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Battle lines drawn in race to be Baltimore City Council president after Mayor Catherine Pugh's resignation

The race for Baltimore City Council president is underway now that Bernard C. “Jack” Young has become mayor after the resignation of Catherine Pugh.

Several council members said Friday that the battle lines are being drawn between council members Brandon Scott and Sharon Green Middleton, the former council vice president who moved up to the presidency last month when Young became acting mayor.

While the city charter specifies that the City Council president becomes mayor when the mayor resigns, the council votes to pick a new council president when there is a vacancy in that role between citywide elections.

Middleton said she wants the job; Scott said he is considering it.

“This decision is a critical one for the city,” said Scott, who represents the 2nd District in Northeast Baltimore. “I have not made a decision on that, but will do so.”

The council’s 14 members, all Democrats, could vote as soon as their Monday meeting, but several said they expect a selection will not take place until the following week.

“This shouldn’t be rushed,” said Lester Davis, Young’s spokesman. “We should give the public an opportunity to understand the process.”

Young is clear about who he is supporting: Middleton, who represents the 6th District neighborhoods in Baltimore’s north and northwest.

“Sharon Green Middleton has done a great job and I think she will make a great president, but that’s the decision for the council. I would like to see her, point blank,” the Democratic mayor said Friday in an interview at a conference he was attending in Detroit.

Young has said he would like to run for council president — not mayor — in next year’s election.

Middleton, who also was attending the conference, said she would not challenge him for the presidency. Instead, she said she intends to campaign for her current council seat.

If her fellow council members pick her to stay on as president until the 2020 election, the council would elect a registered voter from the district to fill her district seat. That could present another complication, if the person the council selects decide to run against Middleton in the 6th District next year.

Although Scott said he has not made a decision, several council members said he has been reaching out for their support.

“Brandon is interested and so is Sharon,” said Councilman Edward Reisinger. “Right now, as we speak, they’re counting their votes.”

Reisinger and other council members said they believe the vote count appears to be split 7 to 7, at this point. The charter only states that a majority is required to win and that the council does not have to select one of its own for the position.

The South Baltimore Democrat said he is supporting Middleton because he and others believe Scott is interested in the presidency only to raise his political profile before he runs for mayor in 2020. The Democratic primary election next year is April 28, with early voting starting 12 days before that.

“That’s the one reason I can’t vote for him for president,” Reisinger said. “He’s going to be campaigning for mayor. We need someone who is going to be there.”

Scott has said he is considering running for mayor next year.

It could be an advantage for Young if Middleton continued in the council president’s job for now, in case Young changes his mind and decides to run for mayor. If Scott were to become the president now, that would give him a bigger platform for demonstrating his leadership potential.

“Whomever assumes the position of council president is going to get the visibility that could lead to the possibility of running for mayor,” said Lenneal Henderson, a University of Baltimore public affairs professor. “A lot depends on who the council puts in that spot.”

Democrat Sheila Dixon, former council president and mayor, said city residents and council members need to be prepared for the possibility that Young decides to run for mayor.

“He’s saying he doesn’t want to be mayor, but who knows if he might change his mind?” Dixon said.

Middleton pointed out she can draw on a dozen years in elected office, ongoing professional training, experience on council committees and a network of connections from organizations such as the Maryland Association of Counties.

Middleton said she wants to stay focused on herself and what she can offer her colleagues — not on who else is interested in becoming council president.

“I want to do my best to get us through this next year and a half and I am qualified to continue to do that,” she said. “I am already doing the work, and I would like the opportunity to continue,” Middleton said.

Scott has been considered a rising star on the council. He is chairman of the public safety committee and was selected by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea last year as his running mate.

Several council members agreed with Davis, Young’s spokesman, and said the council should not make the selection Monday because the public should have a chance to learn who wants the job and express their opinions to their council members.

Democratic Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she supports Middleton.

“It’s Brandon and Sharon,” Clarke said. “I’m supporting Sharon.”

She said she was supporting Middleton because she was not going to challenge Young if he wants the job back. She said it would best for the city for the Young-Middleton partnership to continue after the scandal that led Thursday to Pugh’s resignation.

“She’s doing a good job and she’s done a good job as vice president,” Clarke said. “They work together all the time right now. They’re the mom and dad of the city until we have another election.”

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