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Government & Politics

Pace of Political Change Accelerating in Baltimore

Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott (D) acknowledges the applause from his colleagues and other well wishers after being elected to his new post. Photo of CharmTV telecast.

The pace of change in Baltimore City government is moving exponentially faster since former mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) announced her resignation Thursday.

On Monday, two veteran Council members – Mary Pat Clarke (D), whose tenure dates back to 1975, and Edward Reisinger (D), who has represented South Baltimore for two dozen years, announced they would not seek reelection in 2020.

And on Monday evening, Council members elevated Councilmember Brandon M. Scott (D) to City Council president. He’ll serve the remainder of the term of Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), who ascended to the mayoralty once Pugh, whose final weeks in office were plagued by scandal, resigned.

All three moves are politically significant.

Scott, 35, is considered a leading contender for mayor next year, and while he already had a high-profile position as chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, the citywide post should boost his visibility even further.

Councilmember Sharon Green Middleton (D), the Council vice president, had been serving as president for over a month – ever since Young had become the city’s “ex officio” mayor – and was interested in serving in the job through 2020, setting up a showdown with Scott. Council members were said to be deadlocked over the weekend. But according to Baltimore media, sentiment moved in Scott’s direction in the hours leading up to Monday evening’s Council meeting, and by the time the Council met, the vote for Scott was unanimous.

But Councilmember Leon F. Pinkett III (D) offered a note of caution.

“After this vote we will hear speculation about what the vote means for 2020 and whether it changes the landscape for the next election,” he said. “The real focus should be on the work again.”

Scott – who in 2018 was a candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by attorney James L. Shea – said he was “honored and humbled” by the vote, and did not speak a word about the upcoming election.

“To the people of Baltimore, I never expected to be here but you have helped prepare this kid from Park Heights to be ready for the responsibility of this position,” he said on the Council floor immediately after winning the job. “I do not take the honor of holding this important office lightly and you can rest assured that I will carry out my duties with the utmost integrity and respect for all.

“We’ve had some dark days, however, the passion and hope of all of us working together, will continue to lift us into the light. We will never quit even in the face of tremendous pressure and seemingly insurmountable odds. I hope that you will continue to keep me and the city in prayer as we work towards better days.”

Scott has represented the Northeast Baltimore 2nd District since 2011. His move to the Council president position will necessitate an appointment to fill his Council seat – a task that the entire Council will undertake.

Middleton now returns to the position of Council vice president.

Young, who will serve as mayor through December 2020, has expressed interest in seeking his old job as Council president in next April’s Democratic primary rather than the top job – though that could change.

In a statement, Young congratulated Scott and pledged “to work collaboratively” with him and his Council colleagues.

I have known President Scott for more than a decade, and I am confident that he will serve the citizens of Baltimore to the best of his abilities,” Young said. “In President Scott, Baltimore gains a dedicated public servant who will use the legislative process to move our city forward.”

Veterans moving on

Clarke’s retirement announcement wasn’t altogether unexpected – she is 77 years old – but with so much tumult in the city in recent months it still felt like a surprise.

“The time is right for a new generation to assume leadership and responsibility in our crucial corner of the City,” Clarke wrote in a letter to constituents and community leaders. “The person we elect will contribute ideas and talents to the most progressive and diligent City Council I have ever had the honor to work with. The time is right to make the coming transition of 2020 the most promising possible.”

City Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D)

Clarke has represented the North Baltimore 14th District for 15 years. She was first elected to the Council in 1975 and served for eight years, losing a bid for City Council president in 1983 but coming back to win the post in 1987. She lost a Democratic primary challenge to then-mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D) in 1995 but returned to the Council in 2004.

A slowly emerging race to replace Clarke is about to intensify. Joseph A. Kane II, a federal contractor and community activist, has already announced his intention to run, and on Monday tried to cast himself as a natural heir to Clarke.

“Her tireless commitment to constituent service and progressive policies are also the bedrock of our campaign,” he said.

Odette Ramos, a member of the city’s Democratic Central Committee who is executive director of the Community Development Network of Maryland, is also planning to get in the race. Ramos, who ran unsuccessfully for a Council seat in District 12 in 2011, has her first fundraiser scheduled for the campaign on May 21 at Red Star in Charles Village.

But the field could certainly grow.

Reisinger, 69, who has represented South Baltimore on the Council for two dozen years, announced he would retire to spend more time with his family.

City Councilmember Edward Reisinger

“I’m going to do a John Wayne and get on my horse and ride into the sunset,” Reisinger told The Baltimore Sun.

Three Democrats have already filed to run for Reisinger’s 10th District seat: Raekwon “Ray” Conaway, who works for the nonprofit Community Law in Action; Natasha Guynes, founder of HER Resiliency Center, a nonprofit that aids young women at risk; and Kerry Eugene Hamilton I, a retired scholastic basketball coach. The field is almost certain to grow.

With Reisinger, Clarke and Councilmember Bill Henry (D) already planning to retire, there will be at least three new members on the 15-member Council following the 2020 election. Eight new members were elected in 2016.

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Pace of Political Change Accelerating in Baltimore