Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott issued a brief but fierce message at a news conference Friday morning: Faith Leach will be confirmed as city administrator, with the backing of City Council President Nick Mosby and the council as a whole.
His statement comes after a council committee’s rejection of Leach, his nominee for city administrator, at an explosive hearing Thursday night, where some members said outright that they believed Leach was an effective public servant but that they did not support the concept of her position.
Scott said he spoke with Mosby after the vote and “he assured me that we will work in partnership to make sure that Ms. Leach will be confirmed ... he agrees that she is a phenomenal public servant.”
In a statement, Mosby’s spokeswoman Monica Lewis said the council president remains committed to working collaboratively with Scott to serve the people of Baltimore.
“He has been in communication with Mayor Scott regarding the City Administrative Officer role and looks forward to more conversations around the confirmation process for Ms. Leach,” she said.
Leach did not appear at the conference, which was packed with her City Hall allies, but after the hearing concluded Thursday night, the former deputy mayor made her feelings known with a few words on Twitter.
Can a city administrator nominee be confirmed after a committee rejection?
By law, Baltimore must have a city administrator: Over three-fourths of city residents voted in favor of a 2020 charter amendment — introduced by Scott — that created a position tasked with running city operations.
The same law says the council must confirm the mayor’s nominee. It does not specify which committee or how many members must approve the nomination.
As council president, Mosby assigns pieces of legislation to committees, whose leadership and membership he dictates. Leach’s nomination was assigned to the Rules and Legislative Oversight committee, which is chaired by his ally, Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, and consists primarily of council members who tend to vote alongside the council president.
The council is set to meet as a whole on Monday night, where the Rules and Legislative Oversight committee’s verdict will appear on the docket. The entire council will have to cast a vote on the committee’s decision, said Councilwoman Odette Ramos, who voted in Leach’s favor and appeared at the news conference to support her.
If the majority of the council’s 15 members vote against the unfavorable recommendation, there is a path forward for Leach.
Council presidents, the only at-large members of the legislative body, serve as de facto leaders of the council, armed with the power of committee assignments and scheduling bills for hearings and votes. Should Mosby whip votes for Leach, as Scott said he would, she could officially become Baltimore’s second city administrator.
In the meantime, she’ll continue to serve as acting city administrator, said Scott aide Marvin James. Leach has held the position in interim capacity since January, following the departure of inaugural office holder Chris Shorter.
Shorter joined City Hall in 2020, tasked with improving city agencies’ performance and abilities to serve residents, a charge he likened to transformation work. His announcement in the fall of last year that he would depart for a new job in Northern Virginia was a standout in an administration riddles with high-profile exits.
Scott acknowledged the high rates of cabinet turnover that has beleaguered his tenure, but argued that pushing away talented public servants who are willing to work in City Hall is not the way forward.
“What happened last night in the committee is not how we solve the problems we have in recruiting talented people to serve the people of Baltimore,” he said.
What’s next for the council
Shorter’s brief legacy and questions surrounding the office’s ability to improve agency performance hung over Thursday night’s proceedings, although committee members described Leach as a dedicated, effective public servant.
“This vote is not about you,” Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton told Leach at the hearing before voting against her nomination.
Middleton, as well as her fellow committee members Schleifer, Eric Costello and Mark Conway — all of whom chair powerful committees and are viewed as Mosby allies — questioned the need for an office that spends more than $900,000 yearly on salaries and the division of labor and responsibility between the city administrator and the chief of staff.
Councilman James Torrence, who voted in favor of Leach, called the final vote results “election season grandstanding at best.”
“Tonight you have failed,” he told his peers who voted “no,” visibly frustrated. “You have violated the trust of this chamber.”
About a year out from next spring’s Democratic primary — which is tantamount to the general election in deep-blue Baltimore — the city’s political class is in the midst of private conversations of who should throw their hat into the citywide races of mayor, comptroller, and City Council president.
The committee includes two of the most cash-heavy council members: Costello reported having nearly $440,000 on hand in a January campaign finance filing — narrowly trailing Scott, who reported $450,000 — while Schleifer reported having $355,000.
Council President Mosby and other political authorities have grown increasingly critical of the mayor in recent months, emboldened by Scott’s controversial agreement with Baltimore Gas and Electric Company over access to the city-owned underground conduit.
But Thursday’s vote brought Scott support from unlikely allies.
“Don’t vote someone down, only worsening a city in disarray, to show your disgust with the mayor and city dysfunction,” wrote Thriu Vignarajah, an attorney who ran against Scott for mayor and is quick to criticize his policies, on Twitter. “This isn’t high school student government. Grow up.”
The council’s public criticism of Scott cabinet officials has led to departures before — Department of Public Works Director Jason Mitchell announced in January that he plans to step down after less than two years on the job, hours after a letter from some council members called for his resignation if he could not improve recycling services.
“If I was treated the way she was last night, I don’t know that I’d stick around,” Ramos said after the Friday press conference. “But I think that she would be a great asset to our to our city.”