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A child of tough Baltimore streets, Brandon Scott now heads the City Council. He may be aiming higher.

A decade ago, the Baltimore City Council president dispatched a junior aide to deliver a speech to mark the demolition of a blighted neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore. The aide returned this spring to celebrate the choice of a developer to build homes in the area.

Now, though, Brandon Scott was council president himself.

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“This is a great day,” said Scott, a Democrat. “For me, it’s also one that brings up a lot of emotion and sentiment. I cut my teeth in city government cleaning up these lots.”

Only weeks before, Scott, 35, had vaulted himself to the presidency, part of a shakeout from the resignation of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in May. In doing so, he claimed the city’s second top political job for a wave of younger politicians who have won office in Baltimore.

Scott and his peers say their outlook has been shaped by growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, years in which Baltimore saw economic decline, drug addiction and violent crime — and an often-punitive response by police in the city’s black neighborhoods.

Those who know Scott say that upbringing fostered a monk-like seriousness and dedication to helping Baltimore that propelled him rapidly through the political ranks.

“The city’s like a family: Somebody has to be the strong one that says, ‘We are going to be all right and this is how we’re going to do it,’” Scott said. “I honestly believe that’s why I was put on this earth.”

The next prize for the new generation could be the mayor’s office and Scott has said he is considering running next year. The race could pit him against Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a veteran politician who Scott replaced as council president who is also thinking of running. The potential for an electoral competition has helped stoke tension between the two African American leaders.

Scott’s father, the son of a pig farmer who also worked as a janitor, moved to Baltimore from North Carolina. His mother moved to the city as a toddler from Virginia.

When Scott was born, the family was still poor. Growing up in Park Heights, the oldest of three boys, Scott said he was exposed to violence in the neighborhood and battles between police and drug dealers. A basketball game in the church lot might be interrupted by gunfire or by officers demanding that children tell them where dealers had hidden stashes of drugs.

“That stuff had a dramatic impact,” Scott said. “You’re going to either hate that so much that you want to change it or you’re going to just become accustomed to it.”

The family worked its way into the middle class after a relative who started a heating and air conditioning business, Coldspring Co. Inc., hired his father. His mother secured union jobs at Sweetheart Cup Co. and a Giant supermarket on Reisterstown Road.

Getting into Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in fifth grade, which his mother targeted for its advanced academic program, was akin to “going from here to Pasadena, California."

The family remains close and Scott, who is unmarried, said he’s still expected to do chores.

“When I’m in my parents’ house or my grandparents’ house, I ain’t the council president of s---,” he said.

Longtime friend Jabari Bush met Scott when they were students at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School. They had long bus rides home, which give them time to talk about the rap music they love, Wu-Tang Clan in particular.

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When Bush’s mother died, Bush went to school to say what had happened, but a teacher started yelling at him thinking he was going to make an excuse to miss class. Scott went to the principal’s office and straightened things out, Bush recalled.

Bush, now assistant principal at City Neighbors High School and Scott’s campaign chairman, described his friend as ambitious — and intensely competitive during the Wednesday night basketball games they’ve tried to keep up even as their careers have taken off.

“He’s the littlest guy out there, but he goes harder than anybody,” he said. (Scott retorted that he is, in fact, taller than Bush at 5 feet 9 inches.)

Athletics carried Scott through to his high school graduation in 2002. He got an assist from his track coach, who ushered him into the CollegeBound program, which encourages city students to consider, prepare for and stay in college. Scott went through the program with Alicia Wilson, a former Sagamore Development Co. executive who is now a Johns Hopkins University vice president. She’s also Scott’s campaign treasurer.

Scott earned a degree in political science in 2006 from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in Southern Maryland, where he conducted what he called a hostile takeover of the Black Student Union and then served as its president. Scott is still paying off his student loans, but joked his lender appreciates his new job’s salary of $122,000.

In 2007, Mayor Martin O’Malley became governor, so Council President Sheila Dixon became mayor. Then, Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s colleagues chose her as their leader, leaving her council seat vacant. Scott applied for the spot and while he didn’t get picked, Rawlings-Blake offered him a job on her new team in the council president’s office.

