Anthony Watson peaked as a politician in the seventh grade.
Sure, he'd go on to study Mandarin in Hong Kong, earn a doctorate at Cambridge and become a professor of Islamic history at Brown University.
But before all that, he triumphed in the hotly contested race for eighth-grade council president at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. In so doing, he was the last person to beat Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in an election.
Rawlings-Blake mentioned Watson when she announced Friday she would not seek re-election as mayor of Baltimore. She noted he was the last politician to best her.
She had previously referenced him in an interview with Baltimore Magazine, noting Watson was a Ph.D. who'd moved back to Baltimore to teach history at McDaniel and Johns Hopkins (in 2011-2012). "I think he came back to rub it in my face," she joked.
Watson, a Bolton Hill native who has taught at Brown since 2012, said he happened to be in Baltimore on Friday to catch his old rival's startling announcement.
"I think it takes a lot of courage for her to make a decision like this, because it's not the ordinary progression of things," Watson said. "But that's the kind of person Stephanie has always been."
He said he empathized with her as she coped with the fallout from Freddie Gray's death in police custody. The former classmates have run into each other over the years, always trading jabs about his election triumph.
Even at age 12, Watson figured he was an underdog. He was well aware that the future mayor's father, Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, was a rising force in Baltimore politics.
He and Rawlings-Blake had already known each other for years, having attended Grace and St. Peter's before they moved on to Roland Park. He was struck by her kindness and her unusual self-possession for a seventh-grader.
"I remember that it was a really good campaign, and she was one of the favorites," he said with a laugh. "It was one of those elections where I was able to rally and take it in the end."
Watson would take one more stab at elected office, seeking to become Loyola Blakefield class president. "But I lost to a linebacker," he said.
Politics was out of his blood by the time he attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate. But he has lectured and written on the intersection of religion and politics in the Middle East.
"I'm very interested in how people get along across various divisions," he said.
Sounds exactly like the sort of problem a mayor has to contemplate daily. But Watson said there's no question the right person advanced in politics after the great middle-school showdown of 1983.
"I peaked too early," he said. "She peaked at the right time."