Josh Kurtz: Being Brandon Scott

Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott, on the campaign trail in 2018. Photo by William F. Zorzi

You’re Brandon Scott.

After 6 ½ years on the Baltimore City Council, you’ve recently become Council president, following the resignation of scandal-plague mayor Catherine E. Pugh. This resulted in the promotion of Bernard C. “Jack” Young to the city’s top job, after he spent 23 years on the Council – nine as Council president.

To replace Young as Council president, you outmaneuvered your colleague, Sharon Green Middleton, in an internal vote of the Council. She had been there longer and had Young’s backing.

But there was never really a contest: You outhustled her, and, frankly, you’re more in line, generationally and ideologically, with your colleagues on the Council – many of whom took office in 2016.

You’re Brandon Scott. You’re 35 years old and already you’re the second most powerful person in Baltimore City government. You’re the unofficial leader of a new wave of young, dynamic Baltimore politicians – at City Hall and in the city’s Annapolis delegation. And reinforcements are on the way.

And yet, in a surprising way, you are at a political crossroads.

As they look ahead to the 2020 Baltimore City elections, many political professionals and activists assume that Young is the first domino to fall; that his decision – whether to seek a full term as mayor or whether to run for his comfortable old job again – will determine what the city elections look like.

But I’d argue that it’s you, Council President Scott, who in many ways is the bigger domino. What you decide to do could have a greater bearing on the city elections than anything Jack Young does.

It’s been widely assumed for a few years now that you’re planning to run for mayor one of these days.

You haven’t been shy about admitting that you’re thinking about it. A lot of your friends and allies are ready to go. And what, after all, was that run for lieutenant governor last year on attorney James L. Shea’s ticket about, if not to build name recognition and financial connections?

But your calculations were mostly based on the assumption that haughty, image-conscious Catherine Pugh was still going to be around and seeking another term. Instead, you’ve got Jack Young at the top of the political heap right now.

Young is no one’s idea of an innovator or a reformer. In fact, not everybody was convinced he was fit to be mayor.

But in his first few months in office, at least, he hasn’t fallen on his face. He’s been focusing on the basics. He’s visible in the community. He’s comfortable, if not altogether comforting.

This doesn’t mean that Young can’t be beaten in the Democratic primary next April. We don’t know yet what the rest of the hot summer will bring to Baltimore, or how the voters will be feeling eight months from now. But it does appear as if Young is enjoying a honeymoon right now – of undetermined length.

What will Young decide to do in the next election? As my colleague Frank DeFilippo recently pointed out, a mayor can get used to the trappings of office pretty quickly.

There’s something humble and folksy about saying being City Council president is the only job you ever wanted. But come on, Mr. Mayor – you’re top dog now. You have the spoils of office and the power of incumbency. Besides, if you wanted your old job back, there’s currently an incumbent – Brandon Scott.

Mr. President, it’s possible the mayor will want his old job back – yours. And that would give you an opportunity to run for his. But more likely, he’ll seek a full term.

What will you do then?

You’re Brandon Scott. Do you set up a generational fight with a down-to-earth, caretaker mayor who hasn’t made any grievous mistakes yet? Do you put together a ticket of young progressives ready to shake up the city?

Or do you take stock, with the full realization that Jack Young is 65 years old and is probably a one-termer, even if he wins in 2020?

Do you grow in the job as City Council president, establish your gravitas, cultivate more allies inside and outside the political world, take more time to build a team and develop and pass an agenda, then run for mayor as a young but seasoned hand in 2024? Or do you try to bust down the door next year because that’s what’s really required to save your troubled city?

You’re Brandon Scott and Baltimore needs your leadership. Now you’ve got to figure out what role to play in this situational and uncertain world of politics.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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