Winners and Losers From the Not-Quite-Completed Primary

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) addresses an enthusiastic crowd after declaring victory in the special Democratic congressional primary in February. Photo by Josh Kurtz

The Baltimore City election understandably got most of the ink. A city that seems to be in perpetual crisis voted for new leadership in its top three offices. That’s big!

But primary elections took place all over the state on and in the weeks leading up to June 2, and they produced an interesting array of winners and losers.

Judicial races, which are insider contests followed mostly by lawyers and party activists, in particular produced some surprises. The usually impenetrable slates of incumbent Circuit Court judges, appointed to their jobs by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and seeking full 15-year terms, encountered trouble this time in three counties.

By tradition, the incumbent judges run in both the Republican and Democratic primaries, with tacit approval from party leaders on both sides. But things didn’t quite work out so well this year.

In Howard County, incumbent Judge John J. Kuchno easily beat three challengers in the Republican primary, but he wound up losing the Democratic primary to attorney Quincy L. Coleman.

Most of the Democratic establishment had lined up behind Kuchno, including two of his former bosses, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and former attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, and state Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard). Will the Democrats stick with the incumbent now, or back their nominee?

In Charles County, the same phenomenon took place. Judge Patrick Devine easily won the Republican primary, but lost the Democratic primary to Makeba Gibbs, a former president of the Charles County Bar Association.

In Prince George’s County, where five incumbent judges were seeking the Democratic and Republican nominations with the backing of the county’s legal and political establishment, two judges appear to have lost primaries. Judge Bryon S. Bereano finished sixth in the Democratic primary, to four of his fellow incumbents and challenger Gladys Weatherspoon. In the Republican primary, Judge Wytonja Curry lost to her fellow incumbents and Weatherspoon.

The judges now move on to the general election, with three judges and Curry the nominees of both parties, but Curry only on the Democratic ballot and Bereano only on the Republican ballot. Will the legal and political establishment stick together this time and back only the incumbents? Already, there is talk of the Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee turning its back on Bereano.

Across the state, the votes haven’t all been tallied yet, but it seems like a good time to start declaring winners and losers from the primary — and not just those who were on the ballot:

Winners

Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott

The Big 3. Assuming the Democratic primary results hold, there’s no reason to believe Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott will not be elected mayor in November. Ditto for state Del. Nick J. Mosby, winner of the City Council president primary, and Bill Henry, the city councilman who won the primary for city comptroller, ousting six-term incumbent Joan Pratt.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D). Office of the State’s Attorney photo

The Mosby Brand. For Mosby, the victory in a competitive primary for City Council president over high quality opponents was, of course, a personal victory and a ratification of his work in Annapolis and City Hall. But it was also a victory for the Mosby Brand. His wife, State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D), is a dynamic and occasionally controversial figure in the city, but clearly enough Democratic voters felt sufficiently comfortable with the duo to give Nick Mosby a political promotion. Once he becomes council president, the Mosbys will arguably be the most powerful couple in Maryland politics.

Progressive politics. In 2018, several large Maryland jurisdictions — Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties — elected new progressive county executives. Now, with Scott’s likely victory, add Baltimore City to the list. In fact, Scott may have benefited from a last-minute surge in progressive voting, inspired by the marches in the street for racial justice. Just as the demonstrations have largely been multiracial, Scott’s winning coalition appears to have been multiracial as well.

Millennials. Scott is 36. Nick Mosby is 42. On top of that, it appears as if millennials will make up a super-majority of the Baltimore City Council. Add to that the presence of several powerful millennial state lawmakers from Baltimore City, including Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). It’s a generational change for sure, but will it result in more progressive policies? That remains to be seen.

Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-Cecil). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Hornbergers. Danielle Hornberger, an aide to U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), demolished incumbent Alan McCarthy in the Republican primary for Cecil County executive. She joins her husband, state Del. Kevin C. Hornberger, to form a new and formidable power team in the GOP.

Trumpism in the Maryland Republican Party. Hornberger beat McCarthy in part by making the primary a referendum on the candidates’ fealty to President Trump. On top of that, Trump supporters are fully in control of the state GOP. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) did not get involved in the Cecil County primary, but former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) endorsed McCarthy. While Republicans surely prefer Hogan in Government House to any Democrat, it’s clear that his influence within the party is waning.

Organized labor. With the notable exception of Shannon Sneed in the Democratic primary for Baltimore City Council president, organized labor saw most of its choices win in the city primaries, especially Scott. This means Scott and other city leaders owe them. But as the economic crisis born of the pandemic takes hold, it may become harder for them to deliver.

