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Baltimore City Council president race overshadowed by coronavirus pandemic, mayor’s race

The Baltimore City Council president's race is the first competitive contest for the position in about a decade, with Bernard C. "Jack" Young having become mayor and incumbent Brandon Scott running to challenge him. City Hall is shown in this file photo.
The Baltimore City Council president's race is the first competitive contest for the position in about a decade, with Bernard C. "Jack" Young having become mayor and incumbent Brandon Scott running to challenge him. City Hall is shown in this file photo.(Jeffrey F. Bill, Baltimore Sun)

Spotting early signs that the coronavirus pandemic was hitting black Marylanders hard, Del. Nick J. Mosby pressured the state to provide a racial breakdown to expose potential disparities in health and treatment with an aim of limiting the harm to the African American community.

His steady and forceful calls brought him local and national media attention, and a breakthrough moment in the competitive race for Baltimore’s City Council president in the June 2 primary.

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Mosby and a field of six other Democrats — including former Councilman Carl Stokes and incumbent council members Shannon Sneed and Leon F. Pinkett III — faced a battle for voters’ attention as the campaign season was rocked by the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s the state’s first full-scale election held by mail. To lessen the spread of the disease, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the massive expansion of voting by mail and postponed the primary from April to June. Voters need to fill out ballots they receive in the mail and have them postmarked no later than primary day. People can vote in person at four locations or leave ballots in one of five drop boxes.

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Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said the candidates have few opportunities to introduce themselves to an electorate that is both stuck at home and preoccupied. That’s why Mosby stands out for his ability to take timely and important action in pursuit of the racial data to better understand the outbreak’s impact, she said.

“To his credit, he has taken an issue and really advocated for it,” Kromer said, adding that the public posture allowed Mosby to “break through" in the campaign, which is overshadowed by a mayoral primary that includes incumbent Council President Brandon Scott, a Democrat.

The job pays about $125,000 a year.

Because Bernard C. “Jack” Young moved up a year ago from council president to mayor, and Scott is challenging him for the office of mayor, the president’s seat is open and seeing its first competitive contest in about a decade.

Mosby, 41, was the race’s frontrunner even before the pandemic shut down the state. A poll for The Baltimore Sun, the University of Baltimore and WYPR-FM released in early March showed that while many likely Democratic voters were undecided, Mosby was favored by a quarter of those surveyed. Stokes polled second at 17%.

Pushing for the state’s response to the outbreak to take into account the disparate impact on African Americans, Mosby said, is in line with efforts he’s made to combat other problems rooted in inequity. He pointed to his work in the House of Delegates that led to a state law banning the city from seizing people’s homes over unpaid water bills. While on the City Council, he successfully sponsored legislation to give ex-offenders a better chance at competing for jobs.

“I have always tried to fight to solve the really difficult problems by incrementally moving our city forward,” said Mosby, who is married to Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, also a Democrat.

The former councilman ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2016, a campaign that has boosted his name recognition. He was appointed to a state delegate seat in 2017 and won election the next year to keep it.

As council president, Mosby said he would create a road map using performance measures to address the city’s entrenched challenges, such as troubled schools and homelessness. To start, he wants to hold lead paint manufacturers accountable.

He has about $100,000 in his campaign account, money he expects to spend on social media messaging, direct mail and television advertisements.

Stokes, 70, also has spoken up about racial disparities during the pandemic. He called on Hogan to make universal testing available to all African Americans in Maryland using a network of pharmacies.

A longtime public official, Stokes is known to voters through his time on the City Council, representing East Baltimore, where he was raised. He carved out signature issues during his tenure, including ordering audits for city agencies and scrutinizing public financing deals for the Port Covington and Harbor Point redevelopment projects.

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His considerable name recognition also comes from multiple bids for citywide office. Stokes ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1999, 2011 and 2016. This is his second run for council president. He last competed for that job in 2003, and came in third in the primary behind future mayors Sheila Dixon and Catherine Pugh.

Besides his time on the council, Stokes is a former Baltimore school board member who founded two public charter schools.

Stokes said if he wins, his focus will be on public safety. He said he has long held that fixing education would fix Baltimore’s woes, but that crime has gotten out of control and the devastation it causes is far-reaching. He also wants to “fix the broken bureaucracy” and have the opportunity to chair the city’s spending panel so he can push for local hiring.

