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Brandon Scott’s primary victory another step in a meteoric rise

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Baltimore Council President Brandon Scott speaks during a viewing service for the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Scott has won the Democratic nomination for Baltimore mayor. The victory on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, exactly a week after the election was held, puts Scott in a strong position to be the next mayor of the struggling city. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott has won the Democratic nomination for Baltimore mayor. The victory on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, exactly a week after the election was held, puts Scott in a strong position to be the next mayor of the struggling city. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott declared himself the Democratic Party’s mayoral nominee after a dramatic comeback, but his narrow lead faces a potential recount and legal challenges.

Standing in front of his grandmother’s brick row home, surrounded by family, the 36-year-old lawmaker declared himself the Democratic nominee for mayor Wednesday and called for a unified effort in improving Baltimore.

“We cannot afford to have any divisions at this critical juncture in our history,” Scott said.

Unofficial results from the Board of Elections show Scott leading former Mayor Sheila Dixon by roughly 2,300 votes.

If he indeed serves as Baltimore’s next mayor, Scott inherits a city struggling financially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent violent crime, hindering efforts to attract new residents and making businesses wary of investing in the city.

During the campaign Scott positioned himself as arguably the most liberal candidate in the deep field, garnering substantial support from progressive groups and labor unions. While candidates with stronger ties to the business community emphasized issues like tax reform, they ultimately languished far behind in vote totals.

Scott, who attended several recent protests in Baltimore after another spurt of high-profile incidents where black people died at the hands of law enforcement, declined to embrace calls from activists to defund the Baltimore Police Department.

Budget cuts are coming to the department, he said, because paying for the city’s share of implementing education improvements from the Kirwan Commission requires reductions in spending elsewhere.

“We still have a public safety crisis in our city,” Scott said.

Scott’s apparent victory comes after he significantly trailed Dixon in early vote counts. When the first votes were tallied the night of June 2 Dixon led by nearly 4,600 votes.

Despite what appeared to be long odds his campaign staff issued a statement saying they believed Scott would win the election.

As votes trickled in via mail in the days after the primary, due to the city’s first election to include mailed ballots, Scott surged to take a razor-thin lead of 400 votes.

A week after Election Day Scott’s lead stretched to nearly 1,400 votes, and by that night his lead grew by nearly 1,000 votes.

In a city where Democrats hold a massive edge in the number of registered voters, the Democratic primary almost serves as Baltimore’s de facto election.

Scott’s victory must likely stand up against a recount. Under Maryland law a candidate or voter may request a recount so long as they agree to pay the costs. If a candidate gains at least 2% in votes as a result of the recount, that fee is waived.

Problems with ballots in District 1, and a decision to waive a requirement that votes are tied to a particular precincts, which allows campaigns to run quality-control checks, may result in legal challenges.

Dixon’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a supporter who has worked for the former mayor said “all options are on the table.”

If Dixon decides to call for a recount, Scott said he’d support whatever actions his opponent’s campaign decides to pursue. No one from Dixon’s campaign has reached out to Scott or his campaign, he said, about any potential challenge to his apparent victory.

If Scott were to go on and win the mayoral general election in November, it would mark the culmination of a rapid rise in city politics.

A graduate of Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School in Baltimore and St. Mary’s College, Scott worked in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration before voters in northeast Baltimore elected him to the council in 2011.

After his council election Scott maintained a high profile as the chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, instituting quarterly oversight meetings with the department as the city simultaneously wrestled with surging crime and police corruption.

Scott, in 2018, ran as the lieutenant governor candidate with attorney Jim Shea, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Scott’s rise to the city’s top job, however, took off last year.

After former Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned amid an ethics scandal, Scott flexed his political muscle, winning an intramural contest among council members to be appointed the new council president.

He defeated the Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, who Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young wanted to replace him after he inherited the chief executive’s position.

In the Democratic mayoral primary, Young ran to hold onto the job, but finished fifth behind Mary Miller, a former Obama administration official, and Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general. Young will finish out Pugh’s term, which ends in December.

During his year as council president Scott championed several bills asking voters to alter the City Charter and which would bring the most radical changes to city government in about a century.

Many of the bills Scott backed aim to weaken the mayor’s office by creating a city manager’s office, removing the mayor’s control of the city spending board, and empowering the City Council to cut and reallocate funds in the city budget.

Scott affirmed his commitment to those changes now that he’s poised to serve as the next mayor.

“We can turn the tide. We can make Baltimore better,” he said.