Six months after the death of Freddie Gray ignited riots across Baltimore in 2015, Nick Mosby stood before a crowd of more than 300 people in his West Baltimore district where Gray lived and died. Mosby had emerged as a figure of national interest during the protests, clashing with a Fox News reporter and giving voice to the sadness and anger of many Black Baltimoreans.

Now, he was announcing his intent to become Baltimore’s next mayor. Beside him, his then-wife, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, smiled and cheered.

In retrospect, that 2015 rally was a pinnacle in Mosby’s still-nascent political career. Nick and Marilyn were dual stars, seemingly poised to become the most powerful politicians in Baltimore. What has happened since neither could have predicted, much less have hoped for.

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Charges brought by Marilyn against the police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death were dropped. Federal prosecutors indicted her for mortgage fraud. She lost her 2022 reelection bid. In the onslaught of news about the upcoming trial, Nick and Marilyn divorced. From the witness stand at Marilyn’s federal trial in Greenbelt this January, Nick, now the City Council president, took the blame for the couple’s delinquent tax returns while prosecutors laid bare his financial errors and accused him of perjury in open court.

Today, Nick Mosby faces a crossroads of his own. He’s running for reelection to his council president seat, and victory in May 14th’s Democratic primary could offer four years to reset and stabilize his political career. Losing would close, at least for now, a decade-long chapter in which the Mosbys have commanded the political spotlight in Baltimore.

Many in City Hall wondered whether Mosby might throw in the towel rather than face a tough reelection battle, speculation the council president did little to dissuade while he waited months to begin fundraising, activate a campaign website or file his candidacy.

But Mosby plowed forward, saying in a recent interview that forgoing a run for reelection never crossed his mind.

“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do,” he said. “In the face of adversity, I’ve showed up every single day. I’ve done my job in a way that the citizens can be proud of.”

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On the campaign trail, Mosby has been asked repeatedly to address his mistakes and explain previous false statements, even as he has appealed to voters to look past his personal troubles and judge him for his record in leadership.

It’s clear, though, that a “figurative cloud” hangs over his head, as former Mayor Kurt Schmoke put it.

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, center, conducts a budget hearing on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Schmoke, now the president of the University of Baltimore, first met the Mosbys when he was serving on the board of trustees at Tuskegee University in Alabama, where Nick and Marilyn, college sweethearts, went to school. He remembered that he was walking across campus one day when two young people ran up to him, excited, and introduced themselves, expressing their hopes of settling in Baltimore one day and going into public service.

The former mayor has since been a frequent political contributor to Mosby. When it comes to the cloud hovering above the council president, “he’s gotta figure out a way to either live with it or how to dissipate it,” said Schmoke.

The council president’s strategy of asking residents to look past his financial troubles is just about “the only thing he can say,” said Schmoke, who suggested that the best tack for Mosby is to be honest about mistakes and emphasize a few signature achievements to voters.

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Among those accomplishments, Mosby touted legislation he introduced to fund a trade skills apprenticeship program for city students and said he’s proud of the affordable housing package the council passed earlier this year. He also pointed to lonely stands he has taken against decisions by Mayor Brandon Scott, like a deal the administration struck last year with Baltimore Gas and Electric as well as the city’s spending plan for its windfall in federal pandemic aid.

But Mosby’s successes are often mixed with very public missteps.

Mosby’s 2022 attempt to revive the city’s famed Dollar House program with American Rescue Plan Act money failed in spectacular fashion, after more than 100 activists invited by one of the council president’s experts packed City Hall, shouting, chanting and, at one point, banging on Mayor Brandon Scott’s office door. Mosby apologized for the incident a day later.

During Mosby’s testimony this January in the his ex-wife’s U.S. District Court trial, federal prosecutors said he “repeatedly committed perjury” on his tax returns, claiming deductions for charitable contributions at a time when he owed tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, fell months behind on mortgage payments, and had his wages garnished and his car repossessed.

There was also the revelation about the 2020 press conference at which Mosby told reporters he had paid off the lien the IRS had placed on his Reservoir Hill home — a lie, he admitted on the witness stand at the trial. Mosby has since apologized for the false statement and said he shouldn’t have tried to address the personal issue at the press conference.

