Councilman Eric Costello endorsed Sheila Dixon in her bid for mayor on Thursday, marking the first endorsement in the 2024 primary from a City Council member.
The pair announced the endorsement at a news conference outside Baltimore’s Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place Park.
“City Hall has reached a level of dysfunction I have never thought possible,” Costello said, after reading an email he received from the mayor’s office earlier this week, in which a Scott aide asked the councilman for help navigating a small business owner’s request to fix a broken city pipe.
“We’ve reached the point where the mayor’s office is calling on a council member to get results from their own agencies,” he said.
In a statement, Scott campaign manager Nick Machado said Scott represents a brighter future, not a move backwards.
“This election will come down to a simple choice: do we want to keep building Baltimore’s future or return to the failed leadership and policies of the past,” he said. “The contrast could not be clearer. Mayor Scott represents a brighter future, not a move backwards.”
The alliance between Dixon and Costello was not exactly a secret. Dixon had appeared at a major Costello fundraiser over the summer, while the councilman appeared at a public safety town hall in Little Italy, outside of his district, that Dixon held this month.
But the endorsement could be significant in the race. The questions and criticisms from voters Dixon faced about the crimes she committed in office — leading to her resignation — have dogged her last two campaigns for mayor, including her 2020 run against now-Mayor Brandon Scott. A nod from an city elected official as visible as Costello gives Dixon a boost of legitimacy that may help her appeal to his constituents. Costello has also been a vocal critic of the Scott administration.
“Don’t be mistaken. I’ve had my reservations about a second Dixon administration in the past,” Costello said.
So what changed? She launched this campaign with an apology and a message “that was very meaningful to me,” he said.
“I love Brandon Scott as a person. It pains me to say his leadership is failing the city,” he continued, likening the administration’s recent announcements about new plans for downtown revitalization and auto theft three years into his tenure to writing a term paper the night before it’s due.
Sitting elected officials tend to endorse their fellow incumbent politicians. And in the competitive mayoral race, where the two leading candidates both benefit from high name recognition, access to donors, and track records they can point to, endorsements are especially significant — for both the candidates who receive them and the officials who yield their clout to give them.
A September poll from The Baltimore Banner and Goucher College found that among city Democrats surveyed, 39% said they would vote for Dixon and 27% said they would vote for Scott if the election were held today. Another 23% prefer “some other candidate.” Bob Wallace has since entered the mayoral race as a Democrat.
Costello will carry Dixon’s message to his district’s predominantly white neighborhoods of Federal Hill and Locust Point, a demographic group where Dixon trails Scott according to The Banner poll.
Among Democrats, 45% of white respondents view Scott favorably, compared to 33% of Black respondents and 47% of all other races. Meanwhile, 60% of Black respondents viewed Dixon favorably, as did 22% of white respondents and 42% of all other races.
“We have a cultural problem in City Hall,” Dixon said. “The mayor does not appoint strong leaders and hold them accountable. That is the source of most dysfunction in city government.”
Costello raised eyebrows when he polled voters across Baltimore this spring on name recognition and a possible bid for mayor. Instead, he chose to run for another term representing his South Baltimore district, which, until Scott’s council redistricting plan, encompassed the downtown business district, the Inner Harbor, and more than two dozen residential neighborhoods, including Poppleton, Otterbein, Ridgely’s Delight and Bolton Hill.
The mayor’s redistricted council map moved portions of Bolton Hill, Madison Park and Druid Heights, as well as Camden Yards, into different districts. The council created their own version of a redistricting map that kept those areas within Costello’s district, but Scott vetoed their proposal in favor of his own.
It was never a question that the 11th District would shrink. Costello’s district was one of a few that grew in population since the maps were last adjusted a decade ago, and both the mayor’s and council’s proposals gave more territory to districts where populations shrank.
He did not endorse Dixon in the 2016 or 2020 mayoral primaries. Del. Sandy Rosenberg, the first elected official to endorse Dixon this cycle, had tapped Scott in the 2020 primary.