BALTIMORE (CN) — Outgoing Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young offered congratulations and some words of wisdom Wednesday after coming in fifth in a primary race dominated by City Council President Brandon Scott.
“Watch out for snakes,” Young warned the much younger Scott this morning at a routine meeting of the city’s spending board. “There’s plenty of ’em.”
The 36-year-old Scott had declared himself the winner of Baltimore’s hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary in a tweet Tuesday night, with a few thousand votes left to count.
“Tonight we celebrate a hard-fought victory for the future of Baltimore,” Scott posted at around 9 p.m. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank my family, my team, our volunteers, those who voted for a new way forward for Baltimore, and everyone who believes change is not just possible, but long overdue.”
Turnout was higher than in recent elections, at about 50% of eligible voters. With 24 candidates in the running, Scott was polling about 2,300 votes ahead of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who left office 10 years ago in scandal. The margin was too great for the remaining uncounted votes, but at 1.5% of the 145,000 votes cast, a recount is possible.
Dixon told the Baltimore Sun on Monday that she was “keeping all options open” regarding a potential recount, voicing concerns about how the mail-in election was managed. Her campaign did not respond to a phone message Wednesday morning.
“The problem she’s going to have as far as challenging this is, under Maryland law, there’s no automatic recount,” John Dedie, a professor of political science at Community College of Baltimore County, said in an interview. “You have to pay for it. In Washington state the cost is about 30 cents a ballot, so if the cost is similar in Maryland she’d have to come up with $50,000 to do it.”
Dedie notes that Dixon did not challenge the result four years ago when she lost by a similar margin.
Baltimore city government has been wracked by scandal amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a movement for police reform and a demoralizingly high violent crime rate. Scott is part of a younger generation of city officials moving into positions of influence. City Comptroller Joan Pratt’s 20-year reign ended as well, and Nick Mosby — a state delegate, former city councilman and husband of the city’s prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby — won the City Council presidency that Scott vacated to run for mayor.
Baltimore voters lean heavily Democratic, so the November general election typically ratifies the Democratic primary.
The election, which was postponed from April and held mostly by mail with five in-person polling places set up on Election Day last Tuesday, did not go smoothly. The ballot printer mailed them late to the city, and one district’s ballots were mis-printed so they could not be read by machine. Elections officials had to remake those ballots by hand before feeding them through the counting scanner.
Long lines stretched around the polling places well after dark on election day, as people said they didn’t trust the mail to get their votes postmarked in time.
Mary Miller, a former U.S. Treasury official who had never held elective office, came in third after polling tied for first place several weeks before the election. Dedie said Miller’s chances were hurt when an email leaked describing a campaign tactic to capture the city’s white vote. The email was from an outside political action committee, which quickly disbanded, but the frankly racial appeal in a city that is nearly two-thirds black won her no converts as the nation’s attention turned to police brutality and systemic racism.
Scott, who ran in part on a platform of reducing the mayor’s power, turned up his campaign’s heat just as those new protests, which were almost entirely nonviolent in Baltimore City, began.
“I think what really did it was, on the weekend before the election when everyone was hunkered down, he was walking the streets,” Dedie said. “And people saw him out there.”