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Nick Mosby leaves the Federal courthouse building in Greenbelt.  Mosby testified at thetrial of Former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Wednesday Jan. 24, 2024.
Nick Mosby leaves the federal courthouse in Greenbelt. Mosby testified at the trial of former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Wednesday Jan. 24, 2024. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

For the most part, Mosby’s colleagues in City Hall have declined to wade in. Days after a jury in Greenbelt found Marilyn Mosby guilty on two counts of mortgage fraud in February, Mayor Brandon Scott said he would leave it to the voters to decide whether the revelations of Nick’s testimony there hold any bearing on his job. Comptroller Bill Henry similarly demurred. Asked for comment in the wake of his testimony, none of Mosby’s City Council colleagues responded.

While many of his peers have remained mum, criticism of Mosby outside City Hall was swift. A day after his testimony, the Baltimore Sun editorial board urged him not to run for reelection. For some Baltimore residents, Mosby’s personal finance troubles suggest that, at best, he has too many distractions at home to manage the city’s business, and, at worst, lacks the integrity needed to do the job.

Mosby, though, said voters have no reason to doubt his integrity in office. His ex-wife was a divisive figure, he noted, and some people want to play up that controversy rather than examine his policies and decision-making in leadership, where he said he’s built up a reputation for trustworthiness and integrity.

Polling by the Baltimore Banner and Goucher College Poll, conducted in early April, found Zeke Cohen with a slim, four-point lead in the race, but also suggested that for all Mosby’s troubles, he was still in the hunt.

Cohen, for his part, has declined to make a campaign issue out of his opponent’s misfortune, saying only that the city deserves leadership “that is 100% focused on Baltimore.” Only Shannon Sneed, who does not currently hold public office, has openly criticized Mosby’s financial errors.

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Though Mosby has weathered high disapproval levels as city council president, his support remains strongest among Black residents. Thirty-one percent of Black respondents to The Banner’s April poll said they intended to vote for Mosby, more than either of his opponents.

Bishop Donté L. Hickman Sr. has known the Mosbys for around 15 years and has championed them through recent public trials. The pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Broadway East, Hickman admired the stand Nick and Marilyn took during the uprising over Freddie Gray’s death and lamented the “overwhelming amount of judgement” the two have borne, despite the significant sacrifices they have each made for civic leadership.

“I don’t want to call them martyrs, but it almost seems like they are martyrs for being willing to fight systems on behalf of the vulnerable in society,” said Hickman. “They themselves have become victims of that struggle.”

To Hickman, Mosby has played an important role in elected leadership by standing up for neglected communities. His reelection bid marks a “critical moment,” Hickman said, the consequences of which could be severe. The pastor worries that some in Baltimore haven’t appreciated what it would mean to lose Mosby’s representation in City Hall.

“It would feel like we were in an abyss,” said Hickman. “I think people need to wake up and really see what’s at stake.”

State Sen. Antonio Hayes, a longtime ally of Mosby’s and friend since their days at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, said he’s seen particular energy for Mosby’s reelection in West Baltimore. And though some residents may express real concern about Mosby’s fitness for the job, Hayes noted that his high school friend has something his opponents and even his ex-wife doesn’t: He’s from Baltimore.

”I think there is a certain level of grace that at least people from Baltimore give to Baltimoreans,” said Hayes. He noted that Baltimoreans may act skeptical and even unpleasant at first to outsiders, but once someone has earned their trust, “they’ll go to war with you until the wheels fall off the bus.”

Mosby’s tendency to wait until the final moments to get serious about campaigning has always made Hayes nervous, the West Baltimore senator said. But he added that Mosby has close to a decade of experience “turning it on in the fourth quarter and prevailing.”

For all the headwinds of the last few years, Mosby remains confident that his constituents will stand by him. Asked where he sees himself in 10 years, the council president was brief.

“Always giving back to my community,” he said. “Always supporting my community, always providing the best opportunities as humanly possible for my community.”

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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