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Baltimore City Council to be reshaped as Tuesday’s election poised to usher in slew of newcomers

More than a third of the Baltimore City Council will turn over after Tuesday’s primary, as at least five newcomers will be headed for office.

The primary — which in heavily Democratic Baltimore is the de facto election — will change the face of the council later this year as two incumbents retire and three others leave their seats after running for higher office. Challengers threaten to unseat other council members in competitive races.

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Final results weren’t expected on Tuesday. Early returns coming in late Tuesday night represented the vote-by-mail ballots counted before Election Day, when thousands of people voted in person, mailed in their ballots or dropped them off at polling sites. Election officials are expected to continue counting ballots Wednesday that were received by mail or deposited in drop boxes.

The primary election came a day after thousands took to the streets and shut down Interstate 83 in a youth-led, peaceful protest against police brutality. Newly elected members are expected to continue a trend on the council toward younger and more progressive members.

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Both Democratic candidates in District 1 called into question the accuracy of early returns showing lopsided numbers against incumbent first-term Councilman Zeke Cohen.

In the Southeast Baltimore district, early returns showed challenger Paris Bienert with 98% to Cohen’s 2% — just 39 votes total — as of midnight.

Reached around midnight, Cohen said he thought it was a glitch on the state’s site.

“I do not think 39 is the correct number,” he said. “I’m hoping they update it tonight.”

Bienert agreed that the count sounded inaccurate.

“I’m very excited by these numbers, but I do think there’s been a misreporting,” she said.

Baltimore elections officials were “aware of this" and working with state elections officials to address it, the city elections board tweeted about 12:30 a.m.

City Councilman Bill Henry’s decision to relinquish his 4th District seat to challenge incumbent Joan Pratt for the Democratic nomination for comptroller cleared the way for a hotly contested campaign. Democrats Mark Conway (27%), Logan Endow (26%) and Nicole E. Harris-Crest (21%) were locked in a close race, as of midnight, in a crowded field of candidates running to serve the North Baltimore district.

The retirement of longtime council members Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger resulted in open seats in their 14th and 10th districts, respectively.

Odette Ramos had 65% of the returns around midnight in the race to succeed Clarke, who has been in city politics since the 1970s and has represented North Baltimore’s District 14 since its creation in 2004. Clarke has endorsed Ramos, who has outraised the other candidates and recently led the successful effort to create the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Phylicia Porter, a Democratic Central Committee member and health care consultant, had 29% of the returns around midnight in a packed field of nine Democrats running to succeed Reisinger in South Baltimore’s District 10. Westport neighborhood organizer Keisha Allen had 16.5%, as of midnight.

The 10th District is also the only competitive GOP primary in the city. Republican Michael Nolet had roughly 89%, to opponent Mekkah X. Mohammed’s 10%.

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Freshmen council members Shannon Sneed and Leon Pinkett entered the race for City Council president, paving the way for competitive open races in District 13 and District 7.

James Torrence had 36% of the returns, Brian Sims had 24%, and Tori Rose had nearly 21%, as of midnight, in a field of five candidates looked to succeed Pinkett and revitalize some of the ailing neighborhoods of District 7 in West Baltimore.

Antonio Glover had nearly 37% of the returns, and Jackie Addison had nearly 28%, as of midnight, among the seven Democrats jockeying for Sneed’s vacant seat in East Baltimore’s District 13.

Councilman Robert Stokes Sr., who narrowly won his first term serving East Baltimore’s 12th District in 2016, was considered the most vulnerable freshman. He had 46% of the returns as of midnight, facing challenges from six Democrats, including public interest attorney Phillip Westry, who had 34%.

Councilwoman Danielle McCray had 62% of the returns as of midnight in the race against her two Democratic challengers for the Northeast 2nd District seat that stretches from Overlea to Highlandtown. She’s running for a term of her own after being appointed to the council after then-Councilman Brandon Scott was elevated to Council President following the resignation of Mayor Catherine Pugh last spring.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey had nearly 59% of the returns as of midnight, to challenger Rain Pryor’s 36%, in the race for a second term representing Northeast Baltimore’s District 3.

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer of District 5 in Northwest Baltimore had about 67% to challenger Chris Ervin’s 33% in a rematch of the 2016 race, with one fewer candidate.

Councilmen Kristerfer Burnett of District 8 in West Baltimore had 63% of the returns around midnight. He faced one challenger, Anthony Greene, an internship coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, who had about 36%.

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In the 9th District, well-funded incumbent Councilman John Bullock had 70% of the returns around midnight in his race for the nomination over three cashless Democratic opponents.

Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton had 93% of the returns around midnight in her race for re-election to the Northwest Baltimore 6th District seat, which she has held since 2007.

Only one seat was uncontested. Councilman Eric Costello did not face any challengers for reelection to his District 11 seat that represents downtown and South Baltimore.

About half of Tuesday’s Democratic winners will face GOP challengers in November’s general election. But because Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city nearly 10 to 1, the primary routinely determines who serves on the council.

The election season was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which made it difficult for the 61 Democrats and nine Republicans running for the council to introduce themselves to city voters. Many relied on mailers, yard signs, social media advertisements, virtual meetups and phone banks in place of door knocking and community forums.

The new council will face a significant challenge to help the mayor bring recovery to the city in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged businesses, families and government coffers. A City Council member is paid about $73,000 a year for four years.

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