Sen. Antonio L. Hayes

Sens. Antonio L. Hayes (D) and Cory V. McCray (D). McCray is closer to Scott than anyone else in the legislature, and will do a lot of blocking and tackling for the city as the lone Baltimore representative on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Hayes had a good relationship with both Scott and Scott’s closest competitor in the Democratic primary, former mayor Sheila Dixon, so he had little to lose on primary day. He played key advisory roles in at least two successful City Council campaigns, for James Torrence and Phylicia Porter. And he will also get to play kingmaker later in the year when the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee chooses a replacement for Nick Mosby in the House of Delegates.

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello. Costello is the leading voice for downtown Baltimore business in the City Council, capable of vacuuming up huge sums of campaign cash from developers and other business leaders, and that status won’t change with the new leadership coming to city hall. The question is, what’s Costello’s end game?

Kweisi Mfume. Warts and all, Mfume’s status as a Baltimore icon was confirmed with his smashing victories in the congressional primary and the special congressional election earlier in the year.

The Baltimore Sun editorial page. Endorsed the winners in the three citywide races.

Push

Baltimore City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed

Baltimore City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed. She lost her bid to become City Council president, but she ran a strong, neighborhood-focused campaign, and remained calm, as she always does. She’s close to Scott and could certainly land an important position in his administration — but then again, it seems like she could land just about anywhere. The sky’s the limit.

Former mayor Sheila Dixon. Everyone said Dixon had a ceiling in the Democratic primary, but she seems to have exceeded it. She ran a good campaign, even though it appears as if she’s fallen short. And while it seems as if her political career is probably over, her three-year tenure as mayor is looking better and better to many voters, as the sting of the scandal that drove her from office fades from memory. She should slip nicely into an elder stateswoman role.

Losers

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. File photo

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. Gave up her gig running the Maryland Democratic Party to run for her late husband’s congressional seat and didn’t even come close — in either the special primary or last week. And in the days before the regular primary, she launched some pretty heavy artillery Mfume’s way. She’s a smart policy expert and a strategic thinker who should land on her feet. But she made a lot of enemies in the Baltimore political establishment, and it’s hard to see a political comeback at this point.

Thiru Vignarajah. Former prosecutor who lost his second straight citywide race in the mayoral primary. There were points during the primary where he looked very formidable, and his anti-crime message appeared to be resonating. But then there was the bizarre story about his traffic stop; the COVID-19 campaign both sidelined him and crowded out his message. It may be tough for him to bounce back politically.

City Comptroller Joan Pratt (D). Not only has she lost her bid for a seventh term, she may now have to worry about legal entanglements from her business association with the soon-to-be-incarcerated former mayor, Catherine E. Pugh (D).

State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D). First he endorsed state Sen. Mary L. Washington (D) for mayor, and she wound up dropping out. Then he endorsed former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller, whose candidacy seemed completely out-of-step with this Black Lives Matter moment. He also endorsed two City Council candidates — Joe Kane in the 14th District and Natasha Guynes in the 10th — who were smoked. Franchot’s political guru, Len Foxwell, was the de facto campaign manager for Washington and Guynes. And while Franchot didn’t endorse Pratt’s reelection, he thought highly enough of her to give her a prominent speaking role at his 2019 swearing-in ceremony.

Wes Adams. The former Anne Arundel County state’s attorney attempted a comeback by running for a judgeship this year. Not only did he lose, but he was the target of vicious attacks by a special political action committee set up just to defeat him.

Bruce C. Bereano

The Bereanos. Judge Bereano, as noted above, faces peril at the polls in November, assuming Prince George’s voters adhere to their usual partisan habits. His dad, Annapolis uber-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, spent a lot of time and energy hitting up friends, clients, acquaintances and political leaders to support his son and the judicial incumbents’ slate. At least Bereano the elder has the satisfaction of helping to take out Wes Adams (see above).

Linda H. Lamone. The state elections administrator has been taking it from all corners, following several problems during the primary process. Never mind that the state had to reinvent its election system on the fly, to accommodate a mostly vote-by-mail primary necessitated by COVID-19. Never mind that some of the politicians criticizing her loudly are showboats who enjoy generating headlines. Never mind that state elections officials have more time to prepare a more orderly general election. And that state law makes it difficult to remove her. Lamone may hang on, but she’s definitely in trouble. She’ll try to turn the focus to ensuring a smoother general election. But some politicians may want to keep the focus on her.

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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.