A new poll from WYPR, The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore shows Del. Nick Mosby, former councilman Carl Stokes and councilwoman Shannon Sneed packed tightly together in the Baltimore City council president Democratic primary race, and Comptroller Joan Pratt with a slight edge over councilman Bill Henry in an unprecedentedly heated race for comptroller.
The council president’s race is “really among those top three candidates” while the comptroller’s race remains very competitive, OpinionWorks pollster Steve Raabe said.
The two citywide positions are both highly visible and powerful: both the city council president and the comptroller vote on the city’s spending board. The council president serves as a chief legislator responsible for shepherding bills from start to finish, while the comptroller acts as the city's fiscal watchdog through broad powers over audits of city agencies.
The poll was conducted by OpinionWorks, which is based in Annapolis. Pollsters spoke to 400 likely primary voters over the phone from May 11 to May 18, after sending some of them a postcard alerting them about the poll. The poll respondents reflect the city’s electorate, meaning they’re mostly black, female and over the age of 50. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The Democratic primary is a crucial race in Baltimore politics; blue voters greatly outnumber red voters throughout the city.
The City Council President Race
Voters were asked, "If the primary for City Council President were held today, would you vote for? (If initially undecided): Whom do you lean towards at this time?"
Nick Mosby - 24%
Carl Stokes - 20%
Shannon Sneed - 18%
Leon Pinkett - 2%
Someone else - 2%
Undecided - 31%
Would not say - 4%
The council president is a highly visible role and is second to the mayor; many of its alumni have gone on to the top office, including Sheila Dixon, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and current mayor Jack Young. All automatically became mayor after their predecessors resigned.
Raabe said that due to the poll’s margin of error, the race is fair game for Mosby, Stokes and Sneed.
Stokes appeals across racial lines in the city, while Mosby is a favorite in the black community and Sneed, the white community.
“She also got a significant chunk of the African-American vote as well,” said Raabe. “So: interesting race. Everybody's got some strength in this race.”
Mosby had a stronger edge in the poll’s winter counterpart.
“One would suggest that Mosby maybe has plateaued,” said Raabe. “Mosby seems to be potentially a little bit more polarizing. Certainly, the white community has not warmed up to him quite the same way that they may have to the other two candidates.”
When Mosby ran for mayor a few years ago, there was some concern among voters and pundits about the power concentration that could’ve been shared between Mosby and his wife, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Raabe thinks that’s not quite on voters’ minds as much this time around, though he said his wife may have something to do with Mosby’s polling: she’s been prominently featured in some of his campaign ads.
“Her prominence, people's attitudes about her must be impacting his vote one way or the other,” Raabe said.
Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said Stokes has narrowed Mosby’s lead through growing support. “He’s been around for a long time. He's well known. He's got name recognition. He's in a great position,” Hartley said.
Stokes is “creeping up,” Raabe said. His crosscutting appeal throughout the city may come through in a low turnout situation, the pollster said.
The candidate who has really gained steam since the winter is Sneed, both analysts said.
“All of a sudden, here comes Shannon Sneed,” said Hartley. “She's put herself into striking distance.”
“It will for some voters, for an office like council president, come down to name recognition to some degree, which Mosby and Stokes have,” Hartley said. “But again, Sneed has kind of pushed herself up there.”
The Comptroller Race
Voters were asked, “If the primary for Comptroller were held today, would you vote for? (If initially undecided): Whom do you lean towards at this time?”
Joan Pratt - 41%
Bill Henry - 34%
Someone else - *%
Undecided - 22%
Would not say - 2%
“A lot of voters don’t realize this, but what political insiders know is that the comptroller’s position is extremely powerful because of the seat on the Board of Estimates,” Hartley said. “That's a critically important race to the city of Baltimore.”
Pratt is in her sixth term as comptroller, and Bill Henry is her first serious challenger since she was first elected to the office. Henry, who has served on the city council for nearly a decade, has positioned himself as a more vigorous watchdog after Pratt’s business relationship with Pugh came under scrutiny.
During court hearings earlier this year, federal prosecutors said disgraced former mayor Catherine Pugh solicited a $20,000 campaign contribution from city contractor J.P. Grant. But because he had already donated $6,000 to her campaign, the maximum allowed by law for that election cycle, she asked Grant to cut the check to 2 Chic Boutique, the Washington Boulevard thrift store she co-owned with Pratt.
Pugh then used the money to make illegal donations to her campaign and to cover some of 2 Chic’s expenses.
Pratt has vigorously denied any knowledge of Pugh’s criminal activities. She told WYPR that 2 Chic had been operating at a loss “from its very inception” and that she was only responsible for preparing the business’s tax returns based on information she received from its bookkeeper. “No one ever told me about a $20,000 check,” she said in March.
Pratt has 44% of the black vote compared to Henry’s 29%, while Henry has 46% of the white vote compared to Pratt’s 28%.
“If there's a big change vote that comes out, [Henry] could certainly benefit from that,” Raabe said. “But at this moment, at best, the race is tight.”
Pratt is also the favored candidate among people that support former mayor Sheila Dixon or current Mayor Jack Young.
“She is clearly getting what I might call an old, kind of a traditional vote of longtime political activists and politicians, said Raabe. “Bill Henry is winning the supporters of every other candidate for mayor.”
Hartley said the ethical issues Baltimore has faced over recent years has made Henry, who voters may see as a fresh, new face, a formidable opponent.
“He has his own base of support. He has been a strong and consistent leader on the council,” Hartley said.
When someone like that tries for a less visible office where incumbents can serve term after term with no challengers, it’s a serious threat, Hartley said, though Pratt has decades to cite in terms of experience.
The outcome of the race is up to whether voters cast their ballot based on name recognition or based on grassroots support, the dean said.
“Someone like a Bill Henry can do that, and someone like a Joan Pratt for having been in the office as long as she has can rely on her office, her incumbency, her name recognition, and perhaps a group of supporters as well,” Hartley said. “So this one is going to be a fight to the end.”