Marvin James occupies a unique place at City Hall. While recent mayors from Martin O’Malley to Catherine Pugh have handed out plum jobs to campaign workers and contributors, it’s been fully three decades since Kurt Schmoke placed a top-level political operative (Larry S. Gibson in that case) so squarely in the corridors of power.
Mayor Brandon Scott followed that path when he moved James, his campaign manager, into the second-floor mayoral suite soon after assuming office in December 2020.
Since then, James, a quick-witted, always impeccably dressed 35-year-old, has inhabited the twin worlds of politics and governance, while earning extra cash on the side as the impresario of other young Democratic Party aspirants.
In Part 1, The Brew traced the more than $27,000 that James received last year from five campaign committees, including Scott’s, while working at City Hall.
This story looks at his climb to a pinnacle of power on Holliday Street – the mayor’s chief of staff, responsible for pushing forward Scott’s “five pillars” of progress – improving public safety, creating clean and healthy neighborhoods, prioritizing youth, bringing equity to new investment and restoring public trust in government.
(James declined at this time to discuss his new job and the skill set he brings to it.)
Salary Bump Ups
In January 2021, James started off as an $80,000-a-year mayoral operations officer. While far from the six-figure salaries of other City Hall denizens, it was better than the $45,000 he made running Ivan Bates’ campaign in 2018. Or working as a Lyft operations associate after Bates lost the primary to Marilyn Mosby.
As Scott’s campaign manager in 2020, James earned about $75,000, according to finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections. That year Scott won the Democratic Party primary (which means clinching the general election in deep-blue Baltimore) to become the youngest mayor in the city’s history.
And following in his footsteps was, most likely, the youngest campaign manager ever to enter the seat of government.
James made his first big salary leap about 16 months into his City Hall tenure, becoming the $91,000-a-year deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods in mid-2022.
As a devout member and fill-in preacher at Destiny Christian Church on Eastern Avenue, James was tasked, among other duties, with forging closer ties between the mayor’s office and religious organizations. James handled Black Christian churches, while two other mayoral aides, at considerably lower pay, assisted with the synagogues and mosques.
On April 1, 2023, James’ salary took another upward skip – to $112,000 a year – when then-Chief of Staff Chezia Cager named him senior advisor to the mayor, a title he had long coveted.
Four weeks later, in the wake of Cager’s dismissal, James was elevated to COS.
His new salary he told The Brew, is $170,000 a year. Or a 212% increase in a little over two years.
God and Winning
On his Instagram account, James identifies his occupation as “campaign manager,” his top priorities as “God/The Fam/Winning” and his ideological home base as the Maryland Democratic Party.
Social media posts show him engaged with the mayor’s innermost circle of friends that includes Delegate Caylin Young (D, 45th), campaign chairman Jabari Bush, attorney and former Johns Hopkins University Vice President Alicia Wilson and state Senator Cory V. McCray (D, 45th).
At the many neighborhood functions that Scott attends, James is often seen by his side. It’s all for a higher purpose, he told the Afro, describing his mission at City Hall as “making sure that the community that produced me is getting the necessary resources and information to survive.”
Meanwhile, come the whispers about James’ role as his boss readies for re-election, dogged by weak early poll numbers and the continued high rate of violent crime and young people assaulted and killed in the city.
Last month, James took pride in how he carried out the mayor’s wish to present his annual State of the City address not at City Hall, but at the newly opened Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center in Cherry Hill.
In a tweet, James described how the mayor articulated to his staff the idea behind the location:
“I want to bring business and political people to a community they don’t likely visit and highlight the strengths on why we must support these communities.”
“Yes sir!” James saluted back.
The elaborate event that followed – a rented tent, long list of invited dignitaries and the rich spread of food and drink – all bore the hallmarks of a campaign rally.
From the sidelines, James was seen chatting with Colleen Martin-Lauer, the mayor’s fundraiser, foreshadowing what many suspect will be his next role as Scott’s de-facto 2024 campaign strategist and overseer.
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