AFSCME Maryland Council 3, the state’s second-largest union, tapped Mayor Brandon Scott for reelection and Zeke Cohen for City Council president in an endorsement announcement Thursday morning.

Many of the thousands of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members have worked in Baltimore for decades and remember what candidates have — and haven’t — done for working families, said AFSCME Maryland President Patrick Moran.

“We want ethical people to lead our city to a prosperous future,” he said. Scott and Cohen earned the endorsements after committee members interviewed candidates and compared their current and past records.

Scott faces former Mayor Sheila Dixon in the Democratic primary; the two were separated from each other by about 2 percentage points running for the same office in 2020. This year, attorney Thiru Vignarajah and businessman Bob Wallace are also running among a total Democratic field of 13.

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AFSCME Local 44 President Dorothy Bryant has worked for the city for nearly 55 years. Her unit represents operations employees in city agencies, many of whom work in the city’s transportation, public works, recreation and parks and health departments.

She recalled the 2000s, a decade where “they were closing libraries, cutting back on city services, and making staffing decisions that hurt public services and the city,” she said, tacitly referring to Dixon’s time in office. “We can’t go back to the past.”

In a statement, Dixon campaign spokesman Luca Amayo said the former mayor marshaled the city through the Great Recession “by making tough choices to ensure city services could continue to function rather than shutter altogether.”

“Public service workers are the backbone of city government, and as mayor, Sheila Dixon will ensure that they are accountable, well-managed, and well-resourced so they can finally deliver on the city services too many of our residents have missed out on during Mayor Scott’s tenure,” he said.

The Mosby campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Today, Scott said: “We are reaffirming that we want to move forward and not move backward.” He framed the race as “a choice between a city government focused on solving problems or a city government distracted by corruption and scandal” as union members chanted, “four more years!”

Scott has netted much of the union support this campaign season, from Baltimore City’s firefighters unions to the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council, which represents than 100 local unions and 80,000 Baltimore-area workers.

AFSCME and AFL-CIO chose Cohen, who currently represents Southeast Baltimore’s 1st District, over incumbent Council President Nick Mosby and former Councilwoman Shannon Sneed.

Like Scott, Cohen has yielded prominent labor support. He recalled working with Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer to hire temporary sanitation workers as full-time employees with better pay during the fall of 2020.

“When we stand up for working people, we all win,” Cohen said, arguing the city treated the temporary workers “like they were essentially expendable.”

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Councilman Zeke Cohen speaks at the press conference for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees. AFSCME announced their picks for Mayor Brandon Scott, Councilman Zeke Cohen and Comptroller Bill Henry at the campaign season’s largest city union endorsement on March 21, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

AFSCME also endorsed Comptroller Bill Henry, who is running unopposed.

The union made endorsements in most council races, with a few eyebrow-raising snubs. The union chose Jermaine Jones, a union leader who led the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council from 2017 to 2022 and is currently a director at Laborers’ International Union of North America 710, over incumbent Robert Stokes in the race to represent East Baltimore’s 12th District.

The union tapped Paris Gray in the open race for West Baltimore’s 8th District; the Democrat is currently an aide to departing Councilman Kristerfer Burnett. Gray faces former Del. Bilal Ali in the primary.

In other district primaries, AFSCME endorsed incumbent council members Schleifer, Danielle McCray, Ryan Dorsey, Sharon Green Middleton, James Torrence, John Bullock, Phylicia Porter, Eric Costello, and Odette Ramos.

Incumbents Antonio Glover and Mark Conway were snubbed; AFSCME opted not to endorse any candidates in their districts.

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Cohen is vacating his district seat by running to lead the council. AFSCME also declined to make an endorsement in the open race — the second time a major union has declined to weigh in on the race. The Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council also opted not to tap a 1st District candidate.

Mark Parker, the pastor at Breath of God Lutheran Church in Highlandtown, ran for the seat in 2016 and lost to Cohen. He is again running for the seat. He’s joined by Liam Davis, who worked in the office of then-City Council President Jack Young as chief clerk of the City Council before joining the city’s Department of Transportation as a legislative affairs manager in 2019. Joe Koehler, a CPA and the treasurer of the Canton Community Association, is also running in the 1st District Democratic primary.

Moran said membership is still weighing the 1st District candidates’ policy agendas and will likely endorse someone at a later date.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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