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Three top candidates for Baltimore City Council president locked in competitive race, Sun/WYPR/UB poll shows

Steve Raabe, OpinionWorks president, discusses the results of polls taken in Maryland on the candidates running for Baltimore City Council president.

The three leading candidates for Baltimore City Council president are locked in a tight race with less than two weeks until ballots are due, a new poll for The Baltimore Sun, the University of Baltimore and WYPR-FM shows.

State Del. Nick Mosby, a former city councilman, was favored by 24% of likely Democratic voters polled, while Carl Stokes, who once served with him on the council, had 20% support. City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed was not far behind with 18%, representing a surge of interest in recent weeks.

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“We have a competitive, three-way situation,” said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis firm that conducted the poll. “This race has tightened a lot in the last three months.”

Mosby’s support may have plateaued, Raabe said, after a Sun/UB/WYPR poll conducted in February showed him with a clear lead.

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Nearly a third of voters in the new poll said they were undecided. Meanwhile, Councilman Leon Pinkett trailed the leading candidates, with just 2% of respondents saying they backed him.

The poll of 400 voters, released Thursday, was conducted May 11-18. It has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

While the race for Baltimore’s No. 2 elected official has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and a crowded contest for mayor, the leading candidates have recently launched television campaigns to drum up momentum at a time when many people are stuck at home.

This year’s primary is being conducted largely by mail, with some voters starting this week to send back or drop off ballots. Elections officials planned limited voting centers open on primary day, which was postponed from April 28 to June 2 to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

“We’re seeing a poll that says every vote counts,” said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.

Mosby, 41, recently made headlines for successfully pressuring the state to provide a breakdown by race and ZIP code for all COVID-19 cases in Maryland. The West Baltimore lawmaker said it was necessary to make data available so officials could spot disparities and take steps to ameliorate the virus’ disproportionate impact on the black community.

That was meaningful to Angela Newman, who told pollsters she supports Mosby for council president. As a woman of color living in 21215 — among the hardest-hit ZIP codes in the state — she felt Mosby’s activism around the issue “ensured that we are recognized.”

“It speaks to the level of commitment he has to the community and the population he serves,” said Newman, 52.

Mosby — who was the last of the three major candidates to make a television ad buy — highlighted that activism in a 30-second spot. The latter half of the commercial is narrated by his wife, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.

Stokes, 70, also has high name recognition. In addition to previously serving on the council representing central and East Baltimore, he is a former city school board member. Stokes has unsuccessfully sought citywide office several times.

His prior experience in city government is appealing to some voters, especially as the city is dealing with so much uncertainty. He just took out a second TV ad buy, seeking to remind residents that he stood up to developers and pushed for audits across city government when he was a councilman.

“He is somebody who has a pulse on the city and will help work hand in hand with the mayor and council to get things done,” said Brian Hubbard, 40, of Northeast Baltimore.

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Sneed appeared to have momentum, according to the poll. She registered 10% support in the first poll. In the more recent survey, 18% of voters planned to back her.

The East Baltimore councilwoman outpaced her opponents in fundraising and used the money to launch the first TV ad buy of the race. Sneed is running as part of the “Forward” slate, which is led by current City Council President Brandon Scott, who is among the top candidates for mayor.

Some incumbents on that slate are part of a younger generation of progressive city officials that swept into office in 2016.

Sneed, 39, is “part of that recent, new energy on City Council,” Hartley said. “She may be capturing some of that momentum.”

Despite the alliance, the poll shows that many of Scott’s voters are supporting Mosby.

There are three other Democratic candidates and a GOP candidate running for council president. For decades, the primary contest among the city’s Democrats, who outnumber Republican voters by nearly 10 to 1, has determined outcome of the November election.

The Sun/UB/WYPR poll also showed highly competitive contests for the two other citywide positions, mayor and comptroller.

“In some ways, the uncertainty is creating a lot of energy in the campaigns and could create some energy in voters, too,” Hartley said. “People can see this is anybody’s race."

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