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Baltimore’s Democratic voters nominate Scott for mayor in narrow primary victory over former officeholder Dixon

Brandon Scott has won the crowded Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor, making good on his campaign to “change the guard” at City Hall and usher in a new generation of leadership. Scott is shown in a Feb. 13, 2020, photo.
Brandon Scott has won the crowded Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor, making good on his campaign to “change the guard” at City Hall and usher in a new generation of leadership. Scott is shown in a Feb. 13, 2020, photo. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Brandon Scott has won the crowded Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor, making good on his campaign to “change the guard” at City Hall and usher in a new generation of leadership.

The 36-year-old City Council president eked out a narrow victory over former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who sought to reclaim the office she lost a decade ago when she resigned amid a public corruption scandal.

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“I’m just grateful that the voters of Baltimore came out and voted in record numbers like they did and voted for one of their own, a son of Baltimore," Scott said after declaring victory.

Scott holds 29.4% of the votes counted so far in the election, according to returns released Tuesday night, while Dixon has claimed 27.7%. He was ahead by more than 2,300 votes.

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City elections officials say there are fewer than 2,000 votes left to be tallied.

Polls showed Scott as the only mayoral contender with near equal support among both black and white residents. He also appealed to younger voters. His surge of support from ballots that arrived in the final days of counting suggest he was a favorite among those who cast their votes at the last minute

In the final few days before the June 2 primary, Scott spent much of his time marching with protesters in demonstrations against police brutality and racism that erupted in Baltimore after the killing last month of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Throughout the campaign, Scott pointed to his personal story as why he was the right choice to lead his city. As a young black kid growing up in Park Heights, he says he witnessed firsthand the unrelenting violence that Baltimore still grapples with today. He attended public schools in a system in which many buildings still don’t have reliable air-conditioning or heat.

Scott was elected in 2011 to represent the 2nd Council District in Northeast Baltimore, and was later named chair of the public safety committee. He assumed the role of council president last year in the political shuffle triggered by the resignation of Mayor Catherine Pugh.

He was considered among the most progressive candidates in the mayoral field. He has tried, for example, to get Baltimore to try “safe consumption sites” for drug users. This week, amid a new wave of calls to “defund the police,” Scott wrote a letter asking Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to appoint a task force to study ways to reduce police spending.

Even as he ran for the Democratic nomination for mayor, he championed charter amendments that would put limits on executive power. He wants to create a city manager position and reduce the mayor’s influence on the city’s powerful spending board.

Dixon, 66, sought to remind voters throughout the drawn-out 2020 campaign of her reputation as a competent city manager and her administration’s success at driving down violent crime. Dixon said repeatedly that she would work three times as hard as anyone else because of the mistakes she made that cost her the post last time.

Polls indicated she had a fiercely loyal base of support from voters who made up their minds early in the campaign.

Dixon said Monday that she was concerned with the execution of the mail-in election. Asked whether she would call for a recount if Scott beats her by a thin margin, she said she was “keeping all options open.” She did not respond Tuesday night to a request for comment.

Campaigning and voting in the election were hampered by efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan postponed the primary election from April 28 to June 2 and ordered that it be held largely by mail.

Meanwhile, bans on public gatherings and recommendations that people limit face-to-face contact ruled out in-person candidate forums and the traditional campaign strategy of knocking on voters’ doors.

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Virtual forums were held, campaigns and PACs bombarded voters’ homes with mailings, and candidates reached out with television and internet ads. Scott’s campaign was endorsed by unions that represent area health care workers, teachers, retail staffers and laborers, and their members helped make thousands of phone calls to rustle up support on his behalf.

Even before provisional and overseas ballots were tallied, turnout in this primary easily surpassed that of the 2016 Democratic primary. Roughly half of eligible Democratic voters sent in a ballot via mail, drop box or in person, state elections board figures showed.

Scott had to beat down skeptics who felt he was too young or inexperienced to be mayor, and try to distance himself from an anti-incumbent sentiment in a city that a majority of residents see as heading in the wrong direction, a recent poll found.

He said he hopes his victory sends a message to those coming up in the city.

“Despite what people say about the young people in Baltimore, especially those who come from the most challenged and underserved neighborhoods, you can achieve anything,” he said.

The front-runners led roughly two dozen other Democratic opponents in a race that was too close to call for days.

Former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller — who argued her experience in the Obama administration prepared her to lead Baltimore out of an economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic — was a distant third.

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Other prominent Democratic candidates fell far behind, including former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and Young.

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Scott will run in the November general election, where he will face a Republican nominee and two unaffiliated candidates, including wealthy businessman Bob Wallace.

In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1, the Democratic primary has for decades determined who will be Baltimore’s mayor.

The next mayor will take over a city devastated by violent crime, and will have to tackle the lingering impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered a huge spike in unemployment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

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