Councilman Eric Costello will seek reelection, he told The Baltimore Banner ahead of a Wednesday night fundraiser to launch his campaign, putting to rest rumors that the Democrat would pursue a citywide office.

“I came to the conclusion that this is where I can have the most meaningful impact on not just the district, but on the city,” he said outside the Starbucks near Cross Street Market, gesturing to the busy streets of Federal Hill, which is smack in the middle of the 11th District.

Costello raised eyebrows when he polled city voters this spring on name recognition and a possible mayoral bid. Instead, the 42-year-old will again seek to represent his South Baltimore district, a widely diverse one that spans the downtown business district, the Inner Harbor, and more than two dozen residential neighborhoods, including Poppleton, Otterbein, Ridgely’s Delight and Bolton Hill.

With the deepest pockets of any council member, Costello could have funded a highly competitive citywide race. He reported $440,000 in cash on hand in January, the most recent report available, just $11,000 less than reported by Mayor Brandon Scott. The first-term mayor remains the sole big name in a primary that was crowded with competitive candidates last cycle.

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Costello attributed his decision to two factors: seeing projects in his district through to completion, such as the renovations of Solo Gibbs Park in Sharp-Leadenhall and the Avenue Market on Pennsylvania Avenue; and “holding the city accountable, the administration and agencies accountable” by ensuring they are delivering services to residents.

“People have expectations that city government is going to work for them,” he said. “That it’s going to keep them safe, that it’s going to provide them safe drinking water, then it’s going to provide them education opportunities for their kids, recreation opportunities for their families, amenities, and core city services like trash and recycling.”

Just because Costello isn’t running for a citywide office doesn’t mean he can’t be a kingmaker.

His political allies have benefitted from his campaign’s deep pockets. In the last electoral cycle, the councilman transferred more than $120,000 to allies, candidate slates and political action committees.

His ties to influential state officials are among the strongest in City Hall: He was the first city elected officials to endorse Wes Moore, who went on to win the competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary and later the general election. House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson headlined h\is Wednesday fundraiser at Harbor East’s Maximón — two big gets for a City Council member.

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“How many city council persons or county council persons can have the senate president, the Speaker of the House, members from the House, members from the Senate, from outside and their jurisdictions? How many would you see have this type of representation Not many,” Ferguson said to the room. “Why are so many folks here? Because in this job, relationships matter.”

And no one builds a coalition of people who get things done like Costello, he said, adding that the councilman does the job right “every single time, and it’s hard to say at a time when people are doubting government.”

City Council president Nick Mosby also delivered remarks, calling Costello the first person who was there to answer his call to “organize from a structural perspective, a city council or legislative body that we can all be proud of.”

Thank you for your leadership, he addressed the councilman, “for always turning your back on performative politics.

In turn, Costello endorsed Mosby in his race for reelection. “I support him 100%. And I’m asking every single person in this room to do the same thing, because this is the type of leadership we need a Baltimore City,” Costello said, facing the crowd.

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He declined to comment on who he may endorse for the mayor’s race. He has never transferred any campaign money to Scott. In 2020, less than a month before the primary, he gave $4,000 to a committee created to boost the reelection campaign of then-Mayor Jack Young, who was running against then-City Council President Scott.

Last year, former Mayor Sheila Dixon headlined a fundraiser for Costello. Dixon has said she is considering running for mayor. She attended his Wednesday night fundraiser.

Other attendees included Scott’s chief of staff Marvin James, as well as Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, Sen. Antonio Hayes, Del. Regina Boyce, and Costello’s girlfriend Del. Sarah Elfreth. Councilmembers Robert Stokes, Sharon Green Middleton, Antonio Glover and Phylicia Porter also attended.

Costello has represented the 11th District since 2014, when Bill Cole resigned from the seat to serve as president of the public-private Baltimore Development Corporation. Cole knew Costello as president of the Federal Hill Community Association. The council tapped Costello to succeed Cole; Costello won election in 2016 and reelection unopposed in 2020.

Cole attributes what he called Costello’s constant work to his success in the district. “I always took great pride in constituent service operations, but Eric puts more time and energy into that job than anyone could imagine or quantify,” Cole said.

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Such services are core to Costello’s story of himself. In deep-blue Baltimore, all elected officials are Democrats, but occupy far-flung portions of the party’s spectrum. Asked where he would place himself on that spectrum, Costello recalled knocking doors for votes in South Baltimore. When one resident answered the door, he asked Costello if he was pro-choice.

“I’m like, ‘Well, sir, that has nothing to do with my job and the services that are provided,’” Costello said. “And the constituent kept pressing me. And I responded, ‘I’m pro getting your problem fixed.’ That’s my position. I’m focused on making sure that city services work for residents and businesses.”

Costello supports abortion rights, for the record. But his campaign talking points are fixated on what he calls the realities that city residents face — trash pickups, public safety, schools — rather than political philosophies. He is not a council member who introduces resolutions, which are effectively ways for city lawmakers to make points in public, such as calling on Gov. Moore to maintain abortion rights. “A resolution is nonbinding, and it’s an expression of the council’s interest,” he said. “If an issue is important, we need to explore how we actually fix the issue, as opposed to being performative.”

Pastor Alvin Gwynn of Leadenhall Baptist Church recalled community discussions about the redevelopment of the once-blighted Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, which he said involved significant tensions between longtime residents who wanted their desires for vendors met, and newer residents and businesses who wanted vendors that might inspire people to move nearby.

“We recognized the need for a Starbucks or a coffee shop, and we also wanted to be able to go in and see some classic stores and vendors we grew up with,” he said.

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Costello managed to direct the conversations in a way that made all community members feel heard, Gwynn said, noting the overhauled market included both old and new businesses. “We gave people a sense of change, but change for the better,” he said. “And in Baltimore, which is a strange place when it comes to change and the changing dynamics of community, that takes hard work to pull off.”

emily.sullivan@thebaltimorebanner.com

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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