City Council President Brandon Scott has entered the race for Baltimore mayor, with the young Democrat saying he wants to bring “transformational” change to a city struggling with high rates of gun violence and poverty.
The 35-year-old Scott is the first elected official to get into the 2020 race, a move that heats up the contest and puts pressure on Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to decide whether he wants to seek the office in his own right after taking over from Catherine Pugh. She resigned amid scandal in May and is the subject of a criminal investigation into her business dealings.
In an interview Thursday with The Baltimore Sun, Scott announced his run for office.
“After thinking long and hard, talking with my family and listening to the citizens of Baltimore, I’ve decided to run for mayor,” Scott said. “Baltimore is at its most critical point in generations. We need transformational leadership. We need leadership that understands what it’s like to grow up here and understands Baltimore inside and out."
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A former track standout at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Scott served on the City Council for eight years before ascending in May to its presidency.
Political analysts believe Scott, who already has been on a statewide ticket as a 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor, will be among the top contenders for the job.
“His odds are pretty good,” said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University. “He represents the entree of the new political generation into citywide politics. It was only a matter of time until one of them stepped up to run for higher office.”
There are more than a dozen candidates who have said they are running. The Democrats include former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, Baltimore activist Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady, and the unofficial “mayor of Hampden” Lou Catelli, who is also named Will Bauer.
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Among those still considering whether to run are Young, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith, state Del. Nick J. Mosby and state Sen. Mary Washington — all Democrats. In deep blue Baltimore, Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1 among registered voters.
The filing deadline is Jan. 24 for the April 28 primary.
Scott would be among the youngest candidates in the field. Both Young and Dixon, also considered potential front-runners, are a generation older than Scott.
Scott argues his youth is a benefit and it’s time for a new generation to try to solve the city’s problems. He noted he is similar in age to Democrat Martin O’Malley when he was elected mayor in 1999 and current Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. O’Malley and Olszewski were both 36 when they won.
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“I will always have the utmost respect for Mayor Young,” Scott said. “He’s a dedicated public servant. We have had our disagreements over the years and we’ve had our agreements. This is about moving Baltimore to the next generation."
First elected to Northeast Baltimore’s 2nd District in 2011, Scott gained prominence in local political circles as the chairman of the council’s public safety committee. In that role, he frequently scrutinized the police department’s crime-fighting and reform efforts.
He has successfully sponsored legislation favored by the council’s centrists, such as a youth curfew bill, and its progressives, such as a charter amendment requiring racial equity analysis for city planning efforts.
During the last gubernatorial election, prominent Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea selected Scott as his running mate. Shea and other candidates in a crowded field lost the nomination to former national NAACP head Ben Jealous, who recently ruled out running for mayor.
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Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, who also hosts a radio show on WEAA-FM, said Scott has shown energy as City Council president.
“This is a very active City Council president,” she said. “The whole role has changed since Brandon Scott has taken it over. Brandon has a huge presence in Baltimore. Maybe it’s time for a look at these old problems with maybe younger or maybe newer eyes?”
As council president, Scott set forth this summer 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.
As public safety committee chairman, Scott also has released plans to address crime, by strengthening tracking of guns, increasing funding for the violence intervention program Safe Streets and addressing crime’s root causes, such as lack of education and opportunity.
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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.
Scott said he will release more plans soon. He said he will focus on getting guns off Baltimore’s streets, installing more accountability measures at City Hall and increasing the city’s funding for its public schools.
The council president declined to comment about whether he would run on a ticket with Democratic City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, who has been considering a run for council president, but said, “I believe Councilwoman Sneed is fabulous and would make a fabulous council president.”
Scott’s campaign team includes Marvin James as campaign manager; Alicia Wilson, a former Sagamore Development Co. executive who is now a Johns Hopkins University vice president, as treasurer; and prominent fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer. Wilson was a student at Mervo with Scott.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Young took over the mayor’s job in May from Pugh after she resigned amid mounting investigations into sales of her “Healthy Holly” books to the University of Maryland Medical System while on its board and to organizations with business before the city.
Scott helped organize a unanimous call by the council for Pugh to resign. When she quit in May, he moved quickly to secure the votes to get elected council president by his peers.
Brandon M. Scott
Work: Baltimore City Council president (May 2019-present); 2nd District Councilman (2011-May 2019); sought 2018 Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor; co-founder, 300 Men March movement against violence.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, 2006, St. Mary’s College of Maryland.