Mark Parker declared victory in the race for Baltimore City Council’s 1st District seat late Tuesday as he held a solid lead with 54% of the votes in one of two closely watched council races without incumbents.

Parker faced two other Democratic challengers and declared victory after talking to his closest opponent, Liam Davis, who was tailing him with 35% of the votes. In a phone call with Parker, Davis said he would be there to work with the councilmember to better neighborhoods in the district, regardless of who holds the seat.

“I’ll be there,” Davis told Parker. In an statement for The Baltimore Banner, Davis said he is waiting for the final results, but acknowledged Parker’s likely win.

Parker said in a phone interview he was “incredibly, truly grateful” and excited for the work ahead. His district, he said, is filled with people and institutions who care about one another and moving the city forward. And, he added, these are his neighbors, people who know him and affirm the work he has done.

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”It’s 15 years of work in a community that I love,” he said.

Each of the three candidates entered the race touting experience serving their district. A familiar face in Highlandtown, Parker is a pastor at the Breath of God Lutheran Church, where he has opened a preschool to serve some of the city’s child care deserts and rehabbed a home for refugees. Davis is the legislative affairs manager for the city’s Department of Transportation. Joseph Koehler, an accountant, is a public safety liaison in Canton and initiated the neighborhood’sblock captain program.

Parker would take over the seat of Zeke Cohen, who endorsed Parker earlier this year and declared victory in his bid for City Council president. Cohen said in a social media post that Parker “elevates the voices of underserved Baltimoreans,” praising Parker’s work in the community. Parker had previously run for City Council in 2016 in the 1st District, but lost to Cohen in a crowded primary.

“Mark brings out the best in people,” Cohen said recently on social media. “In the moments that are hard, when the pressure mounts, I know he will remain committed to making our District a great place to live and work.”

Parker, 42, and Davis, 34, largely led the polls over Koehler and took in more endorsements and donations — often indicators of a candidate’s electability in races without opinion polls. Koehler brought in less money and had no endorsements in the city.

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A seasoned public servant, Davis secured endorsement from most of the current City Council, including councilmembers Danielle McCray (2nd District), Mark Conway (4th District), Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (5th District), James Torrence (7th District), Eric Costello (11th District), Robert Stokes (12th District) and Antonio Glover (13th District).

Parker secured donations or endorsements from other public officials, including comptroller Bill Henry and state Del. Luke Clippinger. He was also endorsed by community organizations such as CASA in Action and Clean Water Action, as well as labor unions including AFSCME Maryland Council 3 and 32BJ SEIU.

For some people who live in Highlandtown, Parker evoked a sense of trust.

“I see firsthand what he’s doing in the community,” said Nicole Utech, who goes to his church. “And I want more of that.”

Blakely Deutsch, a city schoolteacher, braved midafternoon rain to visit a polling site at the Hatton Senior Center in South Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood. She was most eager to cast a ballot for Parker, who she said is “by far the best candidate.” Deutsch said that unlike other candidates who lose and are never seen by would-be constituents again, Parker continued to serve as a community advocate.

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”He is already so active in this community and does so much to benefit the district,” she said.

Cindy Ybarra, who graduated from Towson University in December, has known Parker for more than 15 years. She met him through his “back-to-school” backpack distribution, and attributes her own passion for community work to him. She volunteers at his monthly feeding program.

“I think I saw a lot of hope and inspiration through him for our community in our city, which is what got me to want to be involved in my community,” she said.

Ybarra was optimistic about the election on Tuesday morning, as she volunteered at the polling station at Hampstead Hill Academy. She said he is eager to see what he does once he gets into office.

“I know that he has a plan already to get started as soon as he is elected,” she said. “I mean, he has already been doing it throughout these years. "

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Parker said his team will work with Cohen on a transition and, once the dust settles, he’ll reach out to councilmembers he knows and start having conversations with communities in his district about their concerns and needs. He plans to hire a replacement to serve as the head pastor of his church

Another change he will be handling ― his son Luke will start at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute high school in the fall.

”We’ll manage the transitions together,” Parker said.

Baltimore Banner reporters Brenna Smith and Emily Sullivan contributed to this report.

Clara Longo de Freitas is a neighborhood reporter covering East Baltimore communities. Before joining the Banner, she interned at The Baltimore Sun as an emerging news and community reporter. She also has design and illustration experience with several news organizations, including The Hill and NPR.

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