On the second floor of Baltimore’s City Hall, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young was holding his regular news conference, doling out updates from his administration to news cameras and reporters. At the same time, two floors up, City Council President Brandon Scott was setting forth a wide-ranging policy agenda for the coming year.
The dueling events were a vivid display of two power centers that have emerged following Democrat Catherine Pugh’s resignation as mayor in May. And Scott’s choice of timing for his big event last week has been perceived by some observers as a slight to Young.
The relationship between the city’s mayors and its council presidents has often been difficult, and with Young and Scott now a few months into their new roles, some tensions are beginning to show. They represent different generations, come from different political lineages and are each considering running for mayor in 2020.
“It’s politics,” said Democratic Councilman Ed Reisinger. “Jack’s the mayor, he’s holding the football and doesn’t want anyone to take it away from him, and Brandon’s considering it.”
The two men were colleagues on the City Council starting in 2011, when Scott was elected to office and Young won as council president. They were sometimes on the opposite sides of high-profile issues but collaborated, too. In 2016, Young gave Scott an important role as chairman of the public safety committee, which oversees crime fighting.
Previewing his agenda last week for The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, Scott, 35, acknowledged the nature of his relationship with Young has varied, “sometimes being great, sometimes not being so great.”
But in an interview Monday, Scott said their differences have never stopped them from working together.
“People have the ability to disagree," he said. “Jack and I have disagreed on pieces of legislation. We’ve agreed on a lot. Those things are never personal for us.”
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said Monday he was unavailable for an interview. Davis, who is also Young’s chief lobbyist, said Scott and Young have found opportunities to collaborate, citing legislation Scott championed that requires city agencies to study whether they are perpetuating racial and economic inequities.
“The mayor views Brandon as a smart, young legislator," Davis said. "He’s someone that he’s watched grow up in City Hall and I think he takes a level of pride in where he sits now.”
Young, 65, ascended to his position as mayor automatically, following rules in the city’s charter that were triggered when Pugh quit. In the process, he became the first mayor from East Baltimore in three decades.
The remaining 14 council members, all Democrats, got to choose their new leader. Young has said he had a deal with Sharon Middleton, the council’s vice president, that she would succeed him in leading the council. But Scott moved quickly to secure the backing of his colleagues. Young has called Scott’s success in that contest “this thing with Brandon" and said it prompted him to consider running for his own term as mayor next year.
Neither will say whether they’ve settled on which office to seek in the Democratic primary, which is April 28. The filing deadline is Jan. 24.
Nonetheless, after swearing Scott in May 6, Young said they would lead the city as a team.
“I can work with anybody,” Young said then. “I’m not going to let you all put that out there — that we’re not going to work together — because we are going to work together for the betterment of the city. All personal things aside, we’re here to represent the citizens of Baltimore and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Scott said Young’s backing of Middleton has not harmed the mayor-council president relationship.
“We’ve been able to work past that," he said. “I’m not a petty person."
Scott is part of a younger generation of politicians in the city who have swept to power in the City Council and the city’s delegation to the General Assembly. He grew up in Park Heights and got his start in politics working as an aide to Democrat Stephanie Rawlings-Blake when she was council president and then mayor. He then won a seat on the council representing a district in Northeast Baltimore.
When Rawlings-Blake was mayor between 2010 and 2016, Scott sometimes supported her in disputes with Young. More recently, Scott opposed a proposal to create a mandatory sentence for gun possession that Young and Pugh backed — and one of the 26 points in his policy agenda is resisting future efforts to create mandatory penalties.
Scott’s policy roll out followed the Board of Estimates’ meeting last week. Mayors have typically used that time slot to make announcements and take questions. Hassan Giordano, a political consultant and adviser to former Democratic Mayor Sheila Dixon, said he saw the timing as evidence of a difficult relationship.
“That, in and of itself, was a slap in the face,” he said. “Clearly, there’s no love between Brandon and Jack right now.”
Scott said the scheduling wasn’t intended as a slight and said people casting it that way “are looking for there to be issues and dysfunction where there isn’t.”
As council president, Scott chairs the board, a five-member panel of officials that approves contracts and shapes the city’s budget. But the mayor sits on the panel along with two of his appointees, giving him control.
Still, Scott has used his position as the board’s leader to question city agencies. At a June 19 meeting, a line of questioning Scott pursued about differences in water bills between the city and Baltimore County appeared to needle Young. The mayor interjected after Scott posed his initial question and they spoke over one another until Scott cut the mayor off.
“Mr. Mayor, you haven’t been recognized," Scott said, putting a hand toward Young’s forearm. “You haven’t been recognized, Mr. Mayor.”
A few minutes later, Young flipped his binder closed and got up to leave before Scott finished formally calling the meeting to a close.
Scott said he and the mayor talked after the exchange and that “we’ve since moved on from that issue.”
Young and Pugh had a close relationship when she was mayor and he led the City Council. But their partnership was unusual, and in recent decades Baltimore’s mayors and council presidents have often been at odds.
Democrats Mary Pat Clarke and Kurt Schmoke feuded in the early 1990s when she was council president and he was mayor. Clarke ultimately mounted an unsuccessful mayoral campaign against Schmoke in 1995, the last time the two officeholders have faced off at the polls. Clarke said their disagreements were not personal and were part of the healthy functioning of democratic government.
Dixon, who was mayor from 2007 to 2010, said she thought the city was harmed because of her strained relationship with Rawlings-Blake when Dixon was mayor and Rawlings-Blake was council president. Dixon gave as an example Rawlings-Blake’s opposition to legislation to create a land bank. Dixon said the proposal could have helped the city deal with thousands of vacant buildings.
“Sometimes people get jealous," said Dixon, who is considering running for mayor again. “Politics is real strange and everybody’s human. Sometimes in this city, we don’t want to see someone else succeed.”