The Democratic race to become Baltimore City Council president is up for grabs about a month from primary day, according to a new survey from Goucher College Poll and The Baltimore Banner, as the race has tightened now that a third candidate is in the field.

Twenty-seven percent of likely Democratic voters said that if the election were held today they would vote for Zeke Cohen, a sophomore councilman representing Southeast Baltimore. Incumbent Nick Mosby had support from 23% of respondents, while former Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, who entered the race in October, had backing from 17%. About one-third of respondents were undecided or said they still want another option.

The Goucher College poll was conducted over a five-day period in early April, about a week after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. The poll reached 440 likely Democratic voters and has a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points.

The findings suggest a marked shift in the race since a similar poll conducted in September found Cohen with a more comfortable, 13-point advantage over Mosby. At the time, more than half of respondents said they were undecided or preferred “some other candidate” to Cohen and Mosby, their only options at the time.

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Since then, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College, some of those respondents have gotten what they wanted.

Sneed has filled the gap for voters seeking an alternate choice to some extent, said Kromer, who added that the former 13th District councilwoman may be pulling some of the anti-Mosby vote away from Cohen. The challenge for Sneed, who campaigned for the same job four years ago and was former governor candidate Tom Perez’s running mate pick in 2022, is that many voters still don’t know her well, Kromer said. Forty-four percent of people surveyed expressed neither a favorable nor an unfavorable view of the former councilwoman, instead saying they didn’t have an opinion.

The Democratic primary election for City Council president will be held on May 14. Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 10 to 1 margin in Baltimore, and the primary winner is a heavy favorite in November’s general election where they will face the GOP’s Emmanuel Digman.

Cohen’s edge over Mosby falls within the margin of error, and a potentially decisive share of the electorate remains up for grabs.

“It’s sort of like the presidential race: not who I want, but who am I gonna vote for?” said Antoine Harris, who lives near Leakin Park in West Baltimore, likening the choice between Cohen and Mosby to deciding between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, neither of whom he particularly likes.

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Harris doesn’t know much about Sneed, and even though he said he’s not necessarily a fan of Mosby or his ex-wife, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, he plans to vote for the incumbent council president.

The 52-year-old said he thinks some of the media coverage of the Mosbys over the years has been unfair, with Black politicians often drawing disproportionate scrutiny. For Harris, it’s important to have people in office who understand how generations of disinvestment have posed distinct challenges for Baltimore’s Black community. He said a Black politician like Mosby is better suited to fill that role than Cohen.

When you’re representing a city where a majority of the population is Black, Harris said, “you have to know the intricacies to really understand and be a good leader.”

Even though Mosby has had an especially rocky last year — federal prosecutors accused him in January of committing perjury on his tax returns while he testified in U.S. District Court in the trial of his ex-wife, taking the fall for the couple’s delinquent tax returns — he is competitive in the race.

That may be because office holders have an inherent advantage, Kromer said. “Even incumbents who have some problems.”

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Even so, Kromer noted that support from less than a quarter of respondents isn’t a glowing endorsement for an incumbent. More than half of respondents, 54%, expressed an “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” opinion of the council president, compared to 33% who expressed positive views. Far more white voters dislike Mosby than do Black voters: 73% of white respondents expressed an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to 45% of Black respondents.

For some, the guilty verdict against Marilyn Mosby, and Nick Mosby’s own personal finance troubles, continue to be damaging.

“If that’s what you’re doing with your personal life, what are you doing professionally on how you’re running the city?” asked Tia Harris, a 48-year-old Uplands resident. “We’re all human, but he needs to step aside and focus on his personal life and personal things.”

Harris was turned off by Sneed’s run for lieutenant governor in 2022, when she ran on the ticket with Tom Perez, because she felt the former councilwoman wasn’t qualified for the job. Cohen, she feels, brings “fresh blood.”

In general, respondents expressed a more positive perception of Cohen than of Mosby. But when it comes to Black residents Kromer said the councilman still has work to do. While 64% of white respondents expressed a favorable view of Cohen, nearly as many Black respondents didn’t have an opinion on him as had a positive impression of him. Thirty-six percent of Black people surveyed said they didn’t know what they thought of Cohen, compared to 39% that expressed a favorable view of him.

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Gary Therkildsen, a resident of the Berea neighborhood of East Baltimore, likes Cohen because he feels the 1st District councilman shares his progressive values. The 44-year-old feels policies that he wants — he specifically named legislation to encourage expansions of the city’s bike infrastructure — have been stifled or not encouraged under Mosby’s leadership.

“I think Zeke has shown himself to be a more strategic thinker when it comes to the City Council itself,” he said.

Therkildsen plans to vote for Mayor Brandon Scott in the mayor’s race and said he’s looking for a council president who will be a partner to the administration to push forward new policies, not someone who spars with the mayor as Mosby frequently has.

While the poll suggests that Cohen has yet to break through with some of the city’s Black voters, his fundraising prowess could still position him well to cover more ground. Campaign finance reports filed earlier this week show Cohen has over $480,000 in the bank, significantly more than either of his opponents and despite heavier spending.

The question for both Mosby and Sneed, on the other hand, may come down to whether they have the resources to catch up. Sneed reported about $237,000, thanks to matching funds she has received through Baltimore’s new public finance system. Mosby, meanwhile, reported just over $230,000 in the bank with about $71,000 of that raised since January.

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While a large share of respondents said they didn’t have an opinion on Sneed one way or the other — and some people interviewed by The Banner struggled to identify her — those who do know her have a good impression: 38% of respondents expressed a positive view of her, compared to just 16% who had a negative opinion.

Though the Goucher survey indicates Sneed trailing Cohen by 10 points, Kromer noted the race is tight. As candidates gear up for their final pushes before the election, all three have a path to victory, she said.

This article has been updated to remove an incorrect detail about when Baltimore last elected a white candidate in a citywide election.

Reporters Justin Fenton and Abby Zimmardi contributed to this story.

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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