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Incumbent Brandon Scott prevails in Baltimore mayor’s race primary

BALTIMORE (AP) — Incumbent Brandon Scott handily beat out one of his predecessors in Baltimore’s Democratic primary for mayor Tuesday, all but ensuring a second term in office.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott kisses his fiancee Hanna Pugh while declaring victory during a Democratic primary election night watch party Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Port Covington, Md. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Incumbent Brandon Scott handily beat out one of his predecessors in Baltimore’s Democratic primary for mayor Tuesday, all but ensuring a second term in office.

Scott was originally elected in 2020, when he also campaigned against former Mayor Sheila Dixon and won by a narrow margin. This was Dixon’s third attempt at returning to the mayor’s office after her tenure was cut short in 2010 after she took a plea deal for misappropriating gift cards meant for poor families.

With his primary victory, Scott is now considered the prohibitive favorite in the November general election in the heavily Democratic city.

“Winning is not just a triumph, but a challenge to go further, to be better and to do more for Baltimore," Scott said in a speech to supporters who chanted, “Four more years!”

“It's a mandate to double down and work harder for this great city," Scott said.

Public safety was a central issue in the campaign. Baltimore consistently ranks among the nation’s most violent cities, but its homicide rate has fallen significantly over the past several months. Scott cited those reductions during his campaign as evidence his anti-violence strategies are working.

Scott, 40, brought a youthful energy to the office four years ago. In recent weeks, he has been the face of Baltimore in the aftermath of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which left six people dead and closed most maritime traffic through the city’s busy port.

Dixon, 70, billed herself as more competent and experienced than Scott, and said she has a long track record of helping Baltimore’s city government work for its most vulnerable residents. The city’s homicide rate also dropped during her tenure. Dixon also emphasized the importance of policing “quality of life” crimes such as loitering and drug possession, and pointed to a rise in car thefts that is reflected across the country.

Dixon told supporters late Tuesday that she was not giving up. “We're going to continue to move forward," she said.

Luca Amayo, a spokesperson for her campaign, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Baltimore homicides fell below 300 last year for the first time in nearly a decade, marking a 20% annual decrease and ending a surge that began in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray, which sparked civil unrest and prompted widespread calls for police reform. That positive trend has continued during the first several months of 2024.

“When I came into office, I said that we were going to look at crime and violence as a public health issue,” Scott said during a candidate forum. He said his administration has prioritized investing in community organizations that are “not just preventing acts of violence but actually getting these young brothers and sisters into jobs and training.”

Scott strengthened an existing program that deploys violence interrupters in some of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods. He also launched the city’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which has shown promising results.

Dixon garnered support from wealthy Baltimore power brokers, including television mogul David Smith, who bought The Baltimore Sun newspaper earlier this year. Scott, meanwhile, received significant backing from labor unions.

After becoming Baltimore’s first female mayor, Dixon was convicted of embezzling donated gift cards, spending about $500 at Target and Best Buy to purchase things for her family and staff. She resigned as part of a 2010 plea agreement.

In 2016, she ran again and lost narrowly to Catherine Pugh, who also left office amid a corruption scandal involving fraudulent sales of her self-published children’s book that landed her in federal prison.

In announcing her latest candidacy last fall, Dixon penned an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun apologizing for her digressions: “I hope the people realize that my love for the future of Baltimore outweighs the mistakes of my past,” she wrote.

Another Democratic candidate, Thiru Vignarajah, dropped out of the mayor’s race last week and endorsed Dixon. A former federal prosecutor, Vignarajah has run unsuccessfully for both mayor and state’s attorney in the past.

During his first term, Scott has received criticism for turnover within his administration, COVID-19 restrictions that some considered too stringent and other minor complaints.

Both Scott and Dixon grew up in Baltimore and served on City Council before running for mayor.

Lea Skene, The Associated Press