With the Democratic primary less than two weeks away, Mayor Brandon Scott and former mayor Sheila Dixon announced several key endorsements throughout the week.

Dixon nabbed what was likely the race’s biggest get when attorney Thiru Vignarajah dropped out of the primary running Wednesday and endorsed her, calling her the person most equipped to solve Baltimore’s troubles. The next day, state Sen. Jill Carter followed suit.

“I have concluded that Sheila Dixon is the best choice for mayor,” she announced at a news conference.

Retired U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski also declared her support for Dixon.

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Scott rolled out his own suite of endorsements the day after Vignarajah dropped out. He received nods from several county executives: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.; Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman; Howard County Executive Calvin Ball; Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater. Ben Jealous, the unsuccessful 2018 Maryland Democratic nominee for governor, also endorsed Scott.

In a statement, Olszewski praised Scott as a “partner who continues to demonstrate a willingness to work together and find solutions to our many regional challenges.”

Multiple state officials also joined Team Scott. Delegates Jazz Lewis, Marlon Amprey, Jackie Addison, Robbyn Lewis and Nicole Williams announced their support of the incumbent, as well as Sens. Alonzo Washington, Nick Charles and Arthur Ellis.

— Emily Sullivan

Owner-occupied homes again excluded from tax sale

Mayor Brandon Scott, for the fourth consecutive year, has removed owner-occupied properties from the annual tax sale list, his office said Wednesday.

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The move affects more than 3,400 properties in more than 200 city neighborhoods, according to the mayor’s office. Nearly 300 of the properties had been owned by the same person for 50 years or more.

Homes with liens exceeding a certain value are eligible to be included on the tax sale list, and those liens can be purchased by investors. If they are not redeemed, or paid back with fees and interest before the tax sale date, the homes can be foreclosed upon — even if the lien amounts to a few hundred dollars. Baltimore’s tax sale date is scheduled for May 20.

Housing advocates have long argued that the system unfairly targets older homeowners and penalizes those who may be at fault for reasons beyond their control. Some reforms have been made over the years to prevent mass displacement of residents due to the tax sale, including raising the value of the liens eligible for purchase and removing homes delinquent on water bills alone.

But some say those measure are not enough until the process is completely overhauled or eradicated.

State lawmakers in Annapolis this year attempted to take another crack at tax sale reform by extending Baltimore’s provisions to the rest of the state. Concerns mounted about language in the bill that could allow the homes of residents who rented or didn’t have clear ownership of the property to be put on the tax sale list. More than two dozen community advocacy groups lobbied against the bill.

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The bill, spearheaded by Gov. Wes Moore’s administration, failed to pass.

— Hallie Miller

Gifts roll in for the governor

A Bruce Springsteen concert, artwork, books, shirts and jackets: Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has received a lot of gifts since being sworn into office in January 2023.

Moore’s latest ethics disclosure, filed this week, lists 147 gifts and freebies he accepted in 2023.

The most expensive gift was from Oakview Group to attend the Bruce Springsteen concert at CFG Bank Arena’s grand opening last April. The Democratic governor listed the value as $549, but it’s not clear whether that’s for one ticket or multiple tickets. Oakview renovated and manages the city-owned arena.

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Governor Moore and Mayor Brandon Scott cut the ribbon at the CFG Bank Arena grand opening, April 7, 2023.
Gov. Wes Moore and others cut a ribbon on the renovated CFG Bank Arena last April. Later that night, Moore attended a Bruce Springsteen concert, and pegged the value at $549. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

The next-most valuable gift was a custom firefighter helmet from a firefighters union, listed at $500 value.

Other expensive gifts included a bottle of Blanton’s Whiskey ($170) from Lonaconing Mayor Jack Coburn; a jersey from the Baltimore Ravens ($175) and two jerseys from Baltimore Orioles ($175, $160); and a jacket from the Orioles ($125).

Challenge coins were a popular gift for the governor. Once only the province of the military, many politicians and organizations have adopted the practice of handing out commemorative coins.

Moore, an Army veteran, received challenge coins from the Maryland Air National Guard, the mayor of Bladensburg, the mayor of Rising Sun, two from the Montford Point Marine Association, The Washington Post, the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Council, the Brazilian Navy, the Calvert County Veterans Affairs Commission, the White House and one listed as “SCS, Board Director DPC Challenge Coin.” Each coin was listed as having a value of $5.

Some gifts are impossible to place a value on, including framed photos from the family of slain tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere; a ceremonial saropa scarf from the Sikh Association of Baltimore; and a “peace sign art piece” from LeAnne Smith, a relative of President Jimmy Carter.

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Gov. Wes Moore gestures to two photos that belonged to Pava LaPere and now hang in his office in the State House in Annapolis, Md., on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. LaPere’s family gave the photos, which picture rowhomes in Baltimore, to Moore after her death in September 2023.
Two framed pictures that hung in the home of slain tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere are among the gifts that Gov. Wes Moore received in 2023. He now has them hanging over his State House desk. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

As for Moore’s financial assets and investments, those have been in a blind trust for more than one year.

Before becoming governor, Moore had an array of investments and business interests that presented a minefield of potential conflicts of interest, including shares of stock in the cannabis company Green Thumb Industries and the Baltimore-based sportswear company Under Armour.

Last spring, he put $2.54 million worth of assets and investments into the trust, which is managed by Brown Advisory.

Moore continues to hold ownership of a handful of his own companies related to his speaking engagements and books he has published. And he also has a stake in more than 20 limited liability companies based in New Jersey, which are related to real estate, which the trust does not cover.

Moore’s latest filing notes that he sold the home owned with his wife in Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood. The sale price isn’t listed on the ethics disclosure, but state property records listed the final price at $2.525 million. A mortgage on the home and a line of credit were satisfied last year.

— Pamela Wood

Moore confirms cabinet member, executive branch leaders

Five state leaders serving Gov. Wes Moore’s administration can start using their official titles after their boss swore them in this week.

The Democrat hosted the ceremony Wednesday at the Annapolis State House.

Moore said the leaders bring “a vast range of experience and expertise to the table.”

Among those sworn in were Sanjay Rai, Moore’s secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission, and the last of his cabinet picks. Will Tilburg, director of the Maryland Cannabis Administration, can now drop the “acting” from his title and continue his work regulating the state’s cannabis industry.

Also sworn in were Greg Rogers, chief information security officer and chair of the Maryland Cybersecurity Coordinating Council; Usherla DeBerry, who serves as the director of the Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and Wallace Sermons, chief procurement officer for the Maryland Department of General Services.

The Senate confirmed each of the administration’s picks during the recent legislative session, an important final step in the appointment process.

— Brenda Wintrode

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