Nick Mosby bounded along a row of ninth-grade boys at Baltimore's Civitas School with the energy of a football player about to dart onto the field. Citing his own upbringing by a single mother, he urged the young men to aim higher than the temptations of the city's streets.
"If you dream about it, you'll become it," he said.
Mosby, a 32-year-old Verizon engineer and community activist, says he had long dreamed of a career in politics before defeating a two-term city councilwoman in September's Democratic primary.
Now — though he still faces challengers in Tuesday's general election — he has already begun the work that he hopes to accomplish in office, showing young people that a world exists outside Baltimore's grinding poverty and rampant drug trade.
"Too many times, we utilize our children just as itemized lines" in a municipal budget, Mosby said. "But the long-term investment needs to be in our children. We just have to get them early and hold onto them."
Mosby, the former president of the Bolton Park Neighbors Association in Reservoir Hill, has never held political office. He has one more hurdle to cross before he can move into City Hall. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, whom he defeated by 653 votes in the primary, is challenging him in a long-shot, write-in campaign. Republican Michael John Bradley also is a candidate.
Mosby is endorsed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — which Conaway says is evidence he's a "front man" for the mayor's political machine. Mosby says that's not true.
"I'm going to be an independent voice in City Hall, no matter how you cut it," he said.
Mosby grew up in Northeast Baltimore's Northwood neighborhood. He says his mother, who died a year and a half ago, struggled to raise him and his older sister alone. Mosby recalls her picking him up from after-school programs after riding several buses from her job answering benefit questions at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.
"Statistically, I am not supposed to be here," Mosby told supporters at a summer campaign rally. "A black male taught to ride a bike by his mother, taught to catch a football by his mother, taught to be a man by his mother … I am not supposed to be here. But I am. And all because that potential was tapped by my mother."
Many of the boys he grew up with in Northwood, a middle- and working-class neighborhood of tidy lawns, wound up getting sucked into the drug trade despite the support of loving mothers and grandmothers, Mosby says. On Saturdays, his mother rode the bus with him to the Baltimore School for the Arts so he could take acting classes. He also attended a program at Morgan State University for minority students interested in math and science.
Discussions of youth programs, especially a recent flap over the city's plan to put two dozen rec centers in private hands or shutter them, affect him personally, he says. He says he would push for Hampden's Roosevelt Rec Center to remain under the city's control.
"I grew up at a rec center," he said. "I know how important they are."
Mosby also says his experiences in the city's public school system drive him to work for better schools. His elementary and middle school classes did not prepare him for the rigors of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, he says.
"City schools — they failed me," he said. "We lose so many of our kids, particularly African-American males, in middle school."
That's why Mosby was quick to respond when Civitas government and history teacher Chris Turk invited him to speak to his freshman seminar students.
"I had been following the election and knew he was running to represent the district," said Turk. "He and his wife responded immediately."
Mosby spoke to the freshman class, then returned to talk to a group of boys whom teachers identified as needing additional guidance. Mosby prodded those who said they wanted to be pro athletes when they grow up.
"Basketball player? We threw that out. What else?" Mosby asked student Saiquan White.
"An engineer," said Saiquan. "I'm interested in music and technology and stuff."
"You could literally be anything that you want to be. I'm serious," Mosby said. "If you invest in the time now, you will set yourself up, and your family, your mothers, your grandmothers, in a better situation for the rest of your lives."
Mosby says he got serious about academics at Poly, where he played varsity football while participating in a program through Verizon to prepare minority students for engineering careers. He went to Tuskegee University, a historically black campus in Alabama, where he changed majors twice before settling on electrical engineering.
After graduating in 2002, he moved back to Baltimore to take a job at Verizon. He currently supervises the division that coordinates video streaming.
Within a few years, he had married his college sweetheart, Marilyn Mosby, a Baltimore assistant state's attorney, and purchased a shell of a house in Reservoir Hill. The couple rebuilt it and are raising their daughters, ages 3 and 1, there.
Mosby launched a bid for the 11th District council seat in 2007, losing to Bill Cole, a former state delegate. He dug into community life, becoming president of the Bolton Park Neighbors, Inc. in 2008.
Chet Myers, the current president, said Mosby was instrumental in securing nonprofit status for the Bolton Park group and convincing the city to fence and provide water for a community park on Reservoir Street. Mosby also helped organize the home tour and worked with the community garden, he said.
"He's very organized, and he's always out there in the community," Myers said.
Mosby positioned himself for another run for council, joining the board of the Midtown Community Benefits District and winning a seat on Baltimore's State Democratic Central Committee.
This year, he learned that as part of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's redrawing of district boundaries, Reservoir Hill was now in the 7th District. That meant he would face Conaway in the election.
Mosby says he mapped out a strategy early, tapping a close circle of relatives, friends and neighbors to become the core of his campaign. He scored a significant win in snaring the services of the influential fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer, who manages finances for the campaigns of Rawlings-Blake, Gov. Martin O'Malley and about half of the council.
He says he called Martin-Lauer relentlessly until she agreed to hear him out. He and his volunteers targeted "super voters" in the district, and, he says, he wore a hole in a pair of shoes campaigning.
Mosby asked his niece to recruit dozens of her college friends to attend Rawlings-Blake's campaign kick-off in June while wearing red Mosby T-shirts — from his 2007 campaign, because he had not raised enough funds for new shirts.
It was in the middle of the summer that Mosby realized his message had gotten through. He knocked on the door of a woman he had never met near Mondawmin Mall and she said, "Oh, it's Nick Mosby."
"I knew then I had it," said Mosby, beaming at the recollection.
In late summer, endorsements started rolling in, including from Rawlings-Blake, O'Malley and prominent union groups.
The campaign has been acrimonious at times. Conaway accused Mosby of "dirty campaigning" for distributing fliers that harped on questions about her residency. Conaway certified that a house in Baltimore County was her "primary residence" on paperwork qualifying the home for a Homestead Tax Credit. She has said she inadvertently made a paperwork mistake. Mosby drew attention to the issue with his campaign fliers.
Conaway has asked federal authorities to investigate the fliers, which she says improperly used an IRS logo, and this week asked for the election to be postponed after absentee ballots for another district were sent to 7th District residents.
Mosby shrugs off Conaway's criticisms, saying voters responded to his persistence and were eager for a new face in City Hall.
"I think this campaign and my victory is more than just the 7th District," he said. "The city is ready for new ideas. It's ready for change."