“The schools are lousy. The crime is way too high, and so is the cost of doing business in the city,” Stokes said. "All of these progressives are saying ‘Let’s fix government’ and all of the things I have been saying.

“People see that now and say, 'Wait a minute, Carl was talking about this eight years ago, 10 years ago."

Stokes said he wiped out most of the $23,000 campaign balance he reported in April buying television and radio ads.

Several lesser known candidates are competing for the job, including Sneed and Pinkett. While people in the council districts they represent likely are familiar with them, the first-term incumbents must introduce themselves to voters citywide. They came in third and fourth in the March poll. Sneed took 10% of the support to Pinkett’s 4%.

Sneed has had success fundraising for her bid, collecting $79,315 since January. More than $18,000 of that total has come from labor unions, some of which have endorsed Sneed.

In partnership with Scott, Sneed sponsored legislation that would require collective bargaining agreements for major city projects for high-dollar city construction projects, a bill supported by local unions.

The proposal is one of the clear divisions in the race. Pinkett and Stokes attended a rally outside City Hall to protest the bill, which has stalled since the pandemic hit in mid-March. Pinkett received a $2,500 donation a day after the rally from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Baltimore, which opposes the bill.

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Entering the final leg of the race, Sneed had about $157,000 on hand, which she said she plans to spend on television, radio and social media. Like others in the race, Sneed was forced to pivot from grassroots efforts and spend more on communications as a result of the pandemic. Her first TV ad aired in late April.

If elected, Sneed said she would continue to champion legislation for Baltimore’s working families, a focus of her four years on City Council. Sneed successfully sponsored legislation to require space in city businesses for nursing mothers and a bill to require all top officials in Baltimore government to live in the city. Both laws help to protect jobs for city residents, she said.

Sneed said she would lead by consensus as council president, ensuring all bills get a hearing even if she doesn’t support them. She is running on a slate with Scott.

“We all don’t agree as council members, but the difference between me and past leadership is I can bring all sides to the table,” she said. “I won’t shut out anyone.”

Pinkett, who reported about $43,000 in his campaign account, did not respond to an interview request for this article.

The other Democratic candidates are Leo W. Burroughs, Marques Dent and Dan Sparaco.

One Republican, Jovani Patterson, is running. But he does not have a very visible campaign and has not raised or spent any money running for the office.

Given that registered Democrats outnumber Republican voters by nearly 10 to 1 in Baltimore, the Democratic primary is expected to make clear who will become the next council president well ahead of November’s election.

Clarence Mitchell IV, a WBAL-AM talk show host, said the race is getting a lot less attention than it deserves, “considering how many mayors were council president.” Of the last four mayors, three were council president when the sitting mayor resigned and they were automatically elevated to the city’s top job.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Mitchell said the mayor’s race was “sucking up all of the oxygen.” In years past, Mitchell said mayoral and council president candidates would run on a single ticket, and that helped make sure people knew more about who was competing to lead the city and who was trying to lead the council.

“It is really the forgotten race right now,” Mitchell said. “People are discounting the significance of this office."

Mitchell said the candidates’ best chance is to remind voters “the council president can become the next mayor very easily.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

Nick Mosby

Age: 41

Experience: House of Delegates (2017-present); Baltimore City Councilman (2011-2016); former senior project manager, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Tuskegee University

Family: Wife, Marilyn J. Mosby; two daughters

Leon Pinkett

Age: 52

Experience: Baltimore City Councilman (2016-present); former assistant deputy mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development; senior economic development officer, Baltimore Development Corp.

Education: Economics degree, Guilford College.

Family: Wife, Marika; two children.

Shannon Sneed

Age: 39

Experience: Baltimore City Councilwoman (2016-present); former assignment editor and producer for WJZ-TV and WBFF-TV in Baltimore.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore; master’s degree, Morgan State University

Family: Husband, Ramond; a daughter.

Carl Stokes

Age: 70

Experience: Consultant; founded two public charter schools in Baltimore; Baltimore City Councilman (1987-1995 and 2010-2016).

Education: Two years of college at what was then Loyola College.

Family: Two daughters.

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