The morning after she lost the biggest election of her career, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke sat down at a dais in City Hall beside the man who had crushed her dream. Suffering a landslide defeat in the 1995 race for mayor had been so disappointing for Clarke that she briefly contemplated dropping out of politics altogether and enrolling in divinity school.
But a victorious Mayor Kurt Schmoke, seated at Clarke’s right, settled any lingering resentment over the heated campaign the way many a person has resolved an unfortunate fight between friends: He acted as though it never happened.
“The dynamic was contentious, but we never brought it into City Hall," Clarke recalls. “I credit the mayor for that. We got back to business as usual.”
It was the only time in recent history Baltimore’s two most powerful politicians ― the mayor and City Council president ― had run against each other for the city’s top job.
Now, 24 years later, the same dynamic is playing out again. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Tuesday he is entering the race for mayor. City Council President Brandon Scott was already running.
That means the two men most responsible for running Baltimore ― Young in charge of 15,000 city employees, Scott in charge of the legislative branch, and both in control of awarding hundreds of city contracts ― find themselves in the strange position of carrying out their government duties as partners before transforming into rivals when campaigning at night and on weekends over the next six months.
“My advice for them,” Clarke says, “is keep it courteous. Keep it professional. When you walk out the door of City Hall, go ahead and kill each other. But not when you’re doing the people’s business.”
Young said he doesn’t plan to let any conflict with Scott impede the delivery of city services. “The council doesn’t run the city," Young said. "I’m the CEO. I run the city.”
Young formally kicked off his campaign Saturday for the April 28 Democratic primary at an event on North Avenue featuring Clarke, his first boss in politics; Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
His political allies praised him for his work on the council from 2010 until this spring, including establishing a city fund dedicated to youth programs and reopening recreation centers on Saturdays, and since he became mayor, brokering a deal with the owner of Pimlico Race Course to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. But Young drew his most rousing cheers as he stressed a push to improve public safety.
“We must stop the crime, the shooting, the murders, the carjackings,” Young said as the crowd chanted “Jack” and waved green and white signs. “I’ll be damned if we, working together with the community, that we all can’t reduce crime in Baltimore city.”
Young took over the mayor’s job in May when Catherine Pugh resigned amid mounting investigations into sales of her “Healthy Holly” books to the University of Maryland Medical System, where she served on the board, and to organizations with business before the city.
There has been only one public poll from a neutral party in the race so far. Done in May, pollster Patrick Gonzales, after sampling more than 300 city Democrats, found 23% for former Mayor Sheila Dixon, followed by Young at 19% and former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah at 16%.
Gonzales did not ask about Scott, who had not yet declared his campaign.
The poll also showed the electorate is looking for change: Two-thirds of respondents said they believe the city is moving in the wrong direction; three-quarters were dissatisfied with the quality of public schools; and more than 80% of residents said they were fed up with the efforts to reduce crime.
Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University and a leading Baltimore historian, said it’s a rarity in city history for a City Council president to challenge a sitting mayor.
But he said the race between Young and Scott could potentially alter the fate of Baltimore in a way the contest between Schmoke and Clarke did not.
That’s because Scott is proposing a dramatic shift in city governance, effectively ending Baltimore’s “strong mayor” system of government by stripping the mayor of control of the city’s spending panel and appointing a city manager to run municipal operations.
“This is set up to be a much more contentious kind of election,” Crenson said. “These charter amendments Brandon Scott is proposing would weaken the mayor significantly, There’s a lot riding on this for the mayor and for the office of mayor.”
In addition to Young, Scott and Vignarajah, more than a dozen other candidates have said they are running. They include Baltimore activist Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady, and the unofficial “mayor of Hampden” Lou Catelli, who is also named Will Bauer.
“I’m considering an opportunity to provide the leadership that I believe Baltimore needs,” Washington said Thursday.
Several Republicans are running in their party’s primary, including political strategist Catalina Byrd, a member of the Community Oversight Task Force overseeing the implementation of the police consent decree, and Shannon Wright, chairwoman of the Baltimore Republican Party.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1 among registered voters in the city. Baltimore last elected a Republican mayor in 1963, Theodore McKeldin.
Crenson said a crowded campaign full of current and former elected officials could result in another election decided by just a plurality of votes, much like the race Pugh won in 2016.
“More very well may file,” Crenson said, “which could lead to an extremely fragmented Democratic electorate.”
When Clarke challenged Schmoke in 1995, she criticized the incumbent over the city’s surging crime and weakening economy. She accused him of lacking a “sense of urgency” and “lowering expectations” about what the city could become.
Schmoke hit back that Clarke largely voted with him on policy issues, so she could take her criticisms and point them back at herself.
“Substantively, there was not a great deal of difference between Mary Pat and myself on issues. We had a few debates on radio and at community forums,” Schmoke said Wednesday. “Otherwise, we focused on working together to move the city forward.”
He said the campaign produced a few awkward moments, including when Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said publicly that he would be prepared to with work with Clarke should she win the race.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute? You work for me,’” Schmoke recalls. “He was suggesting I might lose the election. We had to have a private moment together."
Schmoke said he knows both Young and Scott well and doesn’t think the campaign will interfere with the operation of city government.
“They have a good working relationship, and I think they both recognize ugliness that harms the effective work of government would not help either one of them,” he said.
To date, Young and Scott have had just a few instances of public conflict in City Hall. In June, Scott cut Young off during a meeting of the Board of Estimates, telling the mayor “you haven’t been recognized.”
In July, Young dismissed Scott’s rise to the council presidency as “this thing with Brandon" and said it prompted him to consider running for his own four-year term as mayor next year. In August, they held dueling press conferences at the same time, each pushing their own policy agenda. And this month, they verbally sparred over how best to use the city’s $34 million surplus.
Marvin James, Scott’s campaign manager, said the City Council president is not trying to get into disputes with the mayor.
“We have to make sure we are staying focused and presenting our proposals as we roll them out,” James said. “The way we do that is not petty bickering and back and forth. Over the next couple of months, we’re going to be rolling out our crime plan, our education plan and more. The council president is using his office to show people why he’s going to be great mayor.”
Young said he was encouraged by an infusion of campaign cash this month from business leaders, restaurateurs and developers. He raised more than $250,000 at two events, according to his campaign.
As of the most recent campaign filing deadline in January, Young had $599,279 on hand and Scott had $143,039. Candidates do not have to file updated fundraising totals until January.
Mileah Kromer, director of Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, said Young and Scott’s prominent positions in city government could take a multicandidate field and turn it, functionally, into a two-person race.
Because they occupy the two highest-ranking positions in the city, the two men will have a large advantage in getting media coverage of their actions and policies, she said.
“For Brandon Scott and Jack Young, the media has to cover the ongoings of city government and they have the two starring roles of city government," Kromer said. “Does that end up making the race just about those two?"
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.