Brandon Scott elected Baltimore mayor, will be among the youngest to hold city’s top job

As two septuagenarians battled for the White House on Election Day, Baltimore sent its youngest mayor in more than a century to City Hall.

Led by 36-year-old Brandon Scott’s victory as mayor, all three top posts in the city will change hands after Tuesday’s election.

In his victory speech, Scott harkened back to his Baltimore roots even as he looked forward to the task ahead.

“I’ve learned so much from living here in Baltimore. I’ve learned so much from my time serving on the City Council," said Scott, currently the council president. ”It could not be more clear that we need a new way."

Independent candidate Bob Wallace, a businessman new to politics, conceded to Scott just after 10 p.m.

Nick Mosby won his race for City Council president. Bill Henry was unopposed in his bid to take over the comptroller’s office.

While not new faces — the three Democrats served together on the City Council — they are part of a new wave rising to power in local government. Voters also were electing five new council members and considering charter changes that would give the council more power.

“There’s really a sweeping in of a new guard,” said Roger Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore. “We’re going to see some energy and big changes.”

Some of the change is generational. When he takes office, Scott will be almost three months younger than Democrat Martin O’Malley was when he became mayor in 1999. According to the Maryland State Archives, four men younger than Scott served as Baltimore mayor between 1842 and 1904.

Mosby, 42, and Henry, 52, who ousted the six-term incumbent Joan M. Pratt, 68, in the June primary, are Gen Xers.

Scott put the focus on collaboration as the election ushered in new leadership that faces both the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and Baltimore’s chronic problems of crime and poverty.

“I see this as the opportunity for a rebirth,” Scott told reporters earlier in the evening at a watch event at Baltimore Soundstage. "The rebirth’s going to come when we all have to work together each and every day and do that tough work to make Baltimore a better place.

“I am not the savior,” he said. “One person cannot fix problems that have existed longer than I have been alive.”

In addition to Wallace, who outspent him, Scott faced a less well-funded Republican challenger, Shannon Wright.

Henry noted that he, Scott and Mosby not only served together on the City Council during the term that began in 2011, they sat in a row in its chambers. Now, they’ll sit together again on the Board of Estimates, the city’s spending panel.

“The only difference is, I sat in the middle [in the City Council chambers], and next term at the Board of Estimates, Nick will sit in the middle,” Henry said.

Henry said he expects the “good working relationship” they had as council members to continue in their new roles, although it’s “a fair question” whether there will be an added rivalry as well.

“I’m committed to trying to work with both of them, but I’m also committed to being the same independent person I was on City Council: I work with you, not for either of you,” he said.

Mosby appeared Tuesday night with other council members outside City Hall, where they pledged to work together. “We have to be ready to go to work,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mosby said he, Scott and Henry share “a collective spirit” to move the city forward.

“I’ve had the fortune of working directly hand-in-hand with both Brandon and Bill for five years on the council,” he said. “That’s not to say the three of us will always be on the same page and agree on the subject … I suspect we’re going to work really well together.”

Mosby’s Republican opponent, Jovani Patterson, was a first-time candidate.

The all-Democrat City Council is changing as well, with two longtime members retiring and three running for other offices.

Mary Pat Clarke is retiring after three tours on the council ― the first starting in 1975 — and including two terms as the first woman elected its president. Odette Ramos, a Democrat, was expected to succeed Clarke, which would make her the first Latina elected to office in Baltimore.

Also retiring is Ed Reisinger, who first took office in 1991.

The election continues a reshaping that began four years ago, when eight new members came on board and gave the council a more activist bent.

“This is the youngest and most progressive council Baltimore has had,” said Adam Jackson, who heads Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, an activist grassroots think tank.

Jackson said it remains to be seen whether the new administration and council members will bring change not just to City Hall but to Baltimore’s “political infrastructure.” He will be watching how they handle ongoing issues of criminal justice reform, equitable development and the overall “political and social empowerment of Black people.

“The political reality," he said, “is you have to wait and see.”

The changes at City Hall go beyond elected office. Voters also were expected to approve several ballot questions that will give the City Council more power — such as to remove a mayor, City Council president or comptroller for misconduct, more easily override a mayoral veto and move around funds in the city budget.

Another charter amendment is expected to allow the mayor to hire a chief city administrator to take over day-to-day operations. Scott sponsored the bill to get the proposal on the ballot.

The changes as a group tend to give greater power to the council and take some away from the chief executive in what has traditionally been a strong-mayor government, said political scientist Matthew Crenson. It’s a move that gives him pause.

“Under the charter, Baltimore’s mayor has enormous power with respect to the City Council," said Crenson, a Johns Hopkins professor emeritus and author of the book, "Baltimore: A Political History. “But that’s not the only arena the mayor plays in.”

Crenson said the mayor’s relative strength also helps in dealings with the state, the business community and, perhaps most importantly, the city bureaucracy.

The idea of diminishing the mayor’s control of the city bureaucracy also is a concern, Crenson said. “The mayor’s ability to get the job done, to deliver the goods, depends on that.”

For the immediate future, though, Crenson said he anticipates the new City Hall leadership to work smoothly given the shared history of Scott, Mosby and Henry.

The council unanimously voted in May 2019 to make Scott its president, succeeding Democrat Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who had risen to mayor after the resignation of Democrat Catherine Pugh, who was convicted last November for a fraud scheme involving her “Healthy Holly” children’s books. She is now serving a federal prison term.

Crenson said he hopes that with the scandal still fresh in the city’s mind, the new leadership will chart a more ethical course.

Mosby enters office “wounded” by the recent revelation of a $45,000 lien on unpaid federal taxes and knows he’ll be under special scrutiny, Crenson said. And as a young man, Scott surely has ambitions for the future, he said.

“He knows," Crenson said, “he could be going places.”

Baltimore’s new elected leaders will take office next month.

Baltimore Sun reporters Tim Prudente and Daniel Oyefusi contributed to this article.

This article has been updated to reflect that Scott will be the fifth youngest mayor in Baltimore history.

Jean Marbella

Jean Marbella

Jean Marbella is an investigative and enterprise reporter for The Sun. She joined The Sun in 1987 and has been a features writer, national correspondent, editor and columnist. She was born in Havre de Grace, grew up in Chicago and graduated from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.