Scott worked as her representative in a swath of Northeast Baltimore, attending community meetings, keeping her apprised of issues in the neighborhood and troubleshooting problems.

Rita Crews, president of the Belair-Edison Community Association, got to know Scott in those years. He attended cookouts and flower plantings, but he was also called on to do more. She recalled a family with no money to pay for a funeral and another at risk of becoming homeless. Both times, Scott intervened and helped out, Crews said.

“He does good deeds and he doesn’t boast about what he does,” she said.

“Someone has to be able to charge at the door. We can’t wait. Wait for what? There are cemeteries full of people in Baltimore who waited a turn that never came.”


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In the 2011 election, a council seat covering some of the neighborhoods where Scott was working opened up after the incumbent decided not to run. Scott, who had moved in 2009 to an apartment in that district, won, taking 55% of the vote in a six-way Democratic primary.

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Scott described his election at age 27 and that of Democrat Nick Mosby, then 32, to a council seat in West Baltimore as the beginning of the rise of the new generation that has since taken power on the council, in the city’s General Assembly delegation and at the state’s attorney’s office. Scott said he’s proud of his role in that.

“Someone has to be able to charge at the door," Scott said. "We can’t wait. Wait for what? There are cemeteries full of people in Baltimore who waited a turn that never came. You don’t wait.”

Scott continues to work with Rawlings-Blake’s former fundraiser, Colleen Martin-Lauer, and was a sometime ally of the former mayor. But Kaliope Parthemos, one of Rawlings-Blake’s top advisers and Scott’s former boss, said he wasn’t a guaranteed vote for the administration.

“People think he’s part of the machine and I get tickled when I hear people say that — tickled and a little frustrated,” Parthemos said. “Did he work for a mayor? Yes. But he’s a community person. He’s extremely independent.”

As a councilman, Scott worked to bring transparency to restaurant health inspection records and sponsored a controversial expansion of the city’s curfew for children and teenagers.

Mosby, now a state delegate, said he and Scott weren’t always aligned, describing Scott as more conservative. But he said their upbringings shaped their political outlooks in similar ways.

“We were able to see people’s family lives go from being stable to unstable overnight," Mosby said.

After Scott was reelected in 2016 to the council, Young chose him to lead the public safety committee. That gave him a high-profile platform to comment on crime and take the police department to task. He showed an interest in detail, instituting monthly oversight hearings to claw information out of officials. Scott also made attention-grabbing moves, as when he demanded police leaders produce a collaborative plan to reduce violence at a public hearing, then abruptly ended the meeting when they weren’t prepared to present the full plan.

The focus on crime extended beyond Scott’s official role. He helped found the anti-violence group 300 Men March, walking from Baltimore to Washington in 2015 to raise awareness about a surge of killings that started in the city that year and has not abated.

With Pugh on leave in April amid mounting investigations into sales of her “Healthy Holly” books, Scott helped organize a unanimous call by the council for her to resign. When she quit in May, he moved quickly to secure the votes to get elected council president by his peers.

After the vote and before the official swearing-in, some of Scott’s young colleagues grabbed him to take selfies on the floor of the council chambers.

As council president, Scott has set forth a 26-point plan he hopes to enact before his term ends in December 2020. It includes lowering the voting age for city elections to 16 and remaking the top levels of city government, in part by changing the composition of the city’s spending board.

Reflecting on his success, Scott says he sees how easily his life could have turned out differently. He compared himself with people he knew in elementary school who are gone, “either in the physical sense, or they’re in prison, or they’re walking around Park Heights severely addicted to drugs.”

“The only difference is, literally, home. That’s it,” he said. “And that’s why I’m always so particular about how we can rebuild families in the city. Because I know having such a strong family is a very critical part of how I got to be where I am.”

Brandon M. Scott

Age: 35

Work: Baltimore City Council president (May 2019-present); 2nd District Councilman (2011-May 2019); sought 2018 Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor; co-founder, 300MenMarch movement against violence.

Salary: $122,000

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, 2006, St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Family: Single.

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