Andy Green takes a look at potential contenders for the 2020 Baltimore Mayor's race.
Before she stepped down from her post indefinitely amid health concerns and the Healthy Holly scandal, it was an open question whether Mayor Catherine Pugh would face a substantial challenge for re-election in 2020. Now, that race is wide open. Even if she recovers enough physically and politically to run — a possibility we don’t discount; after all, this is Baltimore — she can no longer be considered a prohibitive favorite in next April’s Democratic primary. Whether subtly or overtly, other serious contenders will start making moves to position themselves to run, and given where Baltimore is today, that’s a good thing.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who is acting as ex officio mayor in Ms. Pugh’s absence, has said in no uncertain terms that he’s not in the race. In his admirably humble and earnest response to this week’s events, Mr. Young said he had once harbored mayoral ambitions but now realizes that council president is the job he wants and the one he will seek next year. Former mayor Sheila Dixon, the runner up to Ms. Pugh in 2016, was already part of the conversation, given her experience, political base and success in driving down violent crime in the late-2000s.
Some current elected officials had already been sniffing around the 2020 race before Ms. Pugh stepped down, notably City Councilman Brandon Scott and state Sen. Bill Ferguson. Both are young, ambitious and untainted by scandal, though both would need to do serious work to expand their bases and to build their brands beyond their main areas of focus in office — publicsafetyforMr. Scott, educationforMr.Ferguson. But there’s any number of promising elected officials in the City Council and legislative delegation who haven’t openly discussed the idea but could conceivably run. Sens. Mary Washington, Antonio Hayes and Cory McCray all knocked off entrenched incumbents last year, and Sen. Jill Carter’s stock is on the rise thanks to her sponsorship of the University of Maryland Medical System reform bill that led to the discovery of the current scandal. The House of Delegates has some possible contenders, too: Dels. Brooke Lierman, Nick Mosby (who ran for mayor three years ago but dropped out) and Maggie McIntosh (though she may be more valuable as Appropriations Committee chair). The council is chock-full of ambitious new leaders who might try to move up, including but not limited to Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey, Leon Pinkett and Shannon Sneed.
And finally, there are a few wild cards. It seems unlikely that Martin O’Malley would run for his old job after two terms as governor (though there’s precedent for that), but there is chatter around town about his former chief of staff and current Goldseker Foundation President and CEO Matt Gallagher. He hasn’t run for office before, but he does actually know how to run a government. Former city police spokesman T.J. Smith has been talked about before as a possible mayoral candidate, and he recently moved into the city. He has the name recognition he would need and first-hand knowledge of some of Baltimore’s most intractable problems. He’s never run for office before either. The same is true of author and philanthropist Wes Moore, though that didn’t stop a lot of people from urging him to run last time. He’s smart, charismatic and well connected. Another attractive candidate in the same vein, but with the bonus of hard-earned electoral experience, is Ben Jealous. The former NAACP head’s ideas for urban renewal in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid were as insightful and comprehensive as Ms. Embry’s were in the last mayor’s race. He handily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in the city last year and racked up 20,000 more general election votes in the city than the party’s nominee four years before. He recently bought a house in the city..
Before the Healthy Holly scandal broke, Mayor Pugh’s administration had been promising in some respects but a disappointment in others — particularly in its penchant forunforcederrors. By no means should she have been able to coast to re-election, but absent the revelations of the last couple of weeks, she might very well have been able to. Now we appear destined for a real contest of ideas and leadership styles, and that’s just what Baltimore needs.