential conflicts of interest, as well as the consolidation of too much power in one household. But the voters themselves, by electing both, seemingly set such worries aside. And despite revelations of a federal tax lien against them that was in place for more than a year and now the indictment of Marilyn Mosby, the Mosbys continue to enjoy the support of many who see them as a unique and even glamorous local power couple.
“They’re a likable couple who have achieved a level of excellence in the Black community,” said Farajii Muhammad, a former WEAA-FM and WOLB-AM talk show host slated to debut a new show on Roland Martin’s digital Black Star Network.
Marilyn Mosby has framed the charges as part of a political attack against her for her controversial approach to her job as the city’s chief prosecutor. The Democrat has become a lightning rod over the years, from her decision to charge the Baltimore Police Department officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody to her decision not to prosecute more minor offenses.
With her husband having his own ambitions — he has run previously for mayor, represented a council district and served in the state House of Delegates — “they’re trying to be as careful as possible,” Muhammad said.
He believes Nick Mosby’s public silence on the indictment may reflect a strategy of not drawing additional attention when he has not been charged.
“Why throw yourself in the mix?” Muhammad said.
Like other talk radio hosts, former Democratic state Sen. Larry Young said he is seeing strong support for Marilyn Mosby from his WOLB callers, some of whom view the indictments as a “paperwork” issue with her personal finances rather than any problem with her official business as state’s attorney.
“She could very well get through this,” Young said.
But if she does not, he added, there could be consequences for both of them.
“I think he’s got breathing room,” Young said. “But if Marilyn is not able to survive, it could be a problem for Nick.”
While some might have questions about Nick Mosby’s absence at his wife’s remarks Friday, Young said that it could have been a way of showing that “she’s the state’s attorney and she stands on her own two feet.”
Others said that as an officeholder and someone who could still be under prosecutorial scrutiny himself, it was a good idea not to have him in the traditional position standing behind his embattled spouse.
Former Democratic mayoral candidate T.J. Smith, who runs a communications business after tours as a spokesman for the Baltimore Police and for the Baltimore County executive, thought Marilyn Mosby might have had the couple’s two daughters with her at the Friday appearance, given how she sought to highlight the toll her job took on her family. But her husband?
“If Nick was there, does that give people more to talk about?” Smith mused.
Another possible drawback: Some constituents might have viewed his appearance as him taking time away from his position as council president to handle a personal matter, Smith said. Or, he speculated, perhaps having Marilyn Mosby alone at the lectern was a strategic decision.
“Being out there by yourself, maybe that’s the image she wanted: ‘I’m strong enough to stand here by myself. I’m in charge,’” Smith said.
There isn’t much precedent guiding what public role a male spouse should take when his officeholding wife faces trouble, let alone one who is in office himself. By far the more common scenario is a male politician in hot water, most scandalously for a sexual indiscretion, putting his wife in the position of standing literally behind him as he tries to talk his way out of it.
“The point of the supportive spouse, especially in sex scandals is: If his wife is willing to forgive him, then certainly the voters should be too,” said Melissa Deckman, a professor of public affairs and political science at Washington College in Chestertown.
“It’s humanizing,” Deckman said. “It’s really doing damage control.”
These days, there is less expectation that a woman should stand behind her politician husband, as people come to see spouses more as full, independent persons.
“It’s a vestige of different expectations of gender roles,” Deckman said.
Additionally, it has backfired, most memorably perhaps in the case of then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who when embroiled in a prostitution scandal in 2008, had his visibly pained wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, with him during a news conference.
The current Mosby troubles are hard to compare to any previous case. While there have been pairs of politicians, they have largely held office on different timetables, such as Hillary Clinton entering the U.S. Senate shortly before President Bill Clinton had exited office, or locally, former Judge Katie Curran O’Malley now running for attorney general long after her husband, Martin O’Malley, left the Baltimore mayor’s and Maryland governor’s posts.
Surely, though, the indictment will wreak no small amount of political turbulence in Baltimore in the coming months.
Marilyn Mosby is up for reelection this year to what would be a third, four-year term; the primary is June 28. While there have been calls for her to resign, others believe she has been unfairly targeted and should stay right where she is. What it means for Nick Mosby in his current role — he’s one year into a four-year term — and any of his campaigns for future office is less clear.
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“I just have to wait and see how this plays out,” said former Democratic Councilman Carl Stokes. “It’s very difficult. I’m sure Nick’s heart and mind says, ‘I should defend my wife.’ But at the same time, I think he’s definitely limited. He doesn’t want to complicate his wife’s case, or his own situation.”
Stokes sees support in the city for the idea that the Mosbys have been unfairly targeted.
“There’s a strong belief, whether it’s true or not, that people out there are trying to get Marilyn and Nick,” he said.
That resonates in a city like Baltimore, commentators say, where the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation of the police department found officers violated Black residents’ civil rights with disproportionate stops, searches and arrests and excessive force. Having seen multiple Black officeholders taken down, they say, only further strengthens a belief that the system is racially biased.
Muhammad is among those who say Marilyn Mosby should stand again for her office to give voters “the opportunity to say if she should step down.”
As for the future, though, he said he’s exhausted by the continual “controversy and drama” over prosecutions of mayors, police chiefs and top officials that take focus from solving the city’s biggest problems.
“Look at what we’ve gone through with the leadership of Baltimore City,” Muhammad said. “We deserve so much more. We just need a break.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly noted when Hillary Clinton won a U.S. Senate seat. She was elected before President Bill Clinton finished his final term. The Sun regrets the error.