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Still-new Baltimore City Council grapples with Mosby investigation while trying to form allegiances, carry out city business

Baltimore’s annual auction for properties with unpaid taxes is fast approaching, and Councilwoman Odette Ramos has no time to waste. The North Baltimore councilwoman summoned the media to City Hall for a news conference to urge the mayor to give some homeowners a reprieve from the sale.

As speakers addressed a small crowd earlier this week, a loud, alternative protest formed nearby, drawing reporters from Ramos’ event. The topic? The federal investigation of City Council President Nick Mosby and his wife, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. The new group had gathered to argue the couple were being targeted unfairly by federal investigators and the media.

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Since it was revealed last week that federal officials are investigating the Mosbys’ finances, the task of council members to concentrate on the city’s business has gotten a whole lot harder.

The council members, all Democrats like the Mosbys, insist publicly they’re keeping their heads down and focusing on their work. None said they had been asked to provide information for the case. Most said they hadn’t even spoken to Nick Mosby.

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Unlike past probes of City Hall that have focused attention on the mayor’s office, one of the targets of the current one is the head of their legislative body. Federal agents visited Mosby in his city office earlier this month, arriving as he chaired a virtual meeting of the city’s spending panel, the Board of Estimates.

Former Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a Democrat whose decades of service spanned two previous federal investigations, said she sees enormous potential for the probe of the Mosbys to become a distraction for those elected to represent residents from 14 districts.

“His relationship to all those council members is crucial, because he’s helping them develop their legislation, serving as a liaison with the mayor’s office,” she said of Nick Mosby. “He’s chairing the Board of Estimates. But mainly, he’s part of a community of council members.”

Neither Mosby has been criminally charged. Their attorney has denounced the investigation as a “political witch hunt.”

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The council met twice last Monday and held hearings and news conferences during the week, such as Ramos’ effort to call attention to the city’s annual sale of properties with delinquent taxes.

“I’m focused on my constituent service and my legislative committee work,” Councilman Eric Costello, who represents Federal Hill and Locust Point, said in a statement issued via text message. “None of that is impacted by the recent news.”

“I actually believe that we are working very hard. There are a lot of issues in Baltimore we have to adhere to,” said Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, whose district includes southernmost areas of Baltimore. She then ended the phone call with a reporter.

“I don’t want to say one way or the other,” said Councilman Ryan Dorsey when asked if the investigation was a distraction. Dorsey represents a portion of Northeast Baltimore.

But conversations have begun to discuss succession should Nick Mosby resign, several council members said. However, with only three months of working together in a new, four-year term, allegiances on the board are far from set in stone.

Council President Nick J. Mosby's held a online presser to talk about the "First 100 Days Townhall". President Mosby and Councilman Mark Conway talked about the accomplishments of the first 100 days of the current council term and the council's plans moving forward.
Council President Nick J. Mosby's held a online presser to talk about the "First 100 Days Townhall". President Mosby and Councilman Mark Conway talked about the accomplishments of the first 100 days of the current council term and the council's plans moving forward. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Voters citywide cast ballots for council president during elections. Were a council president to leave office midterm, council members would select a replacement. Multiple council members report colleagues have begun whipping potential votes.

Councilman John Bullock, whose district includes Pigtown and Sandtown-Winchester, said he hasn’t had any of those conversations, but that it wouldn’t surprise him if they are happening.

“It’s important to not rush to judgment, but clearly folks are thinking about what the possibilities could be,” he said.

Bullock, a member of the council since 2016, was in office two years ago when FBI agents swarmed City Hall, raiding the office of then-Mayor Catherine Pugh. Pugh, a Democrat, eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion. A cloud of uncertainty hung over the building during that period, too.

Bullock said it was ”interesting having gone down this road before and seeing what could happen.” He said he has urged fellow council members to let the investigation play out.

“We have to let the process unfold,” Bullock said. “At this point, there has been no indictment.”

“Hopefully, it doesn’t go that route,” he added.

Democrat Mayor Brandon Scott, too, is circumspect. At a news conference Friday to provide updates on the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the mayor made his first public statement about the Mosbys. It came in response to a reporter’s question, with the mayor also saying the situation needed to play out.

“I will not be distracted from what the citizens of Baltimore have asked me to do,” Scott added.

Area churches, a children’s nonprofit and a business associate of Nick Mosby received some of the six known subpoenas in the case. At least one subpoena obtained by The Baltimore Sun shows investigators asked for a number of financial records, including tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, loan documents and canceled checks.

Mosby has made every effort to carry out business as usual. He appeared smiling before two livestreamed council meetings March 22. And he kept his commitment — announced just hours before The Sun broke the news of the investigation — to host a virtual town hall last Tuesday. During the program, he took no questions about the probe, although one was submitted by a reporter.

He declined a request for comment for this story.

Mosby delivered one of his customary pep talks last week as the council embarked on a discussion of its agenda. The speeches have become a fixture of council meetings since he took office in December and pledged at that time to transform the group into a more robust legislative body.

“It gets me excited about the next three-plus years as it relates to working with each and every one of you,” Mosby told council members this week. “I look forward to continuing to kind of grow with that.”

Clarke said she was glad to see Mosby carrying on with the work of council.

“It has to go on. He’s the leader,” she said.

During past investigations, Clarke did not recall feeling distracted as much as she felt great sadness — sadness and, in the case of Mayor Sheila Dixon, worry about losing the momentum she felt Dixon had helped the council develop. Dixon resigned in 2010 after she was convicted of perjury and embezzlement.

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“There was an effort to keep going, just like you do in a family,” Clarke said. “In the face of imminent disaster, if you can’t stop it, do what you can do and do it well. That’s what I remember